The Hot Springs of Sanders County

Lake Co Hot Springs 32Hot Springs, off from Montana Highway 28 on the eastern edge of Sanders County, was a place that received little attention in the survey work of 1984-1985.  Everyone knew it was there, and that hot springs had been in operation trying to lure automobile travelers since the 1920s–but at that time, that was too new.  The focus was elsewhere, especially on the late 19th century resorts like Chico Hot Springs (believe or not, Chico was not on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984). This section of what is now the reservation of the Consolidated Salish and Kootenai Tribes was opened to homesteaders in 1910 and first settlement came soon thereafter.  The development of the hot springs as an attraction began within a generation.

IMG_7888Due to the 21st century fascination from historic preservationists for the modern movement of the mid-20th century, however, Hot Springs is now squarely on the map as a fascinating example of a tourist destination at the height of the automobile age from the 1930s to 1960s.

Lake Co Hot Springs Symes Hotel NR 1

Lake Co Hot Springs Symes Hotel NR 4

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Symes Hotel and hot springs takes you back to the era of the Great Depression.  Fred Symes acquired the family property and opened the Mission-style hotel in 1930.  It has changed somewhat over the decades, but not much.  The narrow hallways of the baths, with their single tubs ready for a soak, are still in operation.

What the Symes did for Hot Springs was to make it a destination, and to give a vernacular Mission-style look to other buildings from that decade such as the old Mission style building below and other storefronts on the town’s main street.

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Lake Co Hot Springs 26Not everything fit into this mold, naturally.  There remains a representative set of gable-front shotgun-form “cabins” that housed visitors staying for several days and various one-story buildings served both visitors and year-round residents.

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Then a few years after World War II the tribe decided to invest in the town through the creation of the modernist landmark known as the Camas Hot Springs, truly a bit of the International style on the high prairie of western Montana.

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From a photo in the lobby of the Symes Hotel.

This venture initially was successful and led to a population boom in the 1950s and 1960s but then as the interstates were built and the 1970s recession impacted travel choices, the Camas struggled and closed c. 1980.  For the last 30 years this grand modernist design has been slowly melting away.

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Lake Co Hot Springs 17The loss would be significant because few mid-20th century buildings in Montana, especially rural Montana, are so expressive of the modernist ethos, with the flat roofs, the long, low wings and the prominent chimney as a design element.  Then there are the round steel stilts on which the building rests.

Lake Co Hot Springs 19As this mural suggests, today Hot Springs embraces its deep past as a place of sacred meaning to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai.  And it continues to try to find a way to attract visitors as a 21st century, non-traditional hot springs resort.

Butte modernism

In the state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985 I was hardly alone when I gave scant attention to resources between World War II and the Vietnam War.  At that time, the “50-year rule” of the National Register meant that officially, at best, we should be only considering buildings from the very first years of the New Deal.  The state office already had gone beyond the so-called rule, however, with nomination projects in Essex and Eureka, Montana.  We understood that the “rule” was really a guideline.  But still no one thought about the 1950s and 1960s–too recent, and not as threatened as the resources from the Victorian era through the turn of the 20th century, especially in Butte.

IMG_1175You don’t think Montana modernism when you think of Butte, but as this overview will demonstrate, you should think about it.  I have already pinpointed contemporary homes on Ophir Street (above). The copper mines remained in high production during the Cold War era and many key resources remain to document that time in the city. For discussion sake, I will introduce some of my favorites.

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Uptown Butte’s D. A. Davidson Building:  a spaceship has landed on Main Street.

Certainly I should have paid more attention to such Art Deco landmarks as the Emmanuel Conception Church, by J. G. Link Company, 1941, or even in Uptown the classic corporate design of the Firestone Tire Center and service station.

Firestone Station, ButteI looked at schools constantly across the state in 1984-1985 but did not give enough attention to the late 1930s Butte High School, a classic bit of New Deal design combining International and Deco styles in red brick.  Nor did I pay attention to the modernist buildings associated with Butte Central (Catholic) High School.

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Butte High School, a New Deal project of late 1930s

 

Then there are two really interesting schools from the late 1950s and 1960s:  John F. Kennedy and the Walker-Garfield elementary schools.  I have already discussed in an early post about the JFK School.

