Montana’s Best Restaurants–in a historic building

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I take pride in my effort to travel the state of Montana and listen to its residents to learn about its history and its special places.  And I take great pride in creating this WordPress site where I can share my findings with you.  But back here in the south, few ask me about Montana history–most want to know where to go to eat and drink when they encounter the Big Sky Country.  So to get into the holiday spirit(s) and have a good cheer (just wish there was some place in Tennessee to get Tom and Jerry mix), I will offer my favorite Montana restaurants–but only those in historic buildings.

I have already spoken about many favorites, such as the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe (above) and the Oxford Bar and Double Front Cafe in Missoula, the M&M Bar and Cafe in Butte, the Izaak Walton in Essex, and especially Chico Hot Springs in Pray.  If you have only one stop in Montana, make it Chico–I always do.

The Izaak Walton is the only “new” restaurant in the bunch, the rest being mainstays of my field work in 1984-85.  But they are only the tip of the iceberg–and I am not talking salads either.

Nope I am talking beef and booze, be in at the Wagon Wheel in Drummond (above), or the much more fancy digs of the Montana Club in Helena.  Whatever you do in Montana, you don’t want to miss the beef. It would be a Dirty Shame if you did (thank you, Yaak!, below)

There are the classic supper club steakhouses of central Montana such as Eddie’s Supper Club, a stone’s throw from the gates of Malstrom Air Force Base, and Borrie’s, nestled in the Black Eagle neighborhood, both in Great Falls.

Throughout rural Montana, it is the classic cafe, always good for breakfast but really superb for pie.  And you don’t want to miss Montana pie, be it from Glen’s in Florence on the western end of the state to the Wagon Wheel Cafe in Choteau to the Dell Cafe (in an old school house) in the southwest corner to the Madison Valley’s Ennis Cafe to the Eat Cafe in White Sulphur Springs (right in the middle of the state). Indeed my favorite pie stop was once the small cafe at the Dude Rancher Lodge in Billings–but I understand that place has changed in recent years.

What has really been great to experience over the last 30 years is the number of “fine” dining places to come about.  In Helena, back in the early 1980s, it was On Broadway, still going strong today.

masonic-hall-helenaBozeman has boomed with many new chef-driven restaurants but of the downtown establishments my favorite for good fresh, creative food remains the Co-Op Downtown nestled within the Gallatin Block, a historic building, tastefully renovated, in the downtown historic district.

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In Billings, it is Walker’s Grill–a rather newcomer on the stage but now a staple of downtown life in Billings, and a big part of its re-vitalization in the 19980s, just as its neighbor to the east, the Rex Hotel restaurant, was the first really successful adaptive reuse project on Montana Avenue, the city’s old railroad corridor.

Another railroad era hotel that has gone through various restorations before meeting a happy conclusion is the magnificent Grand Union Hotel and its bar/ restaurant in Fort Benton.  Here is a place worth a long drive–for there is so much to see and explore in this mid-19th century Montana place.

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I have already ranged across a good part of the state–what about the eastern third, that vast landscape north and east of Billings.  Winnett on Montana Highway 200 has a great local bar/ steakhouse (below) while for an endless abundance of eastern Montana fare img_0252head to Miles City, which is the place to go if you wonder, still, “where’s the beef” and a city that is the proud home of the famous Montana Bar.

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Oh yes, let’s go way up north to the state’s northeast corner and take in the Fort Peck Hotel and its equally good lounge and restaurant.  Here is a New Deal era building, set

img_8109within New Deal landscape that forever changed the look of this region in the 1930s.  Locals and tourists mix together–because the hotel is the only place to go, unless you want to backtrack to Glasgow and check out Sam’s Supper Club on U.S. Highway 2, and its equally neat 1960s roadside look.

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Ready to go–hope so.  At least everyone is now in the holiday mood for the feasting to come.  Happy holidays, and thanks for checking out my explorations into historic Montana.

Augusta, more than just a rodeo

2011 US 89 to Glacier Canon Sureshot Augusta 005My friends in the environs of Helena have been surprised that after 300 something posts I had yet to say anything about Augusta, a crossroads town in northern Lewis and Clark County along U.S. Highway 287, during my revisit of the 1984-1985 state historic preservation plan. They knew that I loved the open range drive to Augusta, whether approaching from U.S. 287 or U.S. Highway 89.

