Back on the Hi-Line: Culbertson

The Hi-Line is Montana’s major northern transportation corridor–first carved by the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway in the 1880s and then extended by the Great Northern Railway a decade late.  Today most travelers use U.S. Highway 2, which largely parallels the railroad, to traverse the Hi-Line.  The first place you encounter of more than 500 people is Culbertson, established in the 1880s and named for Alexander Culbertson, who was once the factor (the manager) of the Fort Union fur trading post at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson GN depot

The Great Northern depot at Culbertson

Earlier in this documentary blog on the Montana landscape, I discussed Culbertson as part of the landscape of oil and fracking then taking place in the region.  Today I want to share images of community institutions that link the town’s more than 130 year history to the present.  Historic churches are a good place to start.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson 1st UM Church

The United Methodist Church reflecting a vernacular Gothic type that can be found all across the northern plains in the late 19th and early 20th century.  The Community of

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God Church shares that similar vernacular Gothic style and retains its bell tower.  Mid-20th century modern style can be found in St. Anthony Catholic Church.  As regular readers of the blog may recall, I have explored the diocese’s choice of mid-century Roosevelt Co Culbertson St Anthony Catholicmodern style for many Catholic churches in eastern Montana.  The Culbertson church is a good example of that pattern.  Another church that belongs to the modern design era of the 20th century is Trinity Lutheran Church, especially as this distinguished building expanded over the decades to meet its congregation’s needs.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson Trinity Lutheran

Roosevelt Co Culbertson armory 2

One of the most interesting buildings in Culbertson is the Armory, part of the significant impact that New Deal agencies had on the built environment of Roosevelt County in the 1930s.  Justified as part of the nation’s war preparedness efforts in the late 1930s, so many armories across the country have found second life as public buildings, serving local government and community events.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson armory New Deal

In my earlier post about Culbertson I should have focused more on surviving commercial buildings from the early 20th century–the time of the homesteading boom.  The beautiful cast-iron cornice on the Moen Building (1908) is impressive, one of the best examples of that Victorian commercial style still extant on the Hi-Line.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson 7 C.S. Moen Block 1907

Some of the extant two-story commercial buildings from the homesteading boom show some architectural styling, like the two below, but then a former town bank is impressive in its detail and masonry as any in the region.  Culbertson had high hopes in the 1910s.

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On either side of the town center are two additional important institutions.  The Culbertson Museum serves as a community heritage center but also as a visitor center for travelers entering Montana.  Its outdoor sculpture of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is a reminder to all travelers that traces of the Corps of Discovery can be found along so much of the Hi-Line.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson museum 1

Roosevelt Co L&C sculpture Culbertson museumOn the west side of town is its historic cemetery, the Hillside Cemetery.  At first glance, it seems unimposing, more quaint that important.  But the cemetery is the oldest historic

Roosevelt Co Culbertson cemetery

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Roosevelt Co Culbertson cemetery  2

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resource in Culbertson, and in fact is the the burial place of two former Union soldiers, one from Illinois and one from Minnesota, who fought in the Civil War.  The markers are a reminder that the mid-19th century roots of Montana are never far away, even at the small town of Culbertson.

 

 

Fracking Roosevelt County: The Boom Seeps into the Montana Hi-Line

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The 21st century boom in the Williston Basin has significantly reshaped western North Dakota, and as that region “fills up,” the boom has spread into far eastern Montana, especially along the Hi-Line corridor of U.S. Highway 2 and the historic Great Northern Railway. The photo above is along U.S. 2 on the outskirts of the tiny town of Bainville, the first place of any size you encounter as you travel west along the highway, or railroad, into Roosevelt County.
Bainville, Roosevelt Co (p84 11-14)
When I visited Bainville in early 1984 I recorded a town in decline. True, its 1950s modernist passenger depot was still there, but there had been a steady drop in population for decades. Thirty years later, the remnants of that decline were still there: abandoned brick neoclassical-styled bank; an elevator complex on the verge of collapse.
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But signs of new growth were there as well in 2013. The recently expanded public school was one thing while the large man camp then under construction just east of the town was another–and a project that really concerned local residents since the camp’s population would be larger than the town itself.
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The next town west on the Hi-Line is Culbertson, where the impact of the Williston Basin was even more noticeable. A modern school complex had replaced one that dated to the New Deal. Indeed the New Deal’s once profound impact on Culbertson–a public office building and armory–had been eclipsed not only by the modern school but also a new county office building all shiny and bright.
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The 1930s armory in Culbertson MT

The 1930s armory in Culbertson MT

New county office building in Culbertson

New county office building in Culbertson


The man camps were already taking available land, even becoming a village in itself between the town’s historic cemetery and the railroad tracks. To capture the burial site of Civil War veteran Marcus A. Denney of the 6th Minnesota Infantry in the foreground and the man camp in the background by the elevators creates a snapshot, literally, of the periods of change in Culbertson over 150 years.
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Truckers and workers flying along U.S. Highway 2 in past decades would have spied the metal sculptures of Lewis and Clark near the local museum–but these iconic figures are no longer what immediately captures your eyes as you speed along the corridor.
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What you notice is everyone lined up for that human fuel that powers the commute between man camp and tracking well: the Frackin’ Java coffee stand. A true sign of the times along the eastern gateway of U.S. 2 in Montana.
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