JFK School, Butte, 1959

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Walker-Garfield, 3, Butte, 1960s

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Walker-Garfield, 2, Butte, 1960sYou would think that I would have paid attention to the Walker-Garfield School since I stopped in at the nearby Bonanza Freeze, not once but twice in the Butte work of 1984.  I

Bonanza Freeze, 1947, Montana St, Butte, roadsidenever gave a thought about recording this classic bit of roadside architecture either. Same too for Muzz and Stan’s Freeway Bar, although maybe I should not recount the number of stops at this classic liquor-to-go spot.

Freeway Bar, c. 1968, Placer St. at I-90, Butte, roadside

Uptown has its modern era jewels, like the D.A. Davidson building above, but largely in how owners tried to give older structures facelifts with contemporary designs in the 1960s and 1970s.  Back in 1984 we dismissed such building as “remuddlings” and sometimes they were exactly that.  But when you step back and consider it, the additions were new layers of history added to those of the past, creating a physical document with chronological depth, and interest.

Garages were not new to the city in the post-World War II era but automobile ownership increased in the post-war years, and the demand for downtown parking from residents who had moved into the suburbs never slacked for years.  The demand led to a lot of parking lots in place of historic buildings but it also led to the Silver Arrow Garage and shopping centers, one of my favorites from that time.

Silver Arrow Garage, S. Montana, Butte

Probably my favorite Uptown modernist building is both an office and production facility–the sleek International-style Montana Standard Building.  Not only is the Standard the touchstone for community news, the building is an important addition to the city’s 20th century architecture.

Montana Standard, 25 W. granite, international style

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Butte public buildings also embraced the new era in design.  The Butte Public Library is not so successful, with its understated classicism in a modern setting being neither particularly effective nor compelling.  The Uptown Butte Fire Station however is an excellent example of contemporary style.

There is such a thing as Butte Modernism.  While the city may not have the number of classic 1960s and 1970s buildings of, say, Billings or Great Falls, it has enough to mark those years of change and transition from the first half to the second half of the twentieth century in the Copper City.

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The Civic Center is another great modern era building from J.G. Link Company.

Anaconda’s public landscape

IMG_1419The public landscape of Anaconda has already been touched on in this blog–places like Washoe Park, the cemeteries, or Mitchell Stadium for instance.  Now I want to go a bit deeper and look at public buildings, both government and education in this smelter city.

deer lodge courthouse IMG_0529Let’s begin with the only building in Anaconda that truly competes with the stack for visual dominance, the imposing classical revival-styled Deer Lodge County Courthouse.  When copper baron Marcus Daly created Anaconda in the 1880s it may have been the industrial heart of Deer Lodge County but it was not the county seat.  Daly was not concerned–his hopes centered on gaining the state capitol designation for his company town.  When that did not happen, efforts returned to the county seat, which came to Anaconda in 1896.  The courthouse was then built from 1898-1900.

Daly didn’t have the state capitol but he did have a county courthouse worthy of landmark status: their architects, Charles E. Bell and John N. Kent were also the architects for the Montana State Capitol in Helena. What truly sets this county courthouse apart from many

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IMG_1382in Montana is the lavish interior of the central lobby and then the upper story dome.  The decorative upper dome frescoes come from a Milwaukee firm, Consolidated Artists. Newspaper accounts in 1900 recorded that the completed courthouse cost $100,000.

City Hall, 1895-6, Lane and Reber of ButteThe bombastic classicism of the courthouse was at odds with the earlier more High Victorian style of City Hall, built 1895-1896, and attributed to J. H. Bartlett and Charles Lane.  But classicism in the first third of the 20th century ruled in Anaconda’s public architecture, witness the Ionic colonnade of the 1931-1933 U.S. Post Office, from the office of Oscar Wenderoth.

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Public schools in the first third of Anaconda’s development also reflected Victorian traditions, such as the understated Collegiate Gothic of the Junior High School, 1927-1928, from the Great Falls architectural firm of Shanley and Baker.

Junior High, 1928, Main StOnce Anaconda, bursting at the seams following the boom of World War II, chose to upgrade its public schools, it took a decided turn away from traditional European influenced styles and embraced modernism, as defined in Montana during the 1950s.

