This week’s Great Falls Tribune featured a story about the heavy snowfall this here in Havre, the largest town along Montana’s Hi-Line. The story got me thinking about this classic late nineteenth century railroad town, one of my favorite places to visit in Big Sky Country. In past posts, I have talked about how residents moved their historic preservation agendas form a focus on the buffalo jump west of town along the Milk River to the old residential neighborhoods themselves. I gave a particular focus to Havre’s wonderful array of domestic architecture, especially its many variations on the
Craftsman style popular in the early 20th century. It is a place where the pages of the famous Craftsman Magazine seem to come alive as you walk the tree-lined streets. But there is more to Havre’s historic districts than the homes–there are the churches, about which more needs to be said.
As my first two images of the First Lutheran Church show, Gothic Revival style is a major theme in the church architecture of Havre, even extending into the mid-20th century. First Lutheran Church is a congregation with roots in Havre’s boom during the homesteading era. As the congregation grew, members decided to build the present building in 1050-51, adding an educational wing by the end of the decade.
An earlier example of Gothic Revival style is St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, built in 1911 by architect Mario Riffo of Kalispell. Noted havre architect and builder Frank F. Bossout worked for Riffo at the time and this commission may have been Bossout’s introduction to a city that his designs would so shape in the years to come.
The earliest Gothic Revival styled church is First Baptist Church, constructed c. 1901, shown above. The unidentified architect combined Gothic windows into his or her own interpretation of Victorian Gothic, with its distinctive asymmetrical roof line.
A more vernacular interpretation of Gothic style can be found in the town’s original AME Church, built c. 1916 to serve African American railroad workers and their families, and later converted and remodeled into the New Hope Apostolic Church.
The First Presbyterian Church represents the Classical Revival in Havre church architecture. Built in 1917-1919 and designed by Frank F. Bossuot, the church’s style reflected that of the nearby courthouse, which Bossuot had designed in 1915, and the town’s Carnegie Library, also from Bossuot’s hand in 1914.
The Spanish Colonial Revival style of St. Jude’s Catholic Church, however, shows us that architect Frank F. Bossuot was more than a classicist. The church’s distinctive style sets it apart from other church buildings in Havre.
The same can be said for a church building that comes a generation later, the Van Orsdel United Methodist Church. When the Havre historic district was established, this mid-century modernist designed building was not yet 50 years old, thus it was not considered for the district. But certainly now, in 2018, the contemporary styling of the sanctuary has merit, and the church has a long history of service. It started just over one hundred years ago with a brick building named in honor of the Montana Methodist circuit rider W. W. Van Orsdel who introduced the faith to Havre in 1891. A fire in late 1957 destroyed that building, and the congregation immediately began construction on its replacement, dedicating it in 1958.
From Gothic to modern, the architecture of Havre’s historic churches reflects the town’s robust history in the first half of the twentieth century–and this is just a taste of the many interesting places to be found along the Montana Hi-Line.