Polson is the county seat of Lake County, a town that when I visited as part of the state historic preservation plan survey in 1984 had experienced a bit of recent growth, inching closer to 2800 residents after a 20 year period of being in the mid-2000s. In all, a typical small town Montana county seat, complete with the New Deal era courthouse, c. 1935,
designed in an understated Art Deco style by architect Fred Brinkman. The solid condition and conservation of this landmark was good to see in 2015, as well as the continuation of one of the state’s great roadside architecture landmarks, Burgerville, on U.S. Highway 93 south of the commercial core.
But in the last 30 years, Polson has boomed as a lakeside resort town, with a population of 4700 today compared to the 2800 of the 1980s. Key landmarks remain but nothing has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since my 1984 visit, even the great New Deal modern courthouse above.
As the collage above shows, the town has historic buildings still serving the community after 100 years of history, with historic businesses, homes, the town gymnasium, and churches among those landmarks. The Flathead-Poison Historical Museum has operated since the 1960s. The gymnasium has been a community center for recreation and sports since the mid-20th century.
Certainly I have my favorites such as the flashy Art Deco style of the Beacon Tire and Garage on the old highway 93 route and especially the historic grandstand of the Lake County Fairgrounds on the outskirts of Polson.
These landmarks need to be treasured because a new Polson is emerging all around town–and could crowd out the places that frame the community’s identity. Right now there is a balance between old and new, but a tipping point is around the corner.
Those who crowd the farmers market in downtown during the warm weeks of the year need to realize how fragile that small town feel and landscape can be today.