To those who built a state, and made history

Sad news came out of the state capitol last week when budget cuts gave the Montana Historical Society no choice but to announce that its uber talented staff just don’t have the funding to travel to the hundreds of important places across the state, to gather stories, preserve historic buildings, conserve invaluable documents and photographs, and to celebrate with communities both large and small the history, traditions, and people that made Montana the special place it is.

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It’s unfortunate when a state steps back from its past and thinks its future is better without it.  When I look for those who built the state, the deep past is where I start, and the leaps forward in how Montana’s tribes are documenting and interpreting their history to their terms and needs, one of the most important developments in Montana’s heritage development over the last 30 plus years.

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Then there are the properties that link the peoples of Montana and their sense of themselves and their past–cemeteries large and small across the state, where veterans are commemorated and families celebrated.

IMG_7537Fort Kipp Cemetery, above, is one of those place, nestled on the river bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.  On a larger scale but still intimate, personal, and compelling is the city cemetery of Red Lodge, hundreds of miles away. Here surrounded by the mountains

are graves from the early Finnish residents who came to work at the coal mines and build a community. Some are of a traditional design, immediately translated from the old country.  Others–like the cast iron family marker shown above–are as mainstream as American industry could make it at the turn of the twentieth century:  a prefabricated marker cast somewhere back east but with Finnish lettering, speaking to those who also came over in c.1900 to build a new land.

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The Finnish imprint on the landscape of Carbon County has been eclipsed by generations of growth since the early 1900s, but as the 2016 Road Show of the Montana Preservation Alliance demonstrated, buildings large and small are still part of the landscape.  With a few acres of land outside of Red Lodge, Finnish settlers and their descendants have maintained a place of community–the Kavela–which remains vibrant some 100 years later.  At this place of ethnic identity and celebration, you almost feel like an intruder–that you have stepped inside a sacred circle as an outsider.  But families go out of their way to make you feel welcome, through fellowship, good food, and stories of past and present.  The Kavela naturally features one of the most traditional Finnish community buildings–the sauna, built of concrete in the 1920s.  Speak of tradition, ethnic pride, and assimilation–a concrete sauna might say it all.

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Indeed what you can find in the Finnish landscape of Carbon County is repeated countless times across Big Sky Country, just in different languages and with different forms.  It is why you get off the interstates and travel the backroads, the dirt roads, for

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the markers of the nations that built our nation can be almost anywhere. It might be of the many ethnicities who mined the copper of Butte, or the African American railroad

workers and other average citizens who established permanent institutions such as the Bethel Union AME Church in Great Falls, pictured below.

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Stonemasons from Croatia are credited with many of the architecturally striking stone buildings in Lewistown, shown below, whereas if you stop and explore the state capital

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of Helena, you can see where  Irish Americans banded together to fund some of the state’s most iconic structures, from the majestic Catholic Cathedral that overlooks the city and the commanding statue of General Thomas Meagher in front of the State Capitol.

From the Meagher statue it is only a few steps to the east to the doors of the Montana Historical Society.  Its operating hours are fewer but you will find an institution not just of the past but of the future for like the land itself, the society, its collections, and dedicated staff are the keepers of the things and words that remain from those who built the state.  The idea that Montana can stride into the 21st century without the Montana Historical Society is folly, defined.

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Veterans Memorials Across Montana

Meagher Co White Sulpher Springs Mayn Cemetery 8 - Version 2On this Memorial Day 2017 it is appropriate to celebrate the many memorials created by Montanans to recognize and commemorate the citizen soldiers who have served the armed forces of the United States.  I am not adding much commentary because the memorials, both large and small, speak powerfully for themselves, and reflect the best of our values as a nation.

Garfield Co Jordan war memorial

One of my favorite new veterans memorials is in Jordan, one of Montana’s smallest county seats, where memorial statuary and plaques with names of those who served stand proudly in the heart of the town.

Lake Co Arlee school memorial 2Another compelling new memorial, at least it was installed after my historic preservation plan survey of 1984-1985, are these granite slabs, framed by the mountains, at Arlee.

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Dillon war memorial 3Dillon had significantly expanded its earlier veterans memorial (on the left) along the federal highway into an impressive new city park, the Southwest Montana Veterans Memorial.

Ennis Veterans Memorial (New Deal?)Even with the many changes in Ennis, the town has maintained its Veterans Memorial Park as a beautiful public park.

Flathead Co Kalispell veterans memorial

Another change was in Kalispell where the town had significantly expanded an earlier veterans memorial into one of the state’s most impressive monuments, located at the historic start of town on the grounds of the railroad depot.

Another city park with a veterans memorial theme is in Lewistown, where the nuclear missile tells you the role that central Montana still plays in our national defense.

Vets Memorial, US 93, HamiltonHamilton’s veterans memorial along U.S. Highway 93 will be a landmark for generations.

Blaine Co Harlem air pilot memorial 1992

There are many more that could be included in this overview but for today I will end with another “new” memorial, at Harlem along U.S. Highway 2.  This somber memorial is to a nearby plane crash in 1992 that claimed the lives of thirteen airmen: an event that shook this tiny town, and now will be forever remembered.

