Montana State Capitol: update

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In 1982, two years before I began my survey of all 56 counties for the state historic preservation office, I took on a very meaningful and fun assignment—developing an interpretive tour of the recently restored Montana State Capitol.  Jim Mc Donald’s firm in Missoula had developed a comprehensive study nd they and the many partners and contractors restored the grand spaces of this turn of the twentieth century building.

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Designed by the firm of Bell and Kent, the Capitol is a jaw-dropping public space, which spoke of the state’s dreams and ambitions at its beginning. No matter how jaded you might be about politics and politicians today just a walk through the corridors of grandeur, and power, of the Capitol will remind you that democracy does matter and we the people continue down the demanding path of making ourselves rise up to democracy’s promise.

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Plus the 1982 project was just a great learning experience. I worked most closely with Jennifer Jeffries Thompson, then the education curator at the Montana Historical Society, plus it became a way to meet and learn from the SHPO staff then, led by Marcella Sherry, and the architect Lon Johnson and architectural historian Pat Bick.  Governor Ted  Schwinden and his staff were great and I always appreciated the interest shown by Senate Republican leader (and future governor) Stan Stephens.  Senator Stephens always wanted me to lead his groups through the building, but I never knew if that was because he thought I had something to say or that everyone always liked to hear me say it, with my southern accent echoing in the chambers and hallways.

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I learned so much because the Capitol was full of magnificent western art depicting pivitol moments in state history, as understood by state leaders one hundred years ago.  Everyone (my celebrities included actors Clint Eastwood and Robert Duvall) wanted to see Charles M. Russell’s depiction of the Lewis and Clark expedition at Ross’s Hole in the House chamber.  My favorites however were the series of historical paintings by Edgar Paxton in the legislative lounge and office area.

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Paxson’s portrayal of Sacajawea showing the way at Three Forks—artistic license acknowledged—was always a favorite teaching opportunity for in a painting of 100 years ago Paxton depicted a reality—the presence and importance of a Native American woman and an African American slave, York—at a time when historians of the west had difficulty even acknowledging their existence in history.

I also liked the scope of Paxton’s narrative and the prominence of the Native American stor..u even to the surrender of Chief Joseph, which would have been fairly recent history when Paxton carried out his work.

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The Senate Chamber taught other stories, from the process of voting and government to the story of the three Georgians who left the South in the midst of the Civil War to find riches in Last Chance Gulch, now Helena, and on to the massive Sioux and Cheyenne victory over George Armstrong Custer’s Calvary at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

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While I had stopped in at the Capitol several times in the last decade, I did not really explore. My trip this summer found many more history lessons throughout the building.

The statue of the Mansfields were an effective complement to the earlier statues for Wilbur F. Sanders  and Jeanette Rankin, which had booth stood in the Capitol when I worked there in 1882 and 1983. I also really like the bronze bell added in honor of the state’s centennial.  Both the Mansfields and the bell allow you to take visitors into Montana’s late twentieth century history.

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Then the women history murals, titled Women Build Montana, are just delightful, and inspiring.  Installed in 2015 the murals by Hadley Ferguson add new layers of history and meaning to the grand old Capitol. Of course there is much more to the art and architecture of the State Capitol than what I have highlighted here. The Montana Historical Society maintains an excellent website that gives you all of the details you would ever need. But I hope that you do will visit the Capitol if you haven’t recently.  Some 36 years after I first discovered its history, art, and architecture it still has many lessons to teach.

Helena”s Odd Fellows Cemetery

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Odd Fellows Cemetery 4Standing quietly next to Forestvale Cemetery is Helena’s Odd Fellows Cemetery, formed in 1895 when several local lodges banded together to create a cemetery for its members.  Most visitors to Forestvale probably think of this cemetery as just an extension of Forestvale but it is very much its own place, with ornamental plantings and an understated arc-plan to its arrangement of graves.

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MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Odd Fellows Cemetery 2Compared to Forestvale, there are only a handful of aesthetically imposing grave markers, although I found the sole piece of cemetery furniture, the stone bench above, to be a compelling reminder of the reflective and commemorative purpose of the cemetery.

