I have always enjoyed exploring Blaine County, Montana. In earlier posts I have discussed such famous places as the Fort Belknap Reservation, and Harlem, its north gateway town, as well as Hays near the south end of the reservation and Cleveland, one of my favorite places in the region. Chinook, the county seat, has been featured in a couple of posts, and I might add another one yet. then the Chief Joseph Battleground of the Bear’s Paw has gotten a considerable deal of attention, due to the national significance of the place, and the recent improvements to the battlefield from the National Park Service. Why so much on Blaine County places? Regular readers of this blog know of my interest in the irrigation systems of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in
the early twentieth century. The Milk River system was an important project, and the towns along U.S. Highway 2 and the Great Northern Railway mainline prospered, temporarily, because of the growth of the system. Plus the Milk River, in my opinion, doesn’t get the attention of many–and it is a spectacular river valley in many places.
Lehman, west of Chinook adjacent to both the Milk River and U.S. Highway 2, has almost totally disappeared as a place along the tracks. What is left of the town–this deteriorating commercial building in 2013–might even be gone today.
Zurich, west of Chinook and also abutting the river and the highway, has fared somewhat better. I have earlier commented on the existing street names–Park Avenue highlighted here–and the hopes for the future of the very names chosen at the turn of the century. Compared to my visit in 1984, the town has lost business and population over the last 30 years.
The Spa Bar still operated sporadically when I visited last in 2014. I wonder if it still opens its doors today. I love the name–a sly reference to Zurich, Switzerland, which is internationally known for its many spas.
What appears to be an old rural church–or was it a school, or both?–still stood, its gable front slowly coming apart.
But across the street was the modern Zurich Elementary School–an attractive touch of modern school design in such a small place. According to the public schools website,
Zurich had 23 students in 2020–while another internet source said the school was permanently closed. I hope that has not happened–if the school goes Zurich will be yet another Hi-Line ghost town quickly.