Deer Lodge’s Hillcrest Cemetery

Hillcrest Cemetery, established in 1883, is not only one of Deer Lodge’s oldest community institutions, it is also one of its most compelling and beautiful nestled as it is west of the town within the Deer Lodge Valley. Burials here date to at least 1872 (the earliest legible death date I found on a marker). The general layout of the cemetery comes from a map provided by the City of Deer Lodge on its website.

The diversity of its grave markers adds to the beauty and rich stories found at Hillcrest. The classical mausoleum for the John Morony family commands the northern end of the cemetery, with its low square posts linked by chain defining a spot that is within the cemetery but also outside of it. John Morony was a Montana native who gained great wealth as the managing director of the Amalgamated Copper Company in addition to several banks from Great Falls to Anaconda, Missoula, and Dillon and as a major investor with the Montana Power Company.

Classical styled cemetery “furniture” within the chain fence of the Barony mausoluem

South of the Marony mausoleum is most of the cemetery’s burials, with the well maintained grounds marked by large trees, various ornamental plantings and drives that crisscross the cemetery allowing you easy access to its different sections.

The ethnic diversity of those buried here is striking, reminding us that Deer Lodge was more than the location of the state prison (a very important fact) but also a place that the railroads shaped, with the Utah Northern, then the Northern Pacific, and finally the Milwaukee Road laying tracks through the valley. The latter had the most impact as the Milwaukee made Deer Lodge a division point with roundhouses and other buildings, which stood in the 1980s but are now largely gone.

There are many markers of artistic value, from formal, carved stones rich in symbolism and architectural detail to those of a more vernacular design origins, which can even be difficult to translate today.

The Kimmerly Family Plot grave marker with carved doves.
A Victorian fence and gate sets aside the graves of Jesse Clark (d. 1878) and a baby (d. 1874), children of copper magnate W. A. Clark and his wife Katherine L. Clark
A rare concrete block grave marker.

Hillcrest Cemetery also has grave markers that reflect patterns found in other Montana community cemeteries in those that mark fraternal lodge memberships and service in the U.S. armed forces.

Exceptional Woodmen of the World marker for Carl O. Stave (c. 1901).
The Grand Army of the Republic erected this marker to commemorate U.S. army veterans from the Civil War who are buried in this section of the cemetery. There are many other veterans from the armed forces buried at Hillcrest.

The cemetery also has early pioneers buried here, including Conrad Kohrs, whose historic ranch, the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, is a National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service not far from the cemetery.

Horace and Elizabeth Countryman were influential pioneers in eastern and western Montana. Note the Masonic association at the top of Horace’s stone.

The grave markers above are just a few of the many at Hillcrest Cemetery worthy of acknowledgement and fuller study. This historic place is one of the most interesting community cemeteries I have encountered in Montana.

Gold Creek and Pioneer: bypassed landmarks

Gold Creek overview from school

When I began my fieldwork for the state historic preservation plan in 1984, there was one spot I was particularly eager to visit:  Gold Creek and Pioneer on the west side of Powell County.  Granville Stuart and Conrad Kohrs both loomed large in the history of Montana; they were associated, respectively, with the two mines.  Stuart was been among the party who first struck gold there in 1858; Kohrs later owned the Pioneer mines.  Plus the two mining areas were counted among the state’s earliest.  Then one winter in 1982 traveling along Interstate Highway I-90 I had looked to the west and saw the faded wooden signs marking what they called the first gold strike in Montana–one of 1858 even before the Mullan Road had been blazed through the area.  Not far away was

NP last spike,jpg (2)

another nondescript sign–this one about the last spike of the Northern Pacific Railroad–it too was visible from the interstate. I had to know more.

Created with GIMP

Gold Creek store and post office, 1984.

What I found was not much, at least anything much that could become part of public interpretation.  The folks at the general store and post office, where exterior signs proudly noted that it began in 1866, told me that the granite marker for the Gold Creek strike was on private property–well maintained but something no one was interested in doing more with.  The last spike for the Northern Pacific Railroad was a similar story. Once that spot was all in the national news.  Now it was a place on the railroad right-of-way and Burlington Northern wasn’t interested in visitors being on such a heavily traveled section.

Tailings at Pioneer, Powell Co

The road west of Gold Creek led into the later placer mining of the Pioneer Mining District (established 1866)–with the high mounds of tailings coming from much later efforts to dredge every bit of precious metal from the property.

Pioneer tailings, Powell CoRanchers had taken bits of older buildings from Pioneer and incorporated them into later structures between the mining district and Gold Creek.  Pioneer as a ghost town barely existed then and little marks its past except for the scars of mining.

Log barn E of Pioneer, Powell Co 2

Old buildings grafted into barn, E of Pioneer, Powell Co

Gold Creek, Powell Co

Gold Creek has existed since the dawn of Montana Territory but it has rarely caught a break–its monument about mining is landlocked on private property.  The interpretive markers about the Northern Pacific’s last spike are on the interstate at the Gold Creek Rest Area.  Much of what is there today dates to its last “boom” when the Milwaukee Road built through here c. 1908, but as regular readers of this blog know, the success of the Milwaukee and short lived and by 1980 it was bankrupt. Today little is left except the roadbed, as is the case, almost, in Gold Creek.

MR corridor, Gold Creek, Powell Co

I say almost because the Milwaukee Road located one of its electric transmission buildings in the middle of Gold Creek, along the electrified line. Abandoned when I surveyed the town in 1984, the building has been restored and put back into business.

MR power plant, Gold Creek, Powell Co

Milwaukee Road Electric Station facing the Northern Pacific line.

Two community institutions still shape Gold Creek. On the “far” end of town is the St. Mary’s Mission Catholic Church, built c. 1910, with its original Gothic design still intact.

Catholic Church, Gold Creek, Powell Co 1But the most important community institution (yes, the Dinner Bell Restaurant out on the interstate exit is important but it is a new business) is the Gold Creek School, a rather remarkable building in that residents took two standard homestead era one-room schools and connected them by way of a low roof “hyphen” between the front doors.

Gold Creek school, Powell CoAdaptation and survival–the story of many buildings at Gold Creek and Pioneer.  Historical markers are scarce there but the history in the landscape can still be read and explored.