Hamilton’s Daly Mansion: A New Interior and New Interpretive Directions

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The story of the Daly Mansion from a shuttered family owned property in 1984-1985 to a fully realized historic house museum 30 years later also reflects well my timeline of engagement with the historic landscapes of the Big Sky Country.  It was a time capsule in the mid-1980s–a house starting to come apart but full of family furniture, papers, and countless treasures.  When the house was saved but the interior furnishings sold at auction, it seemed like a permanent separation.

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My first post on this blog in 2013 about the Daly Mansion and its restoration lauded the determination of the local non-profit to finish the exterior renovation and repairs, and to have the place open to the public on a regular basis.  It was and is an impressive achievement in a time when so-called experts say the era of historic house museums is over. But it was very much an exterior tour–when I visited six years ago, photographs were not allowed, not so much to protect items but because so much remained to be done. The place just did not have a historic “lived in” look.

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In the last five years, the Daly Mansion board and its many local supporters have finished the job.  Key pieces of family furniture, like the settee above and much of the dining room below, have returned, due in large part to purchases and commitments made at the original auction in the 1980s but many objects coming back to the house due to the persistence of board members and the willingness of auction buyers to return items now that 30 years have passed.

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The result is a house museum that depicts well the life of a wealthy family on their version of the 20th century country estate, and now with an appropriate focus on Margaret Daly, who selected the architectural style, purchased many of the furnishings, and kept the estate forefront in Montana luxury for four decades (Marcus Daly died in 1900, before the Colonial Revival conversion of the original house; Margaret lived until 1941).  Margaret Daly’s bedroom furniture had long been in the collections of the University of Montana Library–they are now in their rightful place in the Daly Mansion.

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The lushness, and personality, of Margaret Daly’s private quarters is now the norm across the house, from the first floor parlor to the second floor setting room.

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Even the third floor ballroom, once an evocative but largely empty space, is now used to display and interpret the rather amazing clothing collections of the museum.

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Certainly the words of one visitor during my May 2018 ring true:  “they were rich but had little taste” in the decorative arts.  But for Margaret Daly her Riverside estate was not a showplace as much as a place to escape for the summer.  The hodge-lodge of trendy but individually undistinguished furniture and objects suited that purpose just fine.

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The Daly Mansion is at a new place–a preservation and restoration project that had stretched out for thirty years.  But now the interior story, especially the focus on Margaret Daly, steps up to center stage.  The meaning of Riverside and the Bitter Root Stock Farm is still waiting for a full exploration and analysis.

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Ranches and the Montana landscape

 

Hirschy Ranch, Big Hole Valley, MT 278, 45 mmHere is a property category that could be, probably should be, a blog of its own–the ranching landscape of Big Sky Country.  Historic family ranches are everywhere in the state, and being of rural roots myself, and a Tennessee Century Farm owner, the ways families have crafted their lives and livelihood out of the land and its resources is always of interest.

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Wibaux ranch house, 1985.

When I carried out the 1984-1985 fieldwork for the Montana state historic preservation plan, a handful of ranches had been preserved as museums.  On the eastern end of the state in Wibaux was the preserved ranch house of Pierre Wibaux, one of the 1880s cattle barons of eastern Montana and western North Dakota.  The ranch house today remains as a historic site, and a state welcome center for interstate travelers–although you wish someone in charge would remove the rather silly awning from the gable end window.

Wibaux Co Wibaux Pierre Wibaux ranch NR 1Preserving merely the ranch house, and adding other period buildings, is one thing.  The massive preserved landscape of hundreds of acres of the Grant-Kohrs Ranch in the western end of Montana is a totally different experience. This National Park Service site

not only preserves one of the earliest settlement landscapes in the state it also shows how successful ranches change over time. John Grant began the place before the Civil War: he was as much an Indian trader than ranch man.  Grant Kohrs however looked at the rich land, the railroad line that ran through the place, and saw the potential for becoming a cattle baron in the late 19th century.  To reflect his prestige and for his family’s comfort, the old ranch house was even updated with a stylish Victorian brick addition. The layers of history within this landscape are everywhere–not surprisingly. There is a mix of 19th and 20th century buildings here that you often find at any historic ranch.