Lincoln elementary, Chestnut at E. 4thThe long, lean facade of Lincoln Elementary School (1950) began the trend.  Its alternating bands of brick punctuated by bands of glass windows was a classic adaptation of International style in a regional setting.  The modernist bent continued in 1950-1952 with the Anaconda Central High School, the private Catholic school, now known as the Fred Moody middle school, only a few blocks away.  Except here the modernist style is softened by the use of local stone, giving it a rustic feel more in keeping with mid-20th century sensibilities and the Catholic diocese’s deliberate turn to modern style for its church buildings of the 1950s and 1960s (see my earlier post on College of Great Falls).

The celebration of symmetry in a factory-like style advocated ed by some mid-20th century modernists is no better stated than in the Anaconda Senior High School, the public high school completed in 1954-1955 and designed by the Montana firm of J. G. Link and Company.

Anaconda high School

If anyplace in Montana better conveys the post-World War II turn in public education to resemble the corporate ethos beginning to dominate American culture it is this high school building.  From the railroad depot, at the bottom of Main Street, one catches a glimpse of the long horizontal facade, and immediately think–there’s a corporate office, maybe a factory, up the street. This is one interesting building.

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So too is a very different building as to purpose but not to style, the National Guard Armory.  Appropriated by Congress in 1960 and built in 1961 for an estimated $66,000, the armory is a functional concrete building that speaks well to the style of modernism so often associated with military buildings of the Cold War era.

Montana Ntl Guard armory, Anaconda 1950s

Traveling the historic Manitoba Line, from Havre to Big Sandy

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The impact of the Great Northern Railway on the settlement of northern Montana really can never be over-emphasized–its mark on the settlement landscape and later transportation routes is that important.  Most travelers, and many residents, do not realize that the railroad, then named the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba, did not initially strike straight across the plains to Glacier National Park.  In 1887 it turned at Havre and headed southwest towards Great Falls, creating a distinct modern landscape along Big Sandy Creek that you may still follow today.

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The first important stop was Fort Assinniboine, a U.S. army base established in 1879, before the first settlers arrived. The army maintained this major base until the 1910s and later in that decade its land and buildings became the Northern Montana demonstration farm, allowing state and federally supported agricultural reformers learn and demonstrate best practices in farming techniques and crops for the region.  Today it remains part of the state’s extension service, which has adapted some buildings for new uses while keeping others preserved as part of the nationally significant story of the U.S. military and its occupation of the northern plains.  

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When I visited the fort site in 1984, the highway marker was the primary interpretation.  The farm’s administrators have since worked with the Montana State Historic Preservation office to locate interpretive markers outside of several buildings.  Tours of the complex are also available by reservations.

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 As part of the federal process of transforming the landscape of Big Sandy Creek, the homesteading boom left its mark everywhere in the 1910s.  But also in 1916 the federal government established the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation for the Chippewa Cree.  The Manitoba Road’s intersection with the reservation came at Box Elder, at the border between Hill and Chouteau counties.  In 1984 one of the early Great Northern-era combination depot still stood at the town, although it seemed destined for destruction. Imagine my surprise in 2013 when the depot still remained, but barely so. 

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The gas station’s roadside architecture also faces an uncertain future.  But St. Anthony’s Catholic Church remained a key landmark and along U.S. 87 in the reservation stood a new architecturally distinctive building:  the Northern Wing Casino.  

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Big Sandy is easily the largest town of northern Chouteau County, a place that abounds in surprises.  In 1984 the town’s old homesteader hotel remained, and so many other Montana towns had lost these artifacts of the early 20th century settlement. 

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Thirty years later, the hotel remains in place, as do several other architecturally important buildings, from the Northern Monana State Bank, a vault-like neo-classical style building to the modern contemporary styling of St. Margaret Mary’s Catholic Church.

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 Impressive adaptive reuse projects also had taken place, with the community turning the historic Great Northern depot into a center for its historical society and museum.  Big Sandy has a t-town plan, with its stem lined by businesses and other ventures, such as the false front Odd-Fellows Lodge or the recently established coffee shop.

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The town’s New Deal era school remained, although the building’s original International Style design was somewhat muted by a new roof and other cosmetic changes. Yet, here was the school that nurtured Jeff Ament, who moved to Seattle and gained fame as part of the internationally significant band, Pearl Jam.  

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Big Sandy has steadily lost population since 1984–600 people remained in the 2010 census–but key landmarks remain standing and in use.  Impressive.  The days of the Manitoba Road are long gone but this early railroad town still makes a powerful historical statement.