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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Dutton, a country town with modern monuments

2011 MT Pondera County Dutton Mike's tavern 017At first glance, Dutton is like many northern plains railroad towns, located on the Great Northern Railway spur line between Shelby and Great Falls.  The false front of Mike’s Tavern, then other plain, functional one-story buildings–we have seen hundreds of similar scenes across the Big Sky Country.

2011 MT Pondera County Dutton modern school 023Then, suddenly, there is the cool mid-century modernism of the Dutton-Brady School (Brady is another neighboring railroad town), a style also embraced by the Bethany Lutheran Church.

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But neither of these buildings prepare you for the Dutton State Bank, perhaps the best small town modernist buildings in Montana.

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Anytime I have been in this part of Montana over the last 30 years, I have stopped to see if the Dutton bank was (1) still in business (times have been difficult for small banks to say the least) and (2) if the building had changed in a major way.  In the last 30 years, a small addition has been made to the rear of the building, but all other character defining features remain, especially the “wheat-themed” sign.  It lets anyone know that while the railroad provides the transportation, it is wheat that drives the local economy,  What a wonderful, fun commercial building.

 

The east side of Glacier

HPIM0036.JPGAll of Glacier National Park is spectacular, frankly, but as you reach Logan Pass and consider the historic architecture on the east side of the park, often the landscape itself overpowers the man-made environment, be it the modernist visitor center at Logan Pass, above to the left of center of the image, or the Many Glacier Hotel on the north end of the park, below. The manmade is insignificant compared to the grandeur of the mountains.

HPIM0028.JPGThe reverse is true at East Glacier, where the mammoth Glacier Park Lodge competes with the surrounding environment.  The massive log hotel was the brainchild of Louis Hill, the president of the Great Northern Railway, who wished for a building that could mirror the earlier 1905 Forestry Hall for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition.  Hill had the vision but architect Samuel L. Bartlett of St. Paul, Minnesota, carried the vision into an architectural plan.

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The lodge is impressive however you consider it and it served as a trend setter for the image that Hill wished to give visitors to his newly designated national park.

The huge main lobby, grounded in imported Douglas firs from the Pacific Northwest, brings the loftiness of the park to the interior of the hotel.

The lodge proved popular with train travelers and additions came as early as 1914-1915, with further expansions due to the demand from automobile travelers on U.S. 2.

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2011-mt-glacier-park-and-communities-083But the long landscaped walkway from the Glacier Park Lodge to the Great Northern passenger station, also themed in Rustic style, let everyone know who was in charge–the railroad, whose influence created the national park and then built the facilities that defined the look of the park for the next 100 years.

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2011 MT Glacier Park and communities 067 East Glacier GN depot

And the trains continue to arrive throughout the summer, bringing tourists to this iconic mountain National Historic Landmark.

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Conrad’s railroad corridor

Pondera Co Conrad signConrad, the seat of Pondera County, is a railroad town, although the town’s close proximity to Interstate I-15 means that so many have forgotten the importance of this Great Northern Railway spur line that stretches from Shelby on the main line south to Great Falls.

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img_9361The town’s 1920s Arts and Crafts/ Chalet style Great Northern passenger station, along with grain elevators, serve as a reminder of the railroad’s importance to transporting the grains from neighboring ranches.

2011-mt-pondera-county-conrad-006Facing the depot is a combination symmetrical town, with one story brick buildings, several of them classic western bars, and then a block long T-plan that connects to the historic federal highway U.S. 87.

Pondera Co Conrad

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The Orpheum Theatre (1917-1918) was barely hanging on when I visited in 1985 and then by the end of the century, it appeared that the theatre would never be the center of community life it had been in the 1920s and 1930s.  The Pondera Arts Council then acquired the building, restored, and it is now once again a centerpiece of the community, one of several signs of how Conrad has turned to historic preservation to build new futures out of its pasts.

 

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Flathead County’s Gateway Communities to Glacier

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U.S. Highway 2 east of Kalispell has grown into a four-lane highway (mostly–topography thus far has kept it as a two-lane stretch west of Hungry Horse) designed to move travelers back and forth from Kalispell to Glacier National Park.  In my 1984-85 state historic preservation plan work, I thought of Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, and Martin

Flathead Co Hungry Horse HuckleberryCity as one large tourism funnel.  After spending a good part of 2006-2007 working with local residents and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about the heritage and preservation of Gatlinburg, Tennessee–one of the most notorious gateways into any national park–I learned to look deeper than the highway landscape and find some real jewels in each of these Glacier National Park gateway communities.