Teton Co US 89 to gilman and AugustaThen, the various businesses and bars along Main Street represented not just a favorite place in rural Lewis and Clark County, but also document a classic western town with great roadside architecture such as the Wagon Wheel Motel.

The annual rodeo in Augusta is one of the state’s best, but Augusta is worth much more than just a summer visit during rodeo season.  When I returned in 2014 I found one key building missing–the historic Great Northern Railway passenger station, shown below from a 1984 image.

Created with GIMPAugusta began as a crossroads town for neighboring ranches; the later extension of a railroad spur to nearby Gilman spurred competition between the two towns.  But Augusta Teton Co US 89 August and Gilman hwy marker 1won that battle–today not much outside of the Montana Highway Historical marker, a steel bridge, and a disappearing railroad corridor remains of Gilman.

Augusta has several significant properties, starting with its historic high school building, a bit of neoclassicism on the northern plains.

img_9066But I like the football field almost as much as the historic school–could a more neighborhood setting even be imagined?

Lewis & Clark County Augusta football field 1Then there are historic commercial buildings from the early 20th century–several with National Register qualities, especially the F. M. Mack General Merchandise store–a frame building with paired bracketed cornice.

img_9073Over 300 people call Augusta home today, a slight increase since my work 30 years ago.  The community not only has kept the historic buildings noted above, residents also have opened the Augusta Area Museum–heritage is clearly part of the town’s future.

Lewis & Clark County Augusta museum

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.

Another visit to Harlowton

Wheatland Co Harlowton community hall 2

Over the weekend I received a message, asking for more on Harlowton, the seat of Wheatland County.  I had developed three posts about Harlowton and other roadside properties in the county, but the reader was spot on–there is more than just the Milwaukee Road story in this central Montana town. Let’s start with the building above, originally built as the Harlowton Woman’s Club Youth Center in 1950.

img_9752The woman’s club began c. 1921 and had already made a major contribution to the town’s well-being in establishing its first library.  After World War II, however, club members felt they should once again help build the community, by building a youth center and veterans memorial garden.  Mrs. Norman Good proposed the project in 1946 and Mrs. G. D. Martin provided the first substantial donation.  The club then held fundraisers of all sorts.  By 1950, construction was underway, with contractor Clyde Wilson building the center with logs from Colby and Sons in Kila, Montana.

img_9754As the youth center was under construction, the woman’s club also reached an agreement with the school board to use land for the construction of a new football field, named McQuitty Field.  Located behind the youth center, the field opened in 1950.

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Steps from the Youth Center parking lot lead directly to the football field.

At about the same time, the woman’s club also reached an agreement with the Kiwanis Club to provide land for a community swimming pool.  The women lost their initial vision of a memorial garden, but had gained for the community two institutions–the football field and the swimming pool–that continue to serve Harlowton’s children today.

img_9750Thus, on U.S. Highway 12 lies the public recreation heart of Harlowton–a postwar gift of residents and service clubs to the community.  In 1956, the woman’s club deeded the Youth Center to the Kiwanis Club, which still manages it today.

As the images of the football field show, the recreation centers are surrounded by housing, and yes, Harlowton has an interesting range of domestic architecture–centered in the c. 1910 to c. 1960 period as you might imagine.  As a major railroad center for the Milwaukee

Wheatland Co Harlowton frame hotelRoad, it once also had several hotels and more short-term housing for workers and travelers–a good bit of that has disappeared, or is disappearing.

Wheatland Co Harlowton church

Gothic-styled churches also reflect the town’s early 20th century architectural aesthetic.  The Harlowton Wesleyan Church (above) and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church (below) are good small town examples of Gothic style, especially the flashy mid-century permastone exterior of St. Joseph’s church.

img_9709It is difficult to visit Harlowton and not notice the mammoth Montana Flour Mills set of concrete grain silos–today’s silent sentinels of what ranchers once produced in abundance in these lands.