When I was working with the Montana Historical Society in 1984-1985 there were two additional grand ranches that we thought could be added to the earlier preservation achievements.  Both are now landmarks, important achievements of the last 30 years.

Bitterroot Stock Farm painting at Ravalli Co Courthouse 1The Bitter Root Stock Farm, established in 1886 by soon-to-be copper magnate Marcus Daly outside of Hamilton, came first.  I can recall early site visits in 1985–that started the ball rolling but the deal wasn’t finalized for several years.  All of the work was worth it.

Here was one of the grand showplace ranches of the American West, with its own layers of a grand Queen Anne ranch house (still marked by the Shingle-style laundry house) of Daly’s time that was transformed into an even greater Classical Revival mansion by his Margaret Daly after her husband’s death.  It is with us today largely due to the efforts of a determined local group, with support from local, state, and federal governments, a group of preservation non-profits, and the timely partnership of the University of Montana.

Daly Mansion by A.J. Gibson

 

The second possibility was also of the grand scale but from more recent times–the Bair Ranch in Martinsdale, almost in the center of the state. Charles Bair had made his money in sheep and wise investments.  His daughters traveled the world and brought treasures home to their Colonial Revival styled ranch house.  To get a chance to visit with Alberta Bair here in the mid-1980s was a treat indeed.

Once again, local initiative preserved the ranch house and surrounding buildings and a local board operates both a house museum and a museum that highlights items from the family’s collections.

The success of the Bitter Root Stock Farm and the Bair Ranch was long in the making, and you hope that both can weather the many challenges faced by our public historic sites and museums today.  We praise our past but far too often we don’t want to pay for it.

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That is why family stewardship of the landscape is so important.  Here are two examples from Beayerhead County.  The Tash Ranch (above and below) is just outside of Dillon and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  But is also still a thriving family ranch.

The same is true for the Bremmer Ranch, on the way to Lemhi Pass.  Here is a family still using the past to forge their future and their own stories of how to use the land and its resources to maintain a life and a culture.

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One family ranch that I highlighted in my book, A Traveler’s Companion to Montana History (1986), was the Simms-Garfield Ranch, located along the Musselshell River Valley in Golden Valley County, along U.S. Highway 12.  This National Register-property was not, at

Golden Valley Co Ryegate Simms-Garfield Ranch NR 3first glance, architecturally magnificent as the properties above.  But in its use of local materials–the timber, the rocks from the river bluffs–and its setting along a historic road, this ranch is far more typical of the Montana experience.

Similar traditions are expressed in another way at a more recent National Register-listed ranch, the Vogt-Nunberg Ranch south of Wibaux on Montana Highway 7. Actively farmed from 1911 to 1995, the property documents the changes large and small that happened in Montana agriculture throughout the 20th century.

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The stories of these ranches are only a beginning.  The Montana Preservation Alliance has done an admirable job of documenting the state’s historic barns, and the state historic preservation office has listed many other ranches to the National Register.  But still the rural landscape of the Big Sky Country awaits more exploration and understanding.

 

The Copper King’s Bitterroot Stock Farm

IMG_0632Marcus Daly, the copper magnate of Butte and Anaconda, certainly put his stamp on the landscape of Silver Bow and Deer Lodge counties.  But not until the early 1980s did most Montanans understand that Daly too had shaped the landscape of the Bitterroot Valley with the creation and expansion of his Bitterroot Stock Farm, starting in 1886 and continuing even beyond his death in 1900.