There is much more than the highway to Columbia Falls, as the three building blocks above indicate, not to mention the lead image of this blog, the town’s Masonic Lodge which has been turned into one huge public art mural about the town’s history as well as its surrounding landscape.  Go to the red brick Bandit’s Bar above, and you soon discover that Columbia Falls has a good sense of itself, and even confidence that it can survive new challenges as its population has soared by over 2,000 residents since the 1980s, totaling over 5,000 today.

Once solely dependent on the Montana Veterans’ Home (1896), which is now a historic district, and then relying on the Weyerhaeuser sawmill for year round employment, Columbia Falls faces a different future now once the mill closed in the summer of 2016, taking away 200 jobs. As the historic business buildings above indicate, historic preservation could be part of that future, as the downtown’s mix of classic Western Commercial blocks mesh with modern takes on Rustic and Contemporary design and are complemented, in turn, by historic churches and the Art Deco-influenced school.

Once you leave the highway, in other words, real jewels of turn of the 20th century to mid-20th century design are in the offing.  In 1984–I never looked that deep.

Flathead Co Hungry Horse 1At Hungry Horse, however, I did leave the highway and explored the marvelous landscape created by the Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir, a mid-20th century project by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The agency justified the dam as a hydroelectric power project for a growing Flathead County and as a boost to local irrigation.  The irrigation side of the project–the real reason the agency exists–never happened and Hungry Horse today is an electric power and recreational project.

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Flathead Co Hungry Horse Dam 10I appreciated the vastness of the concrete arch dam–the 11th largest concrete dam in the United States–as well as the beauty of Hungry Horse Reservoir, an under-appreciated tourism asset as anyone in Flathead County will tell you.  But again, I let just the size and impact of the dam distract me from some of the details of its construction that, today, are so striking.

Here I am thinking primarily of the contemporary design of the Visitors Center–its stone facade suggesting its connection to the now covered river bluffs but the openness of its interior conveying the ideas of space associated with 1950s design.

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img_8779I am concerned, however, about news in September 2015 that Reclamation has contracted for updates and renovation at the Visitor Center–let’s hope that the classic 1950s look of the property is not sacrificed.

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Martin City is just enough off of U.S. Highway 2–it is situated more on the historic Great Northern Railroad corridor–to miss out on the gateway boom of the last 30 years, although with both the Southfork Saloon and the Deer Lick Saloon it retains its old reputation as a rough-edged place for locals.

For railroad travelers in the first half of the 20th century, West Glacier was THE west gateway into Glacier National Park.  The Great Northern Railway developed both the classic Rustic-styled passenger station and the adjacent Arts and Crafts/Chalet styled Belton Chalet Hotel in 1909-1910, a year before Congress created Glacier National Park.

img_8785Architect Kirtland Cutter of Spokane was the architect and the chalet design was actually just a smaller scale and less adorned version of the Idaho State Exhibition Building that he had designed for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Cutter is one of the major figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the American Northwest and we will look at another of his buildings for the railroad and Glacier in the next post about Lake McDonald Lodge.

The Cutter buildings for the railroad between 1909-1913 set a design standard for West Glacier to follow, be it through a modern-day visitor center and a post office to the earlier mid-20th century era of the local school and then gas stations and general stores for tourists entering the national park by automobile.

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This blog has never hidden the fact, however, that my favorite Glacier gateway in Flathead County is miles to the east along U.S. Highway 2 at the old railroad town of Essex, where the railroad still maintains facilities to help push freight trains over the Continental Divide.  The Izaak Walton Inn was one of the first National Register assignments given to

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me by State Historic Preservation Officer Marcella Sherfy–find the facts, she asked, to show that this three story bunk house, railroad offices, and local post merited exceptional significance for the National Register.  Luckily I did find those facts and shaped that argument–the owners then converted a forgotten building into a memorable historical experience. Rarely do I miss a chance to spend even a few minutes here, to watch and hear the noise of the passing trains coming from the east or from the west and to catch a sunset high in the mountains of Flathead County.