Blaine Co Harlem air pilot memorial detail

 

 

Lewistown’s Heritage Development

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Photo by Montana Preservation Alliance.

During the state historic preservation planning process in 1984-1985, the new historic preservation efforts in Lewistown, especially the focus on the sandstone masonry of the Croatians, were noted and celebrated as well as the town’s only “marked” historic site, Reed’s Fort Post Office, associated with the very early history of settlement in Fergus County and the history of the Metis who lived here in the 1870s and 1880s.  Certainly much more was known about the community’s history and architecture. But there was little public interpretation, except for this log building and, on the other side, of the town, a public park with military artifacts including an ICBM missile–a rarity then and now for a public park anywhere in the west.

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IMG_0010Even the local museum was at the beginning stage, sharing quarters with the chamber of commerce in a Ranch-style building, like the park, on the outskirts of town.

IMG_0016How times changed over 30 years.  The museum is still at its location but adjacent is now a new facility, replicating a huge barn, expanded exhibits and artifacts about the region’s history.

IMG_0017Markers about National Register-listed properties and districts exist throughout town, courtesy of the exemplary interpretive marker program of the Montana Historical Society.

IMG_9390What happens within town is supported by recent interpretive marker installations at the highway rest stop as you enter Lewistown.  From this spot there is an excellent view of the historic Lewistown airfield, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, for its significance in World War II aerial supply lines and defense.

IMG_9416Not only can you see the historic district, you also can learn about its significance through an interpretive marker developed by Montana Department of Transportation.

IMG_9415Steps away is another interpretive kiosk, related to an earlier, sadder military story, that of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians and their attempted flight to freedom in Canada in the 1870s.  Both markers also emphasized the overall theme of transportation and how Lewistown has been crisscrossed by important historical events for centuries.

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Walking tour brochures help visitors and residents understand more of the history and architectural beauty of the town, from landmarks such as St. Leo’s Catholic Church, an amazing interpretation of Italian

IMG_9965Renaissance revival style from the prominent Montana firm of Link and Haire, and the historic early 20th century domestic architecture in the downtown neighborhoods.

IMG_9923The town’s historic districts serve as anchors within the commendable trail system developed in Lewistown over the last 20 years.  Local officials and representatives, working with the state government and abandoned railroad property and corridors, have established a series of trail loops that not only provide excellent recreational opportunities, as signified in this trail head near the Yogo Inn, but also paths for heritage tourists and

IMG_9403residents alike to explore the landscape, and how history in the 19th and 20th centuries created the place where they live and play today.

IMG_9405As we will see later in western Montana, like in Butte and Kalispell, trail systems can be the best of heritage development because they take advantage of the state’s greatest asset–its landscape and sense of the Big Sky Country–and combine it with explanations of the layers of history you encounter wherever you go, creating an asset that visitors will like but that residents will cherish, because they can use it on a daily basis.

IMG_0014Of course recreation, to my mind, is never complete unless there are nearby watering holes where one can relax and replenish, and Lewistown is rich in those too, being they the various classic roadside establishments along the highways entering and leaving town or the can’t miss taverns downtown, such as The Mint and the Montana Tavern, where the signs speak to the good times to come. Those properties are crucial for heritage development because they are important in themselves but they also are the places that get people to stop, and hopefully explore.

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Fergus Co Lewistown Montana tavern sign downtown commerical HD 24 - Version 2Using multiple pasts to create new opportunities for communities:  Lewistown has it going, and it’s far different world today than in 1984.

 

 

 

 

 

Lewistown’s Public Buildings: Legacies of Service in Two Centuries

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For a town of 6,000, Lewistown has an imposing, impressive public presence in its historic built environments.  Clearly town founders and generations of later residents have taken the meaning of public architecture to heart–not only are they just buildings meant to hold public services but they are buildings that are meant to ennoble–to say that the town matters to those who use them, and those who come this way.

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The Fergus County Courthouse (1907-1908) lies at the center of town, on a rise above the railroads tracks and central business district and then the homes and schools that surround it.  Newton C. Gauntt of Yakima, Washington, was the architect.  He also designed courthouses in Washington and Oregon.  His Classical Revival design reflected a more vernacular interpretation of the style that preceded the courthouse by two years–that would be the Carnegie Library of 1905.  T. J. Tubb was the

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contractor/designer and used the town’s Croatian stone masons to create one of the most distinctive Carnegie designs in the state.  The additions below and in front came in 1990–quite the change in 30 years but also a necessary one to keep the original building as a community landmark and to serve a much different public library audience of the late 20th century.

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Behind the library was the place I always stayed at in Lewistown during the fieldwork of 1984–the Calvert Hotel.  Originally built as a girls’ high school dormitory, the building was a disappearing relic from the early homesteading days before buses and automobiles dominated traffic do and from county schools.  Students in faraway ranches would spend the week, maybe more, in the dorms during the school term–a reality that spoke to sense of distance and the limits of transportation 100 years ago.  In the 1980s, the Calvert was much like its dorm-day appearances: some modern upgrades but it was a rustic, and inexpensive, stay, perfect for someone like me.  New owners, thankfully, carried out a complete restoration and upgrade between 2007-2009.  The Calvert is now a totally different place, and fits squarely in our theme of a public building serving the community well, through adaptive reuse and historic preservation, in the 21st century.