Wheatland Co Harlowton concrete elevators 2The mill, made from locally quarried stone, came within months of the completion of the railroad to Harlowton–the concrete silos reflected the hopes of investors and local ranchers, as grain production soared in the 1910s–reaching some 1.2 million bushels in 1918.  It wasn’t called Wheatland County for nothing.  I still wish the big electric sign that once adorned the silos was still there.

Wheatland Co Harlowton school

The Harlowton Public School building is another valuable survivor from the homestead boom era in the town’s history, as other other scattered commercial buildings and bank buildings–none are architecturally overwhelming but they are express the western commercial look of the early 20th century–hopeful but not overly ambitious.

Harlowton today has even picked up another depot–a moved one, that once served on the Great Northern railroad spur–the Billings and Northern–that cut through the east side of Wheatland County. It is out of place on the highway–but glad it is still in use.

Let’s end with a shout out to classic taverns–in this case Central Avenue’s Oasis Bar and the Stockman Bar. Indeed, with its classic electric sign, the Stockman Bar begs the question–where are the state’s other Stockman Bars.  Ah, the next post.

 

Mint Bars of Montana

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Now that I fulfilled the original goal of this effort to document the Montana historic landscape 30 years after my first attempt in 1984-1985, I want to have fun with many blogs to come, covering themes and places that help to define the Big Sky experience.  After covering all 56 counties, there are many ways to start, but the most natural to me is bars and taverns, those community gathering spots that I learned to love, and learn from, all across Montana.

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Belgrade, Montana.

Let’s first just look at and recall Montana’s Mint Bars–they are in every region, and to every taste.  Why so many mints–this is far from Mint Julep territory of Kentucky and Virginia.  Who cares–I never found one that wasn’t welcoming, and fun.

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Townsend, Montana.

Lincoln Co Libby Mint Bar

Libby, Montana.

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White Sulphur Springs, MT.

The Mint Bar in Livingston, above, remains one of my favorite of the “brand” and is part of the downtown Livingston historic district.

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Martinsdale–maybe why I like U.S. 12 is that it has 3 Mint Bars.

The rejuvenation of the Mint Bar in Lewistown, above, is a very pleasant change over the last thirty years.

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The Mint in Shelby is just one of the classic bars along the town’s main street.

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Always a fan of the Mint Bar in Big Sandy.

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Chinook, MT, part of the National Register-listed Lohman Block.

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Opheim, Montana.

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And last, but not least, the Mint Bar of Froid, up in the northeast corner of the state, in Roosevelt County.  Why I like Froid so much, I cannot explain, but I always like going there.

 

Conrad’s railroad corridor

Pondera Co Conrad signConrad, the seat of Pondera County, is a railroad town, although the town’s close proximity to Interstate I-15 means that so many have forgotten the importance of this Great Northern Railway spur line that stretches from Shelby on the main line south to Great Falls.

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img_9361The town’s 1920s Arts and Crafts/ Chalet style Great Northern passenger station, along with grain elevators, serve as a reminder of the railroad’s importance to transporting the grains from neighboring ranches.

2011-mt-pondera-county-conrad-006Facing the depot is a combination symmetrical town, with one story brick buildings, several of them classic western bars, and then a block long T-plan that connects to the historic federal highway U.S. 87.

Pondera Co Conrad

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The Orpheum Theatre (1917-1918) was barely hanging on when I visited in 1985 and then by the end of the century, it appeared that the theatre would never be the center of community life it had been in the 1920s and 1930s.  The Pondera Arts Council then acquired the building, restored, and it is now once again a centerpiece of the community, one of several signs of how Conrad has turned to historic preservation to build new futures out of its pasts.

 

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Flathead County’s Gateway Communities to Glacier

Flathead Co Columbia Falls mural

U.S. Highway 2 east of Kalispell has grown into a four-lane highway (mostly–topography thus far has kept it as a two-lane stretch west of Hungry Horse) designed to move travelers back and forth from Kalispell to Glacier National Park.  In my 1984-85 state historic preservation plan work, I thought of Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, and Martin

Flathead Co Hungry Horse HuckleberryCity as one large tourism funnel.  After spending a good part of 2006-2007 working with local residents and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about the heritage and preservation of Gatlinburg, Tennessee–one of the most notorious gateways into any national park–I learned to look deeper than the highway landscape and find some real jewels in each of these Glacier National Park gateway communities.