MT Lewis and Clark County Helena Odd Fellows CemeteryOne large stone monument, erected in the 1927 by the Rebekah lodges (for female members) of the town, marks the burial lot for IOOF members who died in Helena’s Odd Fellows Home, a building that is not extant.  The memorial is a reminder of the types of social services that fraternal lodges provided their members, and how fraternal lodges shaped so much of Helena’s social and civic life in the late 19th and early twentieth century.  Helena’s Odd Fellows Cemetery is a significant yet overlooked contributor to the town’s and county’s historic built environment.

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Helena’s Resurrection Cemetery (1908)

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Dominated by the monumental Cruse family mausoleum, Resurrection Cemetery has been a Montana Avenue landmark for over 100 years.  It is not the first Catholic cemetery in Helena–the original one was nearer the yards of the Northern Pacific Railroad and was closed c. 1906-1908, when Resurrection Cemetery was under development.  The first cemetery became abandoned and many markers and crypts were not removed until the late 1940s and 1950s.  Then in the 1970s, the city finished the process and turned the cemetery into Robinson Park, where a small interpretive marker still tells the story of the first Catholic cemetery.

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Resurrection is a beautifully planned cemetery, with separate sections, and standardized markers, for priests and for the sisters, as shown above.  Their understated tablet stones mark their service to God and add few embellishments.  Not so for the merchant and political elite buried in the historic half of Resurrection Cemetery.  “Statement” grave markers abound, such as the Greek Revival temple-styled mausoleum for the Larsen family, shown below.

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An elaborate cross marks the family plot of Martin Maginnis, an influential and significant merchant and politician from the early decades of the state’s history (but who is largely forgotten today).  Nearby is the family plot for one of Maginnis’ allies in central Montana and later in Helena, T. C. Power.

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Joseph K. Toole, a two-time Governor of Montana, is also buried with a large but not ornate stone marker, shown below. Former senator Thomas Walsh is nearby but what is

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most interesting about the Walsh family plot is the striking Arts and Crafts design for his

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daughter Elinor Walsh, who died as a young woman.  I have not yet encountered a marker similar to hers in all of Montana.

IMG_4387Another compelling marker with statuary is that of another young woman rendered in marble, a memorial to James and Catherine Ryan.

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Thomas Cruse, who struck it rich with the Drumlummon mine at Marysville, had no qualms about proclaiming his significance and the grandest cemetery memorial in Montana bears his name.  Cruse already had put up at least one-third of the funding for the magnificent High Gothic-styled St. Helena Cathedral in downtown Helena.  At Resurrection, Cruse (who died in late 1914) was laid to rest in a majestic classical-style family mausoleum where his wife and his daughter were also interred (both proceeded Cruse in death).  The Cruse mausoleum is the centerpiece of Resurrection’s design.

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But the monuments for the rich and famous at Resurrection are the exceptions, not the rule.  In the historic half of the cemetery, most markers are rectangular tablet types.  The cemetery also has a separate veterans section.  IMG_4373

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Forestvale: Helena’s Victorian Cemetery

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Its castellated Gothic gate standing silently a few blocks off of Montana Avenue south of downtown Helena, Forestvale Cemetery was established, at the end of a trolley line, in 1890.  Montana has just become a state and Helena would soon enough become the permanent state capitol.  The cemetery is the final resting place for town and state founders, pioneers, and the hundreds of workers, merchants, ranchers, and mechanics who shaped Helena’s history for over 100 years.

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As the interpretive marker at the entrance cemetery notes, the cemetery came into public ownership in 1991 and has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  It “was designated as a ‘Rural Park,’ a place to walk through Montana history.”

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I would agree fully with that assertion.  When I moved to Montana in 1981 my first abode was the Chessman Flats, a Victorian row house converted to apartments next to the Original Governor’s Mansion.  I soon sought out Chessman’s final resting place, a sizable family plot shown above.  I also discovered the graves of many famous late 19th century Montanans who I was just learning about.  Samuel Hauser, the banker and early territorial governor, is buried here in another family plot.

