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.
The 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.
As 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.
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.
Thus, 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
Road, 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.
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.
It 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.
The 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.
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.