It is a stunning landscape, framed by the mountains and railroad tracks, crisscrossed by irrigation ditches.  Daly created the ranch to specialize in livestock breeding and the development of thoroughbred race horses.  The only Montana horse to win the Belmont Stakes came from Daly’s “farm.”  Like other titans of industry and capital of the late 19th century, Daly wished to not only demonstrate his entry into the gentry of America but also

IMG_2586to have a place, on the other side of the divide from his dark, dank, smelly mining towns, where he and his family could escape and enjoy Montana’s open lands and skies. The ranch began with the purchase of the Chaffin family homestead in 1886.  Daly immediately set forth to remodel and expand the older ranchhouse yet those changes only lasted three years when Daly replaced the first house with a rather grand and flamboyant Queen Anne-styled mansion and named it Riverside.  Daly died in 1900 and Riverside’s last grand remodeling was guided by his wife, who looked to architect A. J. Gibson of Missoula to design a Colonial Revival-on-steroids mansion, which referenced the recent Roosevelt family mansion on the Hudson River in New York State.

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The classical styled ceremonial entrance to Riverside

 

IMG_2581There is really nothing in the world of domestic architecture in Montana to compare to the Daly family’s Riverside estate.  As we made our plans for the state historic preservation survey in 1984, I never imagined gaining access to this mysterious place.  Then, suddenly, the owners decided to offer the property to someone–the state preferably but locals if necessary–who could transform it into a historic house museum and still working farm.

 

Here then came a great opportunity but also a daunting task–could be the property be saved, and how would such a huge property be maintained, considering the comparatively low attendance rates received by historic houses.

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In time, a partnership was established between the local Daly Mansion Preservation Trust and the University of Montana to open the house in the summer as a museum but to conserve the farm as an invaluable agricultural asset throughout all seasons.

The result has been one of the most important “gains” in historic preservation in Montana in the last 30 years.  The property has been saved but historic preservation needs continue, with projects both large and small taking place on a regular basis.

A Northern Rockies “great house” is the result–a sign of the great disparity of wealth between miners and owners, and between absentee large estate ranchers and surrounding ranch families pulling a living from the land.  Daly never saw the mansion as you do today–it was Margaret who decided to take the grand estate in the direction of the fashionable Colonial Revival.  Yet it remains a monument to his domination of the western Montana landscape, as powerful in its own way as his head frames in Butte.

One key component of the estate has moved on to a new life.  The ornate 1895 stable for Tammany–his prize horse–has been converted in residential units, for people. Tammany Castle also speaks to who Daly was and what he was about in late 19th century Montana.

IMG_2595Indeed not far away is a 21st century sign of the super-rich and their imprint on the Montana landscape: the Stock Farm Club, a private, gated community for those who can afford it–and probably 99% cannot.

 

 

Butte’s railroad legacies

As the mines at Butte went into larger and larger production in the late 19th century, the railroads soon arrived to cart away the raw materials, and to deliver workers on a daily basis.  All three of the famed Montana transcontinentals built facilities in Butte–in a sense 100 years ago all lines led to Butte.  Remarkably, all three passenger depots remain today.   The Northern Pacific depot is now an events center.  The Milwaukee Road station remains a television headquarters. The Great Northern depot has been offices, a warehouse, and a bar. Its historic roundhouse also stands and it too has had many uses.

But in so many ways the real railroad story concerns a much shorter line–about 26 miles in length–but one with a big name, the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific, designed by its founder Marcus Daly as a connector between his mines in Butte and his huge Washoe smelter in Anaconda. The BAP depot in Butte stood on Utah Street in 1985 but has been

BAP Depot Butte 1985

Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific Railroad Depot, Butte, 1985

demolished, a real loss for the city’s historic fabric.  Completed in 1894, the BAP connected the two cities, and its historic corridor has been recently transformed into a recreation resource that also unites the two cities and their counties.  It is also a physical thread that ties together the Butte-Anaconda National Historic Landmark.

A railroad office building still stands in Anaconda, with its Romanesque arch creating an architectural theme between the office building and the BAP depot that is extant at its commanding position at the end of Main Street.  Anaconda’s basic layout was

classic late 19th century railroad town planning:  the depot marking the entry from railroad to town and then the long Main Street of commercial businesses culminating in the lot for the county courthouse.

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View north to Deer Lodge County Courthouse from BAP depot in Anaconda.

