Montana’s Stockman’s Bars

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As promised in the last post, we are taking a bit of a detour and exploring some of Montana’s bars, especially those with the name Stockman’s or Stockmen’s.  The Stockman’s Bar in Missoula is certainly the most famous one in the state, as it has

img_7558entertained generations of Grizzly students and fans–note the window mural. But it is just one of several favorite Stockman’s Bars I have encountered in my Montana fieldwork. My top choice is actually on the other end of the state–almost in North Dakota in fact–the Stockman’s Bar in Wibaux.

During my initial work of the 1980s, the large electric sign still worked–and those words just beckoned you to come in, especially as the interior was lit up with the large glass block windows.  This place was a drinkers’ hangout–you went down to the Shamrock for food.

A similar large electric sign welcomes you to Central Montana’s Stockman’s Bar in Harlowton–the one mentioned in the last post.  But to be a good Stockman’s Bar, a flashy sign is not a necessity–as proven by the friendly Stockman’s Bar in Hall, back in the western part of the state.

Granite Co, Stockman bar and store, MT 513, HALL

But cattle and sheep country–at least historic towns associated with stock growing–are where most of the Stockman’s Bars can be found.  Wolf Point’s Main Street is famous for its commercial strip, named Front Street faces the highway and tracks of the Great Northern Railway.  One of historic institutions along that corridor is the Stockman’s 220 Club, a real institution for residents and travelers.

Roosevelt Co Wolf Point Stockman Bar

Another altered facade is at the historic Stockman’s Bar in Roundup, another livestock growing center and the seat of Mussellshell County.

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My favorite combination bar/restaurant with the Stockman name is in the Livingston’s historic district.  I rarely come to town without a stop at this drinking landmark.

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These buildings are a mere sampling of the Stockman’s Bars in Montana. There are more to explore in all sections of the state, from Bridger to Kalispell.

Missoula’s Downtown Wonders

 

Missoula 2006 021 Medical Arts Building Art DecoDowntown Missoula’s architectural wonders make it a distinctive urban Western place. Let’s start with my favorite, the striking Art Moderne styled Florence Hotel (1941) designed by architect G.A. Pehrson. Located between the two railroad depots on Higgins Street, the hotel served tourists and residents as a symbol of the town’s classy arrival on the scene–it was the first place with air-conditioning–of a region transforming in the 1940s and 1950s.

missoula medical florenceWith the coming of the interstate highway in the 1970s, tourist traffic declined along Higgins Street and the Florence Hotel was turned into offices and shops, a function that it still serves today.

Missoula Co Missoula The Florence 5Next door is another urban marvel, the Wilma Theatre, which dates to 1921 and like the Florence it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The building was the city’s first great entertainment landmark (even had an indoor swimming pool at one time) but with offices and other business included in this building that anchored the corner where Higgins Street met the Clark’s Fork River. Architects Ole Bakke and H. E. Kirkemo designed the theatre in the fashionable Renaissance Revival style, with a hint towards the “tall buildings” form popularized by architect Louis Sullivan, the building later received an Art Deco update, especially with the use of glass block in the ticket booth and the thin layer of marble highlighting the entrance.

With their soaring height the Florence and Wilma were dominant commercial landmarks.  Much of the downtown was built earlier, with the Missoula Mercantile (discussed in an earlier blog) being a very important lure for customers from throughout the region–by far

IMG_7565.jpgMissoula’s first major department store and entrepreneurial center.  The late Victorian era architectural styling of the two-story building also set a standard for many other downtown businesses from 1890 to 1920. These can be categorized as two-part commercial fronts, with the first floor serving as the primary commercial space and the second floor could be offices, dwelling space for the owner, or most common today storage space.

My favorite Victorian-era commercial building in Missoula is another Higgins Street landmark, and a rarity in Montana as a Queen Anne-styled business block, complete with projecting turret bay, highlighted by stone, defining its corner location and signifying its prominence as the local bank.

 

The Classical Revival that transformed the look of so many western railroad towns from the late 1890s to 1920 is also well represented in its different architectural forms. The Missoula County Courthouse (1910) was built following the arrival of the Milwaukee Road and the county’s economic boom led by the two railroads and the thousands of homesteaders headed into northwest Montana.  Designed by Montana architect A. J.

Missoula 2006 045 courthouseGibson, the building is one of the state’s best examples of what is called “Beaux Arts classicism,” a movement in the west so influenced by the late 1890s Minnesota State Capitol by architect Cass Gilbert.

Another example of Beaux Arts classicism, in a more commercial setting, defines the facade of the Masonic Temple, designed by the Montana firm of Link and Haire in 1909.

Missoula Co Missoula Masonic TempleJust as impressive, but in a more Renaissance Revival style, is the Elks Lodge (1911), another building that documents the importance of the city’s working and middle class fraternal lodges in the early 20th century.

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And speaking of Renaissance Revival, the historic Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse also embraces the early 20th century Classical Revival movement as interpreted by three different federal architects over a 25-year period (James Knox Taylor, 1911-13; James A. Wetmore, 1927-1929; and, Louis A. Simon (1937).  The three different periods of

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construction, however, did not leave Missoula with an incoherent statement of classical architecture.  In fact, the various sections help to document different era in the city’s development, from the height of the homesteading boom of the 1910s to the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930s.  Missoula Co Missoula federal courthouseOf more recent construction is another federal courthouse, the modernist-styled Russell Smith Federal Courthouse, which was originally constructed as a bank.  In 2012, another judicial chamber was installed on the third floor. Although far removed from the classic

Missoula Co Missoula Russell Smith courthouse 2look, the Russell Smith Courthouse is not out-of-place in downtown Missoula.  There are several other buildings reflecting different degrees of American modern design, from the Firestone building from the 1920s (almost forgotten today now that is overwhelmed by its neighbor the Interstate Bank Building) to the standardized designed of gas stations of

Missoula Co Missoula firestone store1930s and 1940s, complete with enamel panels and double garage bays, standing next to the Labor Temple.