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The Fergus family was another name I recalled, especially with the proud designation of “Pioneers 1862”.  Several markers, like that for the Ecler family below,  note the final resting place of that first generation of settlers in the Big Sky Country.  Nor is Hauser the

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only governor to be buried here.  Tim Babcock, a late 20th century governor, is buried with a marker that outlines the state of Montana, a fitting tribute.

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The Nicolas family plot is one of the view, compared to the many at Benton Avenue Cemetery, to be outlined by a low metal fence.  But Forestvale also has a handful of the distinctive hollowed press metal grave markers, like the flamboyant combination of classical and Victorian motifs of the Leslie family marker.

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The pressed metal markers for the Leslies are just the beginning of the Victorian funerary art represented at Forestvale.  As shown below there is the Richardsonian Romanesque grave house memorial for the Brown family and the cut-off limbs monument for Mary Love Stoakes, who died in 1889.

Beautiful statuary is reflected in the grave marker for Lillian Stoakes Cullen, who died in 1897.

 

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But as is obvious in the background of the photographs above, the great majority of the grave markers at Forestvale are much more restrained, rectangular slabs of rock, respectful but minus the Victorian flourish.

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At the rear of the cemetery markers are missing, or are small and unadorned.  In the far corner is a later memorial to at least 22 children who died at the Montana Children’s Home and Hospital from 1917 to 1932.

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The cemetery’s interpretive marker noted that at Forestvale “There was never any prejudice as to creed or color.” That is not true, outside the north fence of the cemetery is a grave yard for Chinese residents of Helena.  This section is not well kept, and judging from the number of depressions, the number of people buried here could be sizable.

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A summer 2018 story in the Helena Independent Record told of a new local effort to identify the number of graves in this section and to begin a process to right a wrong.  Certainly the present condition is unacceptable, and hopefully steps will finally take place to place the “Chinese section” into the publicly owned and maintained cemetery.

Helena’s Benton Avenue Cemetery (1870)

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Nestled in the shadows of Mount Helena, across the street from Carroll College, with its boundaries made up of 1950s and 1960s suburban housing, and the historic main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad is Benton Avenue Cemetery, which dates to 1870.  The preservation effort here over a generation has met with several successes.  The cemetery was reclaimed, documented, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 18But my visit on Memorial Day 2018 left me with the feeling that the cemetery is an under-appreciated historic property.  There are no signs of true neglect, but it was so quiet on Memorial Day that I did think the place had become an almost forgotten historic asset–an afterthought in today’s busy world.  I hope not–because this cemetery has many jewels to explore and appreciate.  Perhaps the most striking–certainly most rare to see–are the cast iron baskets–or bassinets, see below, that surround two children’s graves.

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These are remarkable yet sad artistic creations–I have not seen anything comparable in my research in historic cemeteries in either the west, the midwest, or the south.  The Benton Avenue Cemetery has an amazing array of cast-iron fencing that define family

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MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 12plots–certainly the ironwork was a status symbol in the late 19th century and there is no one statement.  Families adorned their graves with fences much as they surrounded their houses in the nearby neighborhoods.

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There are numerous hollowed cast-iron grave markers too.  Almost everytime I share this late 19th century style marker with a viewer, they say, well they must be rare, what an odd thing.  But these markers were wildly popular in the railroad era.  You could

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order the marker with whatever designs or inscriptions you wish and they would soon be delivered.  Finding family groups of these hollow metal markers is rare, however, so the grouping for the Toole family at Benton Avenue deserves a close look.

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Veterans of the U.S. Army, several dating to service in the Civil War, are buried at Benton Avenue.  Other graves are just marked by slowly fading wood tablets.

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Ornamental planting abounds, and added beautiful color on Memorial Day.  My favorite grave marker is both early and unique.  Cast-iron is a material once crucial for all sorts of items in a household: pots, pans, tools, fire backs.  But a cast-iron grave marker–made of a single rectangular tablet with name and designs? That’s something special.

MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 28Benton Avenue Cemetery is worth a new consideration for its many different forms, materials, and designs.  When I lived in Helena some thirty-five years ago, I gave it scant attention–it deserves so much more.

