Dillon’s public buildings

IMG_3276Dillon is not a large county seat but here you find public buildings from the first third of the 20th century that document the town’s past aspirations to grow into a large, prosperous western city.  It is a pattern found in several Montana towns–impressive public buildings designed to prove to outsiders, and perhaps mostly to themselves, that a new town out in the wilds of Montana could evolve into a prosperous, settled place like those county seats of government back east.

The public library dates to 1901-1902, constructed with funds provided by the Carnegie Library building program of steel magnate Andew Carnegie.  This late example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture came from architect Charles S. Haire, who would become one of the state’s most significant early 20th century designers.

The library reflected the town’s taste for the Romanesque, first expressed in the grand arched entrance of the Beaverhead County Courthouse (1889-1890), designed by architect Sidney Smith. The central clock tower was an instant landmark for the fledging railroad town in 1890–it remains that way today.

IMG_3236The Dillon City Hall also belongs to those turn-of-the-20th century public landmarks but it is a bit more of a blending of Victorian and Classical styling for a multi-purpose building that was city hall, police headquarters, and the fire station all rolled into one.


The most imposing Classical Revival public structure in Dillon is also the smallest:  the public water fountain, located between the railroad depot and the Dingley Block.

Dillon, post office, c. 1940, NRA New Deal era post office introduced a restrained version of Colonial Revival style to Dillon’s downtown. The central entrance gave no hint to the marvel inside, one of the


IMG_3262state’s six post office murals, commissioned and executed between 1937 and 1942.  The Dillon work is titled “News from the States” painted by Elizabeth Lochrie in 1938. It is a rarity among the murals executed across the country in those years because it directly addressed the mail and communication in early Beaverhead County.  Ironically, few of the post office murals actually took the mail as a central theme.

Dillon P.O. Mural NR 1The New Deal also introduced a public modernism to Dillon through the Art Deco styling of the Beaverhead County High School, a building still in use today as the county high school.

Dillon, Beaverhead Co HS

IMG_3227A generation later, modernism again was the theme for the Dillon Middle School and Elementary school–with the low one-story profile suggestive of the contemporary style then the rage for both public and commercial buildings in the 1950s-60s, into the 1970s.

Dillon Middle School

Dillon elementary school 1

Dillon elementary schoolThe contemporary style also made its mark on other public buildings, from the mid-century county office building to the much more recent neo-Rustic style of the Beaverhead National Forest headquarters.

county offices, Dillon

Dillon, Beaverhead Ntl Forest headquarters

The Beaverhead County Fairgrounds is the largest public landscape in Dillon, a sprawling complex of exhibition buildings, grandstand, and rodeo arena located on the outskirts of town along the railroad line.

But throughout town there are other reminders of identity, culture, and history.  Dillon is energized through its public sculpture, be it the cowboys in front of the Chamber of Commerce office or the Veterans Memorial Park on the northern outskirts.




Montana’s Civil War Veterans: Dillon’s Mountain View Cemetery

As a series of feature articles in the Great Falls Tribune have emphasized for the past 3 years, Montana does have a Civil War story, just one that has been forgotten, even neglected over the decades.  To be sure like most people exploring the Montana landscape, I too had trouble seeing those elements–outside of General Thomas Meagher’s commanding statue in front of the State Capitol in Helena.  But as I have been back in the Big Sky Country the last three years, I have found many places that help tell the state’s story in the years that transformed the United States into the country we know today.  It is more than the the Civil War Sesquicentennial that drove my greater attention–in Tennessee I am the co-chair of the state’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, and here in the Volunteer State it is often all about the Civil War.

To mark Montana’s Civil War landscape, and to honor the many veterans who have served their communities, their state, and their country in this week before Veteran’s Day, I want to draw your attention to a truly exceptional place–the Mountain View Cemetery in Dillon, Montana.


The cemetery contains a wealth of grave markers and statuary from the late 19th and into the 20th centuries.  The view from the cemetery is truly inspiring as well–it is among the best maintained community cemeteries in western Montana.



What is most striking about Mountain View Cemetery is its attention to veterans and the number of former Union soldiers buried within the cemetery.  The standardized U.S. Army shield grave marker, with the soldier’s name and his unit listed, is found in abundance at Mountain View throughout the older parts of the cemetery.


Here is just a sampling of the Civil War veterans memorialized at the cemetery:

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The most remarkable tribute to the veterans at Mountain View Cemetery comes from the mid-20th century:  a somber tree-lined path to veterans from more recent wars, heralded by a statue calling for freedom, honor, and justice, values that drove those federal soldiers in the Civil War and values that our veterans today take into fields of conflict across the

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the world.  Thank you all veterans for your service to our nation.