Railroad Corridors in western Gallatin County

Gallatin County is one of the oldest white settlement landscapes in Montana. The Bozeman Trail to the western gold fields introduced settlers from the 1860s to 1880 to the potentially rich land of the Gallatin Valley.  Then the Northern Pacific Railroad opened the heart of the valley to development as the tracks crossed the Bozeman Pass in the early 1880s.

Gallatin Co Manhattan 5Manhattan was not originally Manhattan, but named Moreland, as discussed in an earlier blog about the effort to build a barley empire in this part of Gallatin County at the turn of the century by the Manhattan Malting Company and its industrial works here and in Bozeman.  But the existing railroad corridor, along with the surviving one- and two-

Gallatin Co Manhattan rr corridor

story commercial buildings facing the tracks (and old U.S. Highway 10), always made a drive through Manhattan a pleasant diversion as I crisscrossed Montana in 1984-1985. The town has a strong 1920s feel, in large part because of an earthquake that destroyed a good bit of the town’s original buildings in 1925.

Manhattan has changed significantly over 30 years–as the storefronts above suggest–just not to the degree of Belgrade.  But you wonder if its time is not coming.  From 1980 to 1990–the years which I visited the town the most–its population barely ticked up from 988 to 1032.  In the 25 years since the population has expanded to an estimated 1600.

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Gallatin Co Manhattan  garageThe historic auto garage from c. 1920 above is one of the most significant landmarks left upon old U.S. 10, and I am glad it is still used for its original function in the 21st century.

Community landmarks-fraternal lodges, the wonderful 1960s modernism of the Manhattan public school, and historic church buildings add character and a sense of stability to Manhattan.

Different variations on the Bungalow style characterize the town’s historic neighborhood. Buildings, like along old U.S. 10, have changed but still that sense of the early 20th century comes strongly across as you walk along Manhattan’s sidewalks.

At the same time, the new face of Manhattan is appearing in developments just south of the railroad corridor and in new construction facing the tracks.  Both buildings “fit” into the town but stylistically and in materials belong more to the 21st century American suburb, especially when compared to the remaining vernacular commercial buildings.

Is Manhattan at a crossroads between its long history as a minor symmetrical-plan town along the Northern Pacific Railroad and its new place as one of the surrounding rural suburbs of the Bozeman area?  Probably.

Gallatin Co Manhattan RR crossingBut it has many positives in place to keep its character yet change with the times.  Many residents are using historic buildings for their businesses and trades.  Others are clearly committed to the historic residential area–you can’t help but be impressed by the town’s well-kept historic homes and well-maintained yards and public areas.

Like at Belgrade, historic preservation needs to have a greater focus here.  Nothing in the town is listed in the National Register but as these photos suggest, certainly there is National Register potential in this town.

 

 

 

 

Gallatin County’s Country Towns

Gallatin Co AmsterdamMontana history has many episodes that involve rich eastern and foreign capitalists who rolled the dice on Montana’s resources.  Typically everyone thinks of the mining and railroad corporations of the late 19th century.  But in several places across the Big Sky Country, investors looked to the land itself and dreamed of agricultural bonanzas.

IMG_6807Such is the case of Amsterdam and Church Hill (now Churchill), two rural communities in today’s rapidly suburbanizing Gallatin County.   The Manhattan Malting Company was mostly a New York City venture which in the early 1890s, before the terrible depression of 1893-1896, established an industrial base on the Northern Pacific Railroad, changing the name of the town from Moreland to Manhattan.  The company purchased 13,000 acres,and acquired the best in agricultural technology, the Jacob Price Field Locomotive steam plow, to till the soil.  They also convinced hundred of Dutch farmers to come to Gallatin County and work the land.  Even with the hard times, or perhaps because of them, people still wanted good beer, and the company prospered.  By 1905 the company decided to shed itself of the land and focus on malting barley.

Gallatin Co Amsterdam 1The new land company focused on getting farmers on its land, and to secure a railroad spur line.  The railroad came in 1911, and the community name of Amsterdam reflected the ethnic origins of the surrounding farmers and ranchers.  Even when the Malting Company failed during Prohibition, the farmers kept going, developing some of the still most productive farmland in the state.

IMG_6803When I visited Amsterdam in 1984 the railroad line still operated but the spur closed the next year, leaving today only a faint corridor to mark its route.  Look close and you can still see the outline of the T-plan town that was once “downtown Amsterdam” by the remaining historic commercial buildings, with the Danhof automobile dealership still in business today, with a newer showroom just east of the old railroad tracks.

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Gallatin Co Amsterdam 8

The Amsterdam school is also thriving today, serving both the Amsterdam and Churchill communities, as well as the expanding suburban enclaves of this part of the county. The school is not a frame building but a decidedly mid-20th century modern design in concrete.

Churchill had changed markedly since my last visit 30 years ago.  The constant was the landmark Manhattan Christian Reformed Church:  after all that is how the name Church Hill came about–the congregation located their Gothic-styled landmark on the highest point in the area.  The church is even larger today, and the adjacent Manhattan Christian Academy has built new facilities since my last visit.

Gallatin Co Churchill Manhattan Christian 2

The second landmark church is the Bethel Christian Reformed Church, and between the two churches along the road early to mid-20th residences remain much as they were 30

Gallatin Co Churchill Bethel Christian Reformed Church

years ago.  But suburbs are everywhere, and the demographics and culture of the area are changing. Perhaps that helps to explain why residents placed at the park at Manhattan Christian Reformed Church a monument to the “Holland Settlement,” to those “forefathers” who first settled this area over 100 years ago.  There was no need for this monument in 1985.  But in the 21st century times and people had changed. This boulder monument will be hard to displace, no matter what happens to the land around it.

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