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The same can be said for the historic school just up the street from the Calvert and its conversion into the Esplanade condominiums.  Here again, a public building still serves the community but in a different way than before.

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In the central business district, the grand triple-arched entrance of the Civic Auditorium is a reminder of the impact of the New Deal on the city.  The Works Progress Administration did a lot of little things in Lewistown, streets, sidewalks, utilities, but its most lasting contribution is the civic auditorium of 1936, still a meeting place for community events.

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Another federally funded building a few steps away was finished during the beginning of the Great Depression, the Lewistown Post Office, an impressive Classical Revival design from 1931.

 

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On the outskirts of town is another important set of buildings still in community service, not just to Lewistown but to towns and villages from miles away:  the Central Montana Fairgrounds.  The monument at the front entrance, part of the fair’s centennial celebration a few years ago, says it all:  100 years of pulling together.  Yes, it is a good motto for the fair, but to my eye it’s also a fitting motto for the entire town.

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The fairgrounds has an array of historic barns, stalls, and exhibition buildings that define the grounds while the new grandstand defines the signature events of today’s 21st century fair experience.

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Lewistown: at the heart of Eastern Montana

IMG_9389Lewistown, the seat of Fergus County, has been a hub for trade and government for eastern Montana since the 1880s.  Beginning as a trading post, the town next served as a crossroads for traffic going to short-lived precious metal mines at Kendall, Maiden, Giltedge, and other places.  Cattle ranches, such as the famous DHS Ranch and the N-Bar Ranch, also surrounded the place.  By the turn of the 20th century, the town had over 1,000 residents.  But by this time, railroad companies eyed the area for possible agricultural development, and within 20 years Lewistown had boomed–gaining six times its population–and a fascinating array of commercial and public buildings in the wake of the population growth.

IMG_9381The Great Northern Railway not only an understated Classical Revival depot on one end of the town, it also expanded lines throughout Fergus County like tentacles desperate to grab as many wheat crops as possible.  The depot remains today, converted into a convenience mart and gas station (an adaptive reuse you do not commonly find for railroad depots).  On the other end of town stands the other major line–the Milwaukee Road–devoted to the homesteading rush in Fergus County.  It built an even grander

IMG_0004complex as a statement to its wishful dominance of the agricultural trade.  Shortly after the closure and bankruptcy of the line in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the depot became a large adaptive reuse project, turning the Milwaukee Road complex into the Yogo Inn and convention center, where, in 1984, I attended the Montana Historical Society statewide history conference.

IMG_9400The bloom grew stale over the decades and when I visited in 2013, the Yogo was clearly on life support; I was encouraged in May 2015 to find renovations underway–maybe there will be a third life for this Milwaukee Road landmark in Lewistown.

The Great Northern and the Milwaukee created the transportation network that brought homesteaders to central Montana by the thousands. Merchants, bankers, and craftsmen then rebuilt the downtown from 1904 to 1916, and much of that flurry of construction still serves residents today in the central business historic district, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

IMG_9973Classical Revival was the architectural statement of choice to this new Lewistown taking shape along Main Street.  The architects of the Montana State Capitol, Bell and Kent, designed a new Bank of Fergus County (above, on the right) in 1904.  It received another layer of classicism in the pilasters a decade later when owners wanted to match the flashy Judith Theater (1914), certainly one of the great examples of Beaux Arts design in a small Montana town movie palace.

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By 1916, however, bank officials were ready to support the town’s most complete interpretation of Classical Revival design in the new Montana Building, designed by the firm of Link and Haire.  The bank seemingly had few limits in front of it–homesteaders still arriving and agricultural prices were high.  But the boom went bust in the early 1920s and by 1924 the building had new owners, the First National Bank.  It has remained home to financial institutions ever since.

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IMG_9951The splashy Beaux Arts classicism of the banks and theater catch your eye but much more common are two-story commercial blocks, often with a more understated classicism, where retail businesses used the first floor and professionals occupied the second.  The town had a several gifted craftsmen who left their mark in these buildings and others.

Detail Masonic Temple Lewistown Fergus Co IMG_9955Croatian stonemasons left impressive stone Romanesque arches at the Masonic Lodge, a detail I photographed in 1984 (left) and 2013 (right).  The building itself is a dignified statement of both craftsmanship and purpose, combining both classical and Romanesque elements using locally available stone.  It’s one of my favorite buildings in town.

Fergus Co Lewistown masonic temple downtown commercial HD 13 - Version 2Not far away is the I.O.O.F. Hall, from 1914.  Here is an even later example of Romanesque arches highlighting a building that is both a fraternal lodge but also valuable retail space.

IMG_9966Be they multi-story or just one-story commercial businesses, this set of commercial designs convey so strongly the promise of early 1900s to thousands of Montanans.  Lewistown’s population had reached 6,000 by 1920–that generation would be shocked to know that remains the population today. Much more on Lewistown to come.

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