Eastern Montana County Seats: Glasgow

Valley Co Glasgow courthouse

It has been five years since I revisited the historic built environment of northeast Montana.  My last posting took a second look at Wolf Point, the seat of Roosevelt County.  I thought a perfect follow-up would be second looks at the different county seats of the region–a part of the Treasure State that I have always enjoyed visiting, and would strongly encourage you to do the same.

Valley Co Glasgow 2 elevators

Grain elevators along the Glasgow railroad corridor.

Like Wolf Point, Glasgow is another of the county seats created in the wake of the Manitoba Road/Great Northern Railway building through the state in the late 1880s.  Glasgow is the seat of Valley County.  The courthouse grounds include not only the modernist building above from 1973 but a WPA-constructed courthouse annex/ public building from 1939-1940 behind the courthouse.

Valley Co Glasgow WPA public building behind courthouse

The understated WPA classic look of this building fits into the architectural legacies of Glasgow.  My first post about the town looked at its National Register buildings and the blending of classicism and modernism.  Here I want to highlight other impressive properties that I left out of the original Glasgow entry.  St. Michael’s Episcopal Church is an excellent late 19th century of Gothic Revival style in Montana.

Valley Co Glasgow St Mike Episcopal NR

The town has other architecturally distinctive commercial buildings that document its transition from late Victorian era railroad town to am early 20th century homesteading boom town.

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The fact that these buildings are well-kept and in use speaks to the local commitment to stewardship and effective adaptive reuse projects.  As part of Glasgow’s architectural legacy I should have said more about its Craftsman-style buildings, beyond the National

Valley Co Glasgow Art Deco Rundle building name

Register-listed Rundle Building.  The Rundle is truly eye-catching but Glasgow also has a Mission-styled apartment row and then its historic Masonic Lodge.

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Valley Co Glasgow masonic lodge

I have always been impressed with the public landscapes of Glasgow, from the courthouse grounds to the city-county library (and its excellent local history collection)

 

Valley Co Glasgow library

and on to Valley County Fairgrounds which are located on the boundaries of town.

Valley Co Glasgow fairgrounds

Valley Co Glasgow fairgrounds 2

Another key public institution is the Valley County Pioneer Museum, which proudly emphasizes the theme of from dinosaur bones to moon walk–just see its entrance.

Valley Co Glasgow museum roadside

The museum was a fairly new institution when I first visited in 1984 and local leaders proudly took me through the collection as a way of emphasizing what themes and what places they wanted to be considered in the state historic preservation plan.  Then I spoke with the community that evening at the museum.  Not surprisingly then, the museum has ever since been a favorite place.  Its has grown substantially in 35 years to include buildings and other large items on a lot adjacent to the museum collections.  I have earlier discussed its collection of Thomas Moleworth furniture–a very important bit of western material culture from the previous town library.  In the images below, I want to suggest its range–from the deep Native American past to the railroad era to the county’s huge veteran story and even its high school band and sports history.

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A new installation, dating to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial of 2003, is a mural depicting the Corps of Discovery along the Missouri River in Valley County.  The mural is signed by artist Jesse W. Henderson, who also identifies himself as a Chippewa-Cree.  The mural is huge, and to adequately convey its details I have divided my images into the different groups of people Henderson interprets in the mural.

The Henderson mural, together with the New Deal mural of the post office/courthouse discussed in my first Glasgow posting (below is a single image of that work by Forrest

Valley Co Glasgow 1 New Deal mural

Hill), are just two of the reasons to stop in Glasgow–it is one of those county seats where I discover something new every time I travel along U.S. Highway 2.

Glasgow on the Hi-Line

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Glasgow, the seat of Valley County, has a rich small-town urban landscape, among the best along the Hi-Line of U.S. Highway 2.  Although businesses and population has struggled since I spent time there during my 1984 fieldwork (the population dropped from 4,455 in 1980 to 3,250 in 2010), the town retained an edge of vibrancy and vigor.

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Many of the patterns shaping life in the northern reaches in Montana are still on display within Glasgow, starting with the original impact of the Manitoba Road, then Great Northern Railway.  The combination passenger station continues to serve travelers, who if they wish to step off the train will find a classic strip of bars and cafes facing the depot.

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The railroad corridor has deeply imprinted the town, with giant elevators dominating the skyline while even the highway as it dips under the tracks by means of the New Deal-era underpass pays tribute to the true “right-of-way” through Glasgow.

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So too has the federal government left a deep imprint on the town, from the irrigation projects of the U.S. Reclamation Service to the construction of Fort Peck Dam in the 1930s and then the Glasgow Air Force Base in the late 1950s and 1960s. The Glasgow Post Office and Federal Courthouse lies at the heart of downtown, reflecting in its blocky massiveness and Art Deco styling the federal presence.

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Just as important, the building tells the federal side of the local story through the New Deal mural, “Montana Progress,” by artist Forest Hill that adorns the lobby.  It is one of the state’s six extant New Deal post office murals. Here the coming era of progress–symbolized by railroads, irrigation (the sugar beet factory), Fort Peck Dam and electric power–supplants cowboys, Indians, and the rural landscape itself.

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Another landmark featured in the mural is the Glasgow Civic Center, part of the larger effort to create community institutions in the face of the often overwhelming sense of change and despair during the Great Depression.  The Civic Center still serves as a town anchor, an important part of Glasgow’s public landscape.

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The federal imprint left a decided modernist turn to the townscape, although preservation efforts in the last generation have kept earlier classical or revival-inspired buildings part of the town, such as the Goodkind Block, the First National Bank, and especially the Rundle Building, which may be the town’s most distinctive architectural statement from its initial settlement and development era.

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The highway corridor shows the modernism of the 1950s most graphically through restaurants, bank buildings, and signs designed to grab the attention of all those who entered.

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Glasgow’s built environment tells the story of how federal programs, from irrigation to New Deal to the Cold War, could leave marks still apparent in the 21st century.