Anaconda is also home to the extant BAP roundhouses and shapes.  Like the Great Northern facility in Butte, the BAP roundhouses have had several uses, and there was a short-lived attempt to establish a railroad museum within one of the bays.  The future for this important railroad structure is cloudy.

Between Butte and Anaconda two small towns have important extant historic resources. Back in the 1980s I considered Rocker to be a must stop for the It Club Bar–and it is still there, flashy as ever.

But now there is another reason for a stop at Rocker–the preservation of the historic frame BAP depot and the creation of the Rocker Park trail along the old railroad right-of-way.  Again here in Silver Bow County we see a recreational opportunity established in conjunction with the preservation and interpretation of a key historic property.  The trail was just opening when I took these photos in 2012.

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Ramsay is another town along the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific, and served as a company town for the DuPont corporation which built a short-lived munitions plant there during World War I.  During the state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985, historian Janet Ore was preparing a study and survey of the town resources, which was completed in 1986.  The town’s historic district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Ore noted the division between worker cottages and manager homes, and the general layout in keeping with what DuPont was doing in other states at that time.  Although there has been the loss of some contributing resources in the almost 30 years since the National Register listing, Ramsay still conveys its company town feel. Below are some of the extant cottages, different variations of Bungalow style, along Laird and Palmer streets.

The superintendent’s dwelling is a two-story Four-square house, with its size, understated Colonial Revival style, and placement in the town suggesting the importance of the occupant.

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A few buildings also exist from the old powder works but most were torn away decades ago.  The pride of Ramsay today is its new school building, pointing toward a different future for the town in its second hundred years of existence.

 

 

Great Falls Heritage Area, Part 5: Rails,Rivers, and a Smelter

2011 MT Cascade County Great Falls 024Many heritage areas in the eastern United States emphasize the relationship between rivers, railroads, and industrial development and how those resources contributed to national economic growth and wartime mobilization.  Great Falls can do that too.  Situated on the Missouri River and designed by its founders to be a northwest industrial center, entrepreneurs counted on the falls to be a source of power and then on the railroads coming from Minnesota, especially the promising Manitoba Road headed by James J. Hill, to provide the transportation.

IMG_0961Paris Gibson, the promoter of the Electric City, allied his interests to two of most powerful capitalists of the region:  Marcus Daly, the baron of the Anaconda Copper Company interests and James J. Hill, the future rail king of the northwest.  Their alliance is embodied in several different properties in the city but the most significant place was where the Anaconda Copper Company smelter operated at Black Eagle until the last decades of the 20th century.  When I surveyed Great Falls for the state

preservation plan in 1984 the smelter stack had recently come down but a good bit of the surrounding industrial plant remained.  When you look at the same place today, the site has been nearly wiped clean, still closed off to the public but ripe for the day when it could be a center for public interpretation of the impact of the smelter on the city, state, and nation.

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Great Falls already has shown an ability to reimagine and find new uses for its industrial landmarks, as demonstrated by the adaptive reuse projects surrounding its railroad corridors.  Yes, railroad corridors because while the Manitoba Road and its successor the Great Northern Railway dominated the city, the Milwaukee Road also built into the city in the first

 

Cascade Co Great Falls Milwaukee Road depotdecade of the 20th century and soon erected its tall tower depot right on the Missouri River.  But wherever you go along the river you find significant buildings associated with the Great Northern and its allied branch the Montana Central Railroad, especially the downtown warehouses.  Some are still fulfilling their original function but others

have taken on new uses as offices and museums, such as the local history center and the well-regarded children’s museum.

Still at the head of the city, as appropriate for its role in creating and sustaining Great Falls in its early decades, is the magnificent depot of the Great Northern.  Montana has many small town examples of the

“metropolitan corridor” written about by historian John Stilgoe; Great Falls is superb extant example of how the corridor shaped the landscape and architecture presence of urban centers across the northern plains. These properties suggest the richness of the industrial and transportation stories associated with the rise of Great Falls and its role in western history.