Sanders County’s Plains and the Noxon Dam

Sanders Co Plains schoolPlains is the second largest town in Sanders County, noted as the home of the county fairgrounds, the center of the local agricultural economy, and like Thompson Falls a significant place along the Clark’s Fork River and the Montana Highway 200 corridor.

Sanders Co Plains 3

While the population was largely the same in 2015 compared to my last visit 30 years earlier, things had changed, such as the town’s elevator now served as the Grainry Gallery–an imaginative local adaptive reuse.  New churches, new homes, and new businesses had been established.  Yet Plains still retained its early 20th to mid-20th

Sanders Co Plains 2century feel, be it in institutions, such as the local Grange above, or the continuation of the local VFW hall and bowling alley, below.

Sanders Co Plains 1

Among the biggest changes to this historic preservationist is the lost of the town’s historic high school from the first decade of the 20th century.  In a small park along Montana Highway 200, the cornerstone arch from the school was saved and now is a

Sanders Co Plains 10

 

monument to that educational landmark.  Adjacent is the log “Wild Horse Plains” school, which has been moved to this spot and restored during the American Bicentennial.  According to local historians, the more appropriate name is “Horse Plains,” since the Salish Indians once wintered their horses here but the name “Wild Horse Plains” is the one that has stuck here in the 21st century.

The Wild Horse Plains Women’s Club uses the old school for their meetings and keeps up the property and its landscaping.  Indeed, one thing you like about Plains–a railroad town from the turn of the 20th century–is its sense of pride, conveyed by places like the school park or in the stewardship shown to local historic homes.

IMG_7743

This same pride in place is also conveyed in our last Sanders County stop, the very different history of Noxon, near the Idaho border on Montana Highway 200. The Noxon Bridge was among my favorite northwest Montana modern landmarks–but in 1984 I thought little more about it because few things in Noxon were built before 1959-60.

IMG_7772

That was when the Noxon Hydroelectric Dam went in operation, transforming this part of the Clark’s Fork River into an engineered landscape shaped by the dam, power lines, and the reservoir.

IMG_7762The Noxon Dam was finished in 1959.  It is a mile in length, 260 feet in height and 700 feet wide at its base.  Its generators can power approximately 365,000 homes, making it the second-largest capacity hydroelectric facility in Montana.

IMG_7758Today visitors can view the dam from various parking areas and short walking trails, one of which passes over the historic line of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The property has interpretive signs about the history of the project as well as about the engineering of hydroelectric power.

IMG_7768Along the banks of the river/reservoir, a much more recent public park has opened–with public sculpture reminding everyone of the Native Americans who once camped along the

IMG_7775river at this place.  By bringing the deep past of the region in view of the modern, this site is a new favorite place–wherever you are in Montana, and there are many modern engineering marvels–the Indians were always there first, using those same natural resources in far different ways.

IMG_7776

 

 

Anaconda’s recreational culture

In the first half of the 20th century, Anaconda gained its reputation as a hard-working town, whether you toiled at the smelter, the pottery works, the railroad, or any of the many small businesses and shops across the city. With that hard work came the need

Washoe Theaterfor places to rest, relax, and enjoy the precious hours away from the workplace.  So much has changed in Anaconda since the closing of the smelter in the early 1980s–but the town’s distinctive places for recreation and relaxation remain, a big part of the reason Anaconda is one of my favorite places in Montana.

2011 MT Deer Lodge County Anaconda 017Let’s start with the magnificent Art Deco marvel of the Washoe Theater. Designed in 1930 by B. Marcus Priteca but not finished and opened until 1936, the theater has stayed in operation ever since.  It is remarkably intact, especially when owners refused to follow the multi-screen craze of the 1970s and kept the lobby and massive screen

intact.  It was a favorite jaunt in the 1980s to go to Anaconda, take in a movie at the Washoe and then cocktails at the Club Moderne. The interior design is attributed to Hollywood designer Nat Smythe.

2011 MT Deer Lodge County Anaconda 004

Anaconda Washoe Theater screenA drink after the movie: still happens with regularity in Anaconda, due to the plethora of neighborhood bars, from the Anaconda Bar to the Thompson Bar. The range of sizes and styling speaks to the different experiences offered by these properties.