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The rural side of Flathead County

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As I traveled Flathead County in 2015 certainly my attention was on the growth and change in Kalispell, Bigfork, and Whitefish, and the suburban sprawl that was increasingly connecting those towns.  But I also looked for rural institutions and places–did places such as the Smith Valley Grange on U. S. Highway 2 west of Kalispell still stand–was it still a grange meeting hall?

img_8843The answer was yes, to both questions.  Here is an early 20th century log building landmark on a highway where the traffic seems to never end.  It is also along the corridor of a new recreational system–the Great Northern Rails to Trails linear park that uses an old railroad corridor to connect the city to the country in Flathead County.

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Flathead co US 2 W of Kalispell ranchThe trail allows bikers to see the rural landscape, still dotted with family farms, of the Smith Valley as it stretches west to Kila, where the old Cottage Inn has been converted in the last few years into the Kila Pub, complete with the Arts and Crafts/Tudor theme associated with the railroad corridor.

To the southeast of Kalispell is another rural corridor, defined by Montana Highway 206 which is a connector between U.S. Highway 2 at Columbia Falls and Bigfork.  No doubt some ranches have given way to development, but open vistas and historic barns still serve as reminders of the agricultural traditions of the county.

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img_8762To the north of Kalispell and Whitefish U.S. Highway 93 takes you past the ski developments into a thick forested area, managed in part as the Stillwater State Forest.

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In 1984 I noted the state forest headquarters, an interesting array of 1930s log and frame functional buildings.  The headquarters is now part of the National Register of Historic Places, as the Stillwater State Forest Ranger Station.  The distinctive log buildings date

img_8188from the 1920s into the 1960s.  While several are from the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s, state ranger Pete De Groat built his log residence in 1928 in the Rustic Style.  Stillwater was Montana’s first state forest.

Olney is a Great Northern railroad town that has lost its depot sometime ago but it still has its historic school building, a historic post office (that has closed in favor of a new standardized designed building, and its storefronts facing the tracks in symmetrical plan. While only 13 miles north of Whitefish, this rural railroad outpost seems many miles away.

 

 

 

 

Whitefish: Transformations and Persistence

I arrived in Whitefish in May 2015 with my eyes wide open.  I had not been there since 1988, and I knew that growth had enveloped and transformed the town, with a population that doubled, lots of west coast and east coast escapees having arrived, the ski lodge business booming, and “lone eagles” having nested here for two decades.  The phrase

Flathead Co Whitefish Grouse Mountain Lodge US 93 N“lone eagles” was local–an attempt to describe those professionals “who fly to work as comfortably as most Americans drive, and whose use of computers in business lets them indulge their preference for life in the great outdoors,” as a June 19, 1994 story in the New York Times explained.

Flathead Co Whitefish Great Northern depot

During my 1984-1985 survey for the state historic preservation plan, everyone probably tired of me touting the wonders of Whitefish, especially its mid-1920s Arts and Crafts/Chalet-styled Great Northern passenger depot and offices, designed by the railroad’s Thomas McMahon.  If any building needed to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, it was this one, and not just for its impressive architectural statement.img_8128

img_8122The station along with the railroad tracks defined everything you saw in Whitefish–here in the classic Great Northern T-plan landscape was a classic railroad town–one that old-timers even called the best along the entire line.  Whitefish developed and then prospered as a division point on the mainline from 1904 to 1955–and that corporate imprint was still there to be experienced, in 1984.

img_8107Thankfully in 2015, I still found all of my favorite landmarks from 30 years earlier, even though there was little doubt that the business district had been altered, sometimes in ways that left little original fabric in place but still some two-story brick blocks stood.

The Buffalo Cafe remained in business–a mainstay when I worked in the region in the 1980s as was the Palace Bar right around the corner.  The Palace dated to c. 1915 and has a wonderful dark wood carved bar from that time–it began as a brewing company and has remained that throughout all of the recent changes.

The town still had its historic residential neighborhoods at the foot of Main Street and then both to the east and west. comprising one of the state’s best collections of bungalows, often found in railroad towns of the early 20th century.Flathead Co Whitefish Main street 24

Perhaps more importantly it still retained some of its distinctive domestic architecture–the railroad tie house (a log house made of railroad ties) and a row of shotgun houses for railroad workers.  To all architectural historians who believe that the “shotgun” house is purely a southern thing–look closely:  these houses were built quickly and cheaply to serve industrial laborers and can be found throughout the country.