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Helena’s Historic Cemeteries: Home of Peace Cemetery (1867)

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As discussed at several places in this blog, I have given careful consideration to the historic cemeteries of Montana in the fieldwork of 2012-2016.  When the initial survey for the state historic preservation plan took place in 1984 to 1985, cemeteries rarely registered with anyone–the professionals were not looking that way nor were communities.  That is no longer the case in historic preservation–cemeteries are an increasing area of interest.

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Home of Peace was established in 1867 and the cast iron fence around its boundaries dates to that time.  The earliest identified grave marker is 1873 but the Hebrew Benevolent Society (or Association), which established the cemetery originally, believes that Home of Peace includes burials from the 1860s.  The beautiful arched gateway to the cemetery dates c. 1910, the same time that the cottonwoods were planted and most of the existing ornamental plants in the cemetery were added.  Most of the burials are arranged in family groups, outlined by low stone or concrete walls.  Some are individuals, or couples.  A few are non-Jewish since at one time the association, which still owns the cemetery, allowed for their burials.

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IMG_4309The date of most markers are from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.  Mostly made of granite and sandstone, with some marble as well, the grave markers reflect Victorian styles and Classical influences.  Herman Gans’ marker from 1901, seen below, is a mixture of both.

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The cemetery contains several veterans markers in the standardized tablet design provided by the War Department and later the Veterans Administration. The grouping in the forefront, below, identifies two veterans from the Spanish-American War of 1898.

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In the mid-1970s the association transferred some of its land for the construction of Capitol High School, which now almost surrounds the cemetery, which had once stood faraway from the center of Helena’s population.

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IMG_4312The looming presence of the school grounds is a worry for future preservation of the cemetery–could it be possibly overlooked, ignored, and abandoned?   One online resource about the cemetery remarks that there are more Jews buried in the cemetery than live in Helena today.  But this sacred place is a powerful reminder of the contributions of the Jewish community to Helena’s growth and permanence.  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the cemetery should be valued as one of the city’s oldest and most significant historic properties.

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Lincoln’s TeePee Burner and new vistas in a national forest

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As I carried out my new exploration and documentation of the Montana historic landscape from 2012 to 2016, there were new developments underway that I missed as I moved from one region to another during those years.  The creation of Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild within a section of the national forest at Lincoln happened after I had revisited Lincoln–so I did not visit this exciting new sculpture park until May 2018.  The park’s mission is to celebrate “the rich environmental and cultural heritage of the Blackfoot Valley through contemporary art practice.”  Moving the TeePee Burner, which had stood for decades outside of the town between the Blackfoot River and Montana Highway 200, was the appropriate first step.  This large metal structure once burned wood refuse from the Delaney and Sons sawmill–now it is the centerpiece of creative space set within the national forest just off of the highway.

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The Gateway of Change (2014) by Jorn Ronnau of Denmark serves as an effective transition from the TeePee Burner to the other installations in the sculpture park.  Casey Schachner’s Stringer (2017), below, is a great pine fan, recalling in its strength and lift the industrial works of the past.

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My favorite installation in 2018 was the Picture Frame by Jaakko Frame of Finland, a massive interpretation of how we take nature and frame it constantly in our mind’s eye, or in our camera lens!

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Another favorite was what seemed to be a trench, but is named the East West Passage (2015) by its creators, Mark Jacobs and Sam Clayton of the UK.  The “walkable” structure creates a below-grade passage, giving a sense of direction in what can otherwise be a directionless landscape.

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Tyler Nansen’s Bat Beacons (2016) at first glance seems redundant–why have pine poles installed in a pine forest?  But Nansen wants to “encourage the preservation of bat habitats in Montana,” by creating possible roosts for bats with the black bat boxes at the top of each pole.

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Frankly everything you encounter as you walk through this special landscape is interesting, if not thought provoking.  And the artists are international, just as in the past the people who carved out the forests, dug the mines, and created towns came from across the globe.  What an appropriate representation of the people who made the Blackfoot River Valley a distinctive place. In my earlier posts I have discussed how the

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U. S. Forest Service really upped its game in public interpretation at historic sites from my fieldwork in the mid-1980s to the new survey of the mid-2010s.  Blackfoot Pathways takes the interpretive experience in new and worthwhile directions, acknowledging the industrial past of the forests but also identifying new paths for the future.

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