IMG_7516Modernism is alive and well in 21st century Missoula, with a office tower at St. Patrick’s Hospital, a new city parking garage, and the splashy Interstate Bank building, which overwhelms the scale of the adjacent Missoula Mercantile building–which had been THE place for commerce over 100 years earlier.

 

Nightlife, and then some, in Missoula

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As we are reminded everyday by the massive historic Labor Temple, just off Higgins Street in the heart of downtown, Missoula was a working town–not just a college town–for most of its existence.  Laborers, whether for the railroads, the sawmills, and numerous factories, daily passed through the downtown on the way to work and then to home.  And they had their choice of downtown watering holes to grab a drink and a bit of relaxation if they were so inclined.

I understand that it is more than a stereotype to wax eloquent about a western town’s bars, but frankly I cannot help myself.  Whenever I came to Missoula while a Montana resident, and when I go there today, my plans center around simple propositions–do I go to the Northern Pacific Railroad passenger station and turn left to stop at the Double Front for a brew and some of the best fried chicken in America (and remember I’m a southerner), or do I stroll down Higgins Street and grab a burger and beer at the Oxford?

It sorta depends on the mood–the Double Front is more of a family place–it even has been gussied up a bit since my time there in the 1980s.  The Oxford has a well earned reputation for being a bit rough-edged, but I love it, warts and all.

I have good friends who still wish to argue the virtues of a quick bite at the Missoula Club, a great place just off Higgins Street.  In fact, I can say the same for the Stockmans Cafe and Bar, as well as Red’s Place, which has gone the sports bar route.

And when I really want to go old school, I return to the Northern Pacific passenger station, find Railroad Street and then venture in–and I mean venture–the Silver Dollar Bar, one of the city’s first to reopen after the end of Prohibition and still serve customers today.

Missoula Co Missoula 51The Silver Dollar, like the Double Front, were meccas not just for railroad workers but also travelers weary of life on the rails and looking for a bit of liquid refreshment.  It remains a drinkers’ bar today.

Missoula Co Missoula 42I realize that Missoula now has a wide range of downtown establishments–even a wine bar for a good measure–and I wish them well.  But give me the Ox, the Double Front, or the Club any day, any time.

 

 

Missoula: a two-railroad town

IMG_2137The Clark’s Fork River and transportation through the valleys and over the Rocky Mountains lie at the core of Missoula’s early history.  Captain John Mullan blazed his road through here immediately before the Civil War, and a Mullan Road marker is downtown.

IMG_2130White settlement first arrived in the initial territorial years and a sawmill was the first major business.  As a river crossroads town, Missoula grew, and then became a permanent dot on the federal map with the arrival of Fort Missoula, established in 1877.  The fort, largely neglected when I conducted my work for the state historic preservation plan in 1984, is now a regional heritage center.

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Quartermaster building, Fort Missoula, built 1911.

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Fort Missoula overview, taken in 2007.

But so much of that you see and experience today in downtown Missoula is shaped by the arrival of two railroads, the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883 and then the Milwaukee Road in 1908.  In those 25 years, much of historic environment of present-day Missoula was built, creating a north side, south side look to the city that reflects not only the central thread of the Clark’s Fork River but also the impact of the two sets of railroad tracks.

NPRR depot, MissoulaBuilt in 1901, the Northern Pacific passenger station is an impressive example of Renaissance Revival style, designed by the architectural firm of Reed and Stem, and symbolized the turn of the century dominance of the railroad over the region’s transportation and the importance of Missoula to the railroad as a major train yard. The station, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, stands at the historic “top” of downtown Missoula, which at its bare bones has the classic T-plan of a railroad hub of the late 19th century.  The Northern Pacific tracks and related railroad warehouses are the top of the “T” stretching in both directions with Interstate I-90 crossing the river bluffs to the northeast.  Two reminders of the historic railroad traffic are adjacent to the station–a steam Northern Pacific engine and a diesel Burlington Northern engine.

From the passenger station stretching into the town itself is Higgins Street,which runs in a straight line to the river.  The most important early commercial building, near the Higgins Street bridge is of course the threatened Missoula Mercantile building (discussed

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in an earlier blog), which has sections dating to the 1880s.  Higgins Street bridge crosses the Clark’s Fork, which on the south side became the street’s connection with the later Milwaukee Road.

Missoula Co Missoula Milwaukee Road depot 5The Milwaukee was not to be out-done by the Northern Pacific when it arrived in Missoula in 1908.  Railroad architect J. J. Lindstrand gave the line a fashionable Misson-style passenger station and offices, which opened in 1910.  It too is listed in the National Register.  Like the company’s stations in Great Falls and Butte, built approximately at the same time, the station has a tall tower that commanded the city’s early 20th century skyline, and made the depot easy to find. Located dramatically along the Clark’s Fork River, the arrival of the railroad and the construction of the depot led to a new frenzy of building on South Higgins Street, and a good many of those one-story and two-story buildings remain in use today.

Missoula Co Missoula south side stores

That is enough for now–the railroads of Missoula have been introduced.  Next I will explore landmarks between the two depots of Missoula.