Faith and a Smelter Town

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Anaconda over 100 years ago was a place of opportunity for laborers who wanted to gain a foothold in the Rocky Mountains through hard labor at the smelter, the pottery works, or the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific Railroad.  In a town dominated by the dictates and fortunes of the Anaconda Copper Company, Anaconda was a place where a respite from work was necessary–the last post looked at the range of recreation opportunities–but also a place where faith mattered, and still matters today.

Towering over the Goosetown neighborhood is the beautiful Gothic Revival styled St. Peter’s Austrian Roman Catholic Church, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Gleaming as a beacon for the hundreds of small one-story homes that surround it, the church is a statement building, from the Slavic community of turn of the 20th century Anaconda.  Designed by local architect W. W. Hyslop and built in 1898, the church served the Croatian, Slovenian, and Montenegrin residents of Anaconda.  Fr. John Pirnat convinced the diocese to allow the second church since St. Paul’s was dominated by the Irish community.  Pirnat served as pastor for the next half century and his church hosted countless ethnic festivals, strengthened bonds of community within the Goosetown neighborhood.

Zion Swedish Evangelical Lutheran, 524 Cedar St

Built about five years after St. Peter’s, the Zion Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church is another Gothic Revival landmark, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, that represents the Swedish Lutheran community of Anaconda.  With funding from the Swedish Mission Friends, the first frame church was finished in 1899 at a cost of $1600–but by 1904 came the new building with its substantial red brick facade and beautiful stained glass windows making the statement that the Lutherans were also here to stay.

The mainstream Protestant faiths were also represented by architectural landmarks such as the Romanesque red brick styling of the Methodist Church, the white frame cupola of the Presbyterian church located prominently on Main Street between the Washoe Theater and the Hearst Library, or the unique Castellated Gothic style of the First Baptist Church.

IMG_1394The craggy sandstone tower of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is the town’s earliest religious architectural landmark, with the sanctuary dating to 1891.  In 1978 t was among the first Anaconda landmarks to be listed in the National Register and remains one of the state’s most impressive examples of church architecture.

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Anaconda also has interesting religious architecture from the middle decades of the 20th century, especially in the concrete screens that help to define the exterior of the Gateway Christian Church and the 1970s contemporary style of the Holy Family Catholic Church, part of the Anaconda Catholic Community along with St. Peters.  Holy Family is located on West Pennsylvania Avenue  on the other side of the tracks from the town’s historic railroad depot.

Gateway christian, 300 e. 4th

Catholic Church, n of tracks

These are just a sampling of the old and new churches in Anaconda, and many are still to be explored.  But the churches help to define neighborhoods to root the community in both past and present, especially so when new non-denominational Pentecostal congregations like Living Waters Revival Center take over older church buildings to use for their ministries today.

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Miles City’s Boom, 1907-1925

The Renaissance Revival-styled U.S. Post Office, designed by Oscar Wenderoth, opened in 1916 during the height of the region's homesteading boom.

The Renaissance Revival-styled U.S. Post Office, designed by Oscar Wenderoth, opened in 1916 during the height of the region’s homesteading boom.

Following the construction of the Milwaukee Road and its various shops, roundhouse, and offices, Miles City entered a boom period unlike any other in the town’s history.  The boom lasted for just under 20 years, ending soon after the Northern Pacific Railroad constructed its new passenger depot in 1924.  In between the arrival of the Milwaukee, and the opening of the new Northern Pacific depot, an array of new middle-class homes, churches, new public elementary and high schools, and businesses gave the city its early twentieth century “look” still prized today and protected by three historic districts.

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Washington School, Miles City

Census records tell us a mere 1,938 people lived in Miles City in 1900, but by 1910 that number had jumped to 4,697 and ten years later, 1920, almost 8,000 people lived there.  Hemmed in by the Yellowstone River and the mainline of the Northern Pacific, the town spread to the east, along Main Street, and then north into the new neighborhoods associated with the Milwaukee Road developments.

The East Main Historic District has a number of architecturally distinctive buildings from the 1910.  The Horton House (1911) is an excellent example of the “American Four-Square” house designed by Miles City architect Brynjulf Rivenes.  The two-story house is now a bed and breakfast business.  You don’t typically equate eastern Montana towns with the latest in domestic architecture styles, but the Love House (1916) is an excellent Montana example of the Prairie style, first created by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and here executed in a design from George Wageley. Another example of the Prairie style from that same decade is the Pope House, built by Thomas Horton.

Horton House Bed and Breakfast, Miles City

Horton House Bed and Breakfast, Miles City

Love House, Miles City

Love House, Miles City

Pope House, Miles City

Pope House, Miles City

Just off of East Main Street is the Wibaux Park neighborhood, centered around a public space donated by cattleman Pierre Wibaux in 1915.  Here the dwellings included bungalows, Colonial Revival cottages, and an impressive example of Tudor Revival style.

Wibaux Park, Miles City

Wibaux Park, Miles City

Tudor Revival style house facing Wibaux Park, Miles City.

Tudor Revival style house facing Wibaux Park, Miles City.

Congregations also built large, architecturally distinctive church buildings to serve their growing congregations.  The Methodists added a Gothic Revival style building, designed by Woodruff and McGulpin, in 1912.  The Presbyterians added their own Gothic edifice two years later, a mammoth building designed by Brynjulf Rivenes that stood between the downtown commercial district and the new residential areas.  The Catholics added a new Sacred Heart church in 1924, adding to the contributions started by the Ursulines at the first of the century.

Methodist Church, Miles City

Methodist Church, Miles City

First Presbyterian, entrance, Miles City

First Presbyterian, entrance, Miles City

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Miles City

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Miles City

New public schools–with the buildings still in use today–completed the process of urban growth between 1907 and 1925.  The Custer County High School, finished in 1922, became a centerpiece not only of Miles City but the the county as a whole.  Here was a modern facility that gave local students opportunities their parents never had. The boom had been magnificent but as drought and homesteading failures multiplified across eastern Montana by the mid-1920s, residents were learning that the bust would be transformative too.  We will look at the era of bust and recovery next.

Custer County High School, 1922

Custer County High School, 1922