The Locker Room Bar has a classic Art Deco look with its green glass and glass block entrance while the JFK Bar documents its date of construction while the rock veneer on concrete is undeniably a favorite construction technique of the 1960s.

IMG_0540

If not the bars, then you could retreat to your fraternal lodge or veterans group.  Fraternal lodges were everywhere once in Anaconda and several historic ones still survive.  The Croatian Hall, unassuming in its size and ornament, is one of the most interesting lodges on the east side, in the old “Goosetown” working-class part of Anaconda.  Sam Premenko established the club in Anaconda’s early years.

IMG_1554The Elks Club in the heart of downtown is a totally different statement, with its sleek 1960s modernist facade over an earlier turn of the century Victorian styled brick building reflecting a more prosperous and larger membership.

American Legion hall, 3rd and CedarWith its glass block entrances and windows, the American Legion lodge seems like another lounge, but the American Eagle mural says otherwise.

The Copper Bowl is a wonderful mid-20th century reminder of both the raw material that fueled Anaconda.  From the highway sign–a great piece of roadside architecture itself–you can see the slag piles from the smelter.  Bowling, so popular once, is disappearing across the country, except in Anaconda, where two different set of lanes remained in business–at least in 2012.

Cedar Park Bowling Lanes, N sideIf not bowling, why not read a book.  At least that was the motivation behind Progressive reformers and their initiative to create “free” (meaning no membership fees) public libraries at the turn of the 20th century.  Anaconda has one of the state’s earliest and most architecturally distinctive libraries in the Hearst Free Library.

Funded by Phoebe Hearst (mother of William Randolph Hearst), the library reflected a Renaissance Revival style in red brick designed by San Francisco architect F. S. Van Trees.  It opened in 1898 and served as an inspiring public space, part library, part public meeting space, part art museum.

IMG_1511Another Progressive-era institution is Washoe Park, established by the copper company and home to the first fish hatchery in the state.  Washoe Park was a place for outdoor recreation, with ball fields, picnic areas, and amusement attractions.  It also was home for the town’s baseball field and its historic grandstands and refreshment

center still serve those who come to see.  The Anaconda Copper Company had the diamond and grandstand built c. 1949 and the first teams to play were organized by the city’s different fraternal lodges.  Besides the classic look of the grandstand nearby

is the refreshment/ recreation center, a building in the Rustic style, an architectural type associated with parks of all sorts in the first half of the 20th century.

IMG_1517New renovations at the park have been underway, improving trails, the hatchery, and the outdoor experience plus adding public interpretation at appropriate places.  The park is being re-energized but respect still shown its early elements, such as the historic Alexander Glover cabin, built c. 1865 and identified as the oldest residence in Anaconda, which was moved into the park as an interpretive site, early, c. 1920.

IMG_1523Another outdoor recreational space that has been receiving renovation is the historic Mitchell Stadium complex, a New Deal project of the Works Progress Administration from 1938-1939.  The stadium, designed to give the high school modern facilities for football and track and field, is quite the place, retaining so much of its original understated Art Deco styling.

Mitchell Stadium, 1938-9 from Mt CarmelUnlike Washoe Park, here was a new public space, in keeping with the New Dealers’ faith in recreation and community, that was not a creation of the copper company for adult workers but for high school athletes.

It also is a property that I totally overlooked in the 1984-85 survey.  True it was not 50 years old then but it was a WPA project that deserved close scrutiny as part of the larger federal effort to improve high school education and public spaces.

Mitchell Stadium, through fence

IMG_1529

Certainly one of the most interesting conversions of industrial landscape into recreation landscape–on a whole another scale from the rails to trails movement–is how the grounds of the original smelter site at Anaconda have been transformed into a modern golf course. Rare is the opportunity to play a round but also walk around and consider public interpretation of a blasted out mining property.

IMG_1507But even on the links of this innovative adaptive reuse project you cannot escape the overwhelming presence of the copper company stack, and mounds of devastation it left behind.  Here is an appropriate view that sums up the company influence on the distinctive place of Anaconda.