Flathead Co Whitefish railroad tie house

Whitefish’s historic Lockridge medical center (1958) designed by Frank Lloyd Wright remains a distinctive modernist landmark within the business district, although now it houses professional offices.  It was listed in the National Register in 2012.

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Flathead Co Whitefish Main street FLW 7A much earlier landmark, the Classical Revival Masonic Temple from the town’s first decade still stood, and it too found a new use through adaptive reuse.

img_8171Despite the population boom over the last 30 years, Whitefish still uses its Art Deco-styled school from the New Deal decade of the 1930s, although the auditorium has been restored and updated into a community performing arts center.

Certainly my favorite landmark was the Great Northern Railway station, which provided passenger service on the first floor and administrative offices on the second floor.  In the last 30 years, the town has significantly enhanced the setting with a city park, various statues and interpretive signage, along with a historic bus that once moved passengers to Kalispell and environs and historic railroad engines.

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The enhanced railroad station is clearly interested in drawing the attention of travelers who stop here for the nearby ski lodges or for a quick stop before entering Glacier National Park.  It is viewed as the town’s center point, its primary attraction–which is as it should be because there are few more compelling Great Northern Railway towns than Whitefish.

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Kalispell: Growth and Preservation in Northwest Montana

 

Kalispell was a Montana jewel 0n the Great Northern Railway.  Despite that fact, in 1984 the preservation of the railroad’s historic passenger station was not certain.  This landmark, at the head of the T-plan town, still stood but was viewed as an impediment even an eyesore by some.  The depot (1892, 1899, 1914, 1929) was built when Kalispell was an important division point on the railroad’s main line then altered over the next three decades to the stuccoed exterior you find today.  It marked literally the beginnings of the town’s history.  Yet, when I held a public meeting at another landmark, the town’s historic Carnegie Library (1903) that had recently been through an adaptive reuse into the

Hockaday Art Museum, strong sentiments for more preservation were rarely heard. The depot was not listed in the National Register nor were many of the downtown buildings.  There were a few of the town’s rich stock of Victorian era houses listed. The success of the Hockaday and the Conrad Mansion (1892-1895) historic site seemed to be enough for many residents, or they thought preservation only meant pretty homes and buildings.

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Then came the work east of Kalispell in and around Glacier National Park to inventory and list eligible buildings to the National Register in the mid to late 1980s.  That, along with the loss of key downtown landmarks and new voices from preservationists and property owners, began to grow the interest in historic preservation.

The result was a massive multiple property study of Kalispell for the National Register of Historic Places, resulting in the listing of dozens of additional historical properties in 1994.  The historic railroad depot was listed and serves as home for the Chamber of Commerce and a visitor center, a front porch for the downtown. A new era in historic preservation had been launched, and the result today is impressive, as the next posts will explore.

Appreciating the town’s achievement in historic preservation over the last 20 years comes at an opportune time. The economic changes in the 1980s and 1990s are ready to be repeated again.  A federal grant, matched by local sources, will mean that the historic railroad corridor through the center of town will be moved–opening up acres for new construction.  Everyone knows this will be as fundamental of a change as when the Great Northern moved their division point to Whitefish in 1904. But now Kalispell has a strong historic core, identity, and purpose–the past has become fundamental to its future. Now let’s review that preservation achievement.

Flathead Co Kalispell Preserve America sign

 

Flathead County’s Many Transformations

img_8057By the late 1980s there was little doubt that a substantial development boom was underway in Flathead County.  In the town near the Flathead Lake, like Bigfork, above, the boom dramatically altered both the density and look of the town.  In the northern half of the county Whitefish suddenly became a sky resort center.  In 1988, during a return visit to Montana, I did not like what I encountered in Flathead County–and thus I stayed away for the next 27 years years, until the early summer of 2015.

Bigfork had changed the most, and was almost unrecognizable to me, only the town plan having some semblance of historic feeling.  Its population had jumped by 200% between 2000 and 2010, and what I recalled as a lakeside village of several hundred was now a large Montana town of over 4,000 residents.