There is much more than the highway to Columbia Falls, as the three building blocks above indicate, not to mention the lead image of this blog, the town’s Masonic Lodge which has been turned into one huge public art mural about the town’s history as well as its surrounding landscape.  Go to the red brick Bandit’s Bar above, and you soon discover that Columbia Falls has a good sense of itself, and even confidence that it can survive new challenges as its population has soared by over 2,000 residents since the 1980s, totaling over 5,000 today.

Once solely dependent on the Montana Veterans’ Home (1896), which is now a historic district, and then relying on the Weyerhaeuser sawmill for year round employment, Columbia Falls faces a different future now once the mill closed in the summer of 2016, taking away 200 jobs. As the historic business buildings above indicate, historic preservation could be part of that future, as the downtown’s mix of classic Western Commercial blocks mesh with modern takes on Rustic and Contemporary design and are complemented, in turn, by historic churches and the Art Deco-influenced school.

Once you leave the highway, in other words, real jewels of turn of the 20th century to mid-20th century design are in the offing.  In 1984–I never looked that deep.

Flathead Co Hungry Horse 1At Hungry Horse, however, I did leave the highway and explored the marvelous landscape created by the Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir, a mid-20th century project by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The agency justified the dam as a hydroelectric power project for a growing Flathead County and as a boost to local irrigation.  The irrigation side of the project–the real reason the agency exists–never happened and Hungry Horse today is an electric power and recreational project.

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Flathead Co Hungry Horse Dam 10I appreciated the vastness of the concrete arch dam–the 11th largest concrete dam in the United States–as well as the beauty of Hungry Horse Reservoir, an under-appreciated tourism asset as anyone in Flathead County will tell you.  But again, I let just the size and impact of the dam distract me from some of the details of its construction that, today, are so striking.

Here I am thinking primarily of the contemporary design of the Visitors Center–its stone facade suggesting its connection to the now covered river bluffs but the openness of its interior conveying the ideas of space associated with 1950s design.

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img_8779I am concerned, however, about news in September 2015 that Reclamation has contracted for updates and renovation at the Visitor Center–let’s hope that the classic 1950s look of the property is not sacrificed.

Flathead Co Martin City

 

Martin City is just enough off of U.S. Highway 2–it is situated more on the historic Great Northern Railroad corridor–to miss out on the gateway boom of the last 30 years, although with both the Southfork Saloon and the Deer Lick Saloon it retains its old reputation as a rough-edged place for locals.

For railroad travelers in the first half of the 20th century, West Glacier was THE west gateway into Glacier National Park.  The Great Northern Railway developed both the classic Rustic-styled passenger station and the adjacent Arts and Crafts/Chalet styled Belton Chalet Hotel in 1909-1910, a year before Congress created Glacier National Park.

img_8785Architect Kirtland Cutter of Spokane was the architect and the chalet design was actually just a smaller scale and less adorned version of the Idaho State Exhibition Building that he had designed for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Cutter is one of the major figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the American Northwest and we will look at another of his buildings for the railroad and Glacier in the next post about Lake McDonald Lodge.

The Cutter buildings for the railroad between 1909-1913 set a design standard for West Glacier to follow, be it through a modern-day visitor center and a post office to the earlier mid-20th century era of the local school and then gas stations and general stores for tourists entering the national park by automobile.

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This blog has never hidden the fact, however, that my favorite Glacier gateway in Flathead County is miles to the east along U.S. Highway 2 at the old railroad town of Essex, where the railroad still maintains facilities to help push freight trains over the Continental Divide.  The Izaak Walton Inn was one of the first National Register assignments given to

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me by State Historic Preservation Officer Marcella Sherfy–find the facts, she asked, to show that this three story bunk house, railroad offices, and local post merited exceptional significance for the National Register.  Luckily I did find those facts and shaped that argument–the owners then converted a forgotten building into a memorable historical experience. Rarely do I miss a chance to spend even a few minutes here, to watch and hear the noise of the passing trains coming from the east or from the west and to catch a sunset high in the mountains of Flathead County.

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