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On the other hand, Somers (1901) is not as changed and older buildings both in use and abandoned speak to its history.  Located on the northwest corner of the lake, it began as a railroad town, a link on the Great Northern Railway spur to Kalispell.  The railroad also supported a large sawmill here, which drove the local economy for decades.  Its closure at the mid-20th century brought change to Somers, one that continues today with the general patterns of growth and development in the lakeside area. One of the largest changes in Somers is the 2015 creation of its railroad heritage center, which also serves as the gateway to a rails to trails project that connects different areas, and railroad corridors, in Flathead County. The heritage center effectively interprets the town’s logging history.

Dell’s Bar is another Somers’ landmark, the type of community tavern/cafe that characterizes small town life in Montana.  Retaining these types of community centers will be crucial to the region’s sense of place and identity in a rapidly changing demographic reality.

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This southern part of Flathead County, between the lake and the sprawl of Kalispell, still has numerous ranches, beautiful working landscapes that deserve special consideration for agriculture was the heart of the Flathead Valley’s history.  Emblematic of that are historic rural institutions, such as the school at Creston and the nearby Eastside Grange.

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Lincoln County’s Gateway Towns

Lincoln Co Troy 5I love Montana town signs, and Troy, deep in the state’s logging country, has one of the best.  The sign lures to a city park nestled along the Kootenai River.  The focus point is a

historic Great Northern depot, which has been moved to the park.  There is also an interpretive trail, part of a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, that tells the story of the Callahan boom, which mining and logging combined to lure investors and residents to the area.  It is a story arc that the forest service follows at other sites in a region the service describes as the Callahan Creek Historic Mining and Logging District. It is a very useful perspective on the town’s history, and not one that I pursued in 1984 when I explored this part of Lincoln County in the fieldwork for the state historic preservation plan.  I paid attention to the historic railroad corridor–Troy (1892) after all was on

Lincoln Co Troy RR corridor

Lincoln Co Troy facing RR

Lincoln Co Troy bar facing RRthe Great Northern’s main line, and I documented the few historic buildings left facing the railroad tracks today.  The Home Bar (c. 1914) and the Club Bar were institutions then, and remain so today.  The Kootenai State Bank building still stands but has experienced a major change to its facade–made better in part by the American flag painted over some of the frame addition.

img_8425The Troy Jail, above, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 and it remains the only building so listed in the town today.  D.E. Crissey, a local contractor, built it out of concrete in 1924 during Troy’s boom from 1916 to 1926 when its population jumped from 300 to 1300.  The Snowstorm mine, which produced lead, zinc, and silver, started to serve the demand for raw materials during World War I.  The mine soon turned what had been a small railroad town into a mining camp best known for its brothels and bars.  Then in the early 1920s the Great Northern decided to build a division point here, further booming the town. The Sandpoint Pole and Lumber Company began its logging business in 1923, and Troy suddenly was the largest town in the county

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Perhaps the most impressive landmark left in the wake of the Troy boom is the public school, with the impressive central block flanked by classroom wings and a gymnasium built in later decades.  Home to the Troy Trojans, the soldier statue in front of the school is also a public art landmark in Lincoln County.

Troy thus was much more than just a gateway into Montana from U.S. Highway 2–it was once a mining center, but one that went broke fast as the mines played out in the 1920s, the Great Northern closed its roundhouse, and the Great Depression hit in the 1930s.

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In 1984 as I traveled from Troy via Montana State Highway 508 to Yaak, the only “town” left in the state’s far northwest corner, you could still encounter key mining properties along the Yaak River, such as this concentrator at Sylvanite.

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The Keystone Mill was barely hanging on to the side of the mountain then, now it is nowhere to be seen.  Montana 508 has instead become a gateway to some of the some of the most open, untouched high mountain landscape, one that meanders back and forth with the river, bridges, and, perhaps most importantly, bars.

That would be the Dirty Shame Saloon–another institution that some back in the city thought that perhaps I should avoid.  Glad I did not.  Had a great meal there in 1984, and even though the bar’s dining area has been extended, it still had that vibe, of both a local place but also another remnant of the old logging and mining days along the Yaak.

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Yaak by way of local paths and trails is a gateway too, between Idaho and Montana and Montana and British Columbia.  More to the point it is a gateway between what was and what still is within the Montana landscape.

Lincoln Co Yaak store/bar

Yaak’s general store, service station, lodging, and whatever else you need is another throwback place, and can be found on the web as the Yaak River Tavern and Mercantile.  You haven’t “done” Montana if you don’t make it to Yaak.