Back on the Hi-Line: Culbertson

The Hi-Line is Montana’s major northern transportation corridor–first carved by the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway in the 1880s and then extended by the Great Northern Railway a decade late.  Today most travelers use U.S. Highway 2, which largely parallels the railroad, to traverse the Hi-Line.  The first place you encounter of more than 500 people is Culbertson, established in the 1880s and named for Alexander Culbertson, who was once the factor (the manager) of the Fort Union fur trading post at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson GN depot

The Great Northern depot at Culbertson

Earlier in this documentary blog on the Montana landscape, I discussed Culbertson as part of the landscape of oil and fracking then taking place in the region.  Today I want to share images of community institutions that link the town’s more than 130 year history to the present.  Historic churches are a good place to start.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson 1st UM Church

The United Methodist Church reflecting a vernacular Gothic type that can be found all across the northern plains in the late 19th and early 20th century.  The Community of

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God Church shares that similar vernacular Gothic style and retains its bell tower.  Mid-20th century modern style can be found in St. Anthony Catholic Church.  As regular readers of the blog may recall, I have explored the diocese’s choice of mid-century Roosevelt Co Culbertson St Anthony Catholicmodern style for many Catholic churches in eastern Montana.  The Culbertson church is a good example of that pattern.  Another church that belongs to the modern design era of the 20th century is Trinity Lutheran Church, especially as this distinguished building expanded over the decades to meet its congregation’s needs.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson Trinity Lutheran

Roosevelt Co Culbertson armory 2

One of the most interesting buildings in Culbertson is the Armory, part of the significant impact that New Deal agencies had on the built environment of Roosevelt County in the 1930s.  Justified as part of the nation’s war preparedness efforts in the late 1930s, so many armories across the country have found second life as public buildings, serving local government and community events.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson armory New Deal

In my earlier post about Culbertson I should have focused more on surviving commercial buildings from the early 20th century–the time of the homesteading boom.  The beautiful cast-iron cornice on the Moen Building (1908) is impressive, one of the best examples of that Victorian commercial style still extant on the Hi-Line.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson 7 C.S. Moen Block 1907

Some of the extant two-story commercial buildings from the homesteading boom show some architectural styling, like the two below, but then a former town bank is impressive in its detail and masonry as any in the region.  Culbertson had high hopes in the 1910s.

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On either side of the town center are two additional important institutions.  The Culbertson Museum serves as a community heritage center but also as a visitor center for travelers entering Montana.  Its outdoor sculpture of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is a reminder to all travelers that traces of the Corps of Discovery can be found along so much of the Hi-Line.

Roosevelt Co Culbertson museum 1

Roosevelt Co L&C sculpture Culbertson museumOn the west side of town is its historic cemetery, the Hillside Cemetery.  At first glance, it seems unimposing, more quaint that important.  But the cemetery is the oldest historic

Roosevelt Co Culbertson cemetery

Roosevelt Co Culbertson cemetery 3

Roosevelt Co Culbertson cemetery  2

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resource in Culbertson, and in fact is the the burial place of two former Union soldiers, one from Illinois and one from Minnesota, who fought in the Civil War.  The markers are a reminder that the mid-19th century roots of Montana are never far away, even at the small town of Culbertson.

 

 

Helena’s Benton Avenue Cemetery (1870)

MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery

Nestled in the shadows of Mount Helena, across the street from Carroll College, with its boundaries made up of 1950s and 1960s suburban housing, and the historic main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad is Benton Avenue Cemetery, which dates to 1870.  The preservation effort here over a generation has met with several successes.  The cemetery was reclaimed, documented, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 18But my visit on Memorial Day 2018 left me with the feeling that the cemetery is an under-appreciated historic property.  There are no signs of true neglect, but it was so quiet on Memorial Day that I did think the place had become an almost forgotten historic asset–an afterthought in today’s busy world.  I hope not–because this cemetery has many jewels to explore and appreciate.  Perhaps the most striking–certainly most rare to see–are the cast iron baskets–or bassinets, see below, that surround two children’s graves.

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These are remarkable yet sad artistic creations–I have not seen anything comparable in my research in historic cemeteries in either the west, the midwest, or the south.  The Benton Avenue Cemetery has an amazing array of cast-iron fencing that define family

MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 14

MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 12plots–certainly the ironwork was a status symbol in the late 19th century and there is no one statement.  Families adorned their graves with fences much as they surrounded their houses in the nearby neighborhoods.

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There are numerous hollowed cast-iron grave markers too.  Almost everytime I share this late 19th century style marker with a viewer, they say, well they must be rare, what an odd thing.  But these markers were wildly popular in the railroad era.  You could

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order the marker with whatever designs or inscriptions you wish and they would soon be delivered.  Finding family groups of these hollow metal markers is rare, however, so the grouping for the Toole family at Benton Avenue deserves a close look.

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Veterans of the U.S. Army, several dating to service in the Civil War, are buried at Benton Avenue.  Other graves are just marked by slowly fading wood tablets.

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Ornamental planting abounds, and added beautiful color on Memorial Day.  My favorite grave marker is both early and unique.  Cast-iron is a material once crucial for all sorts of items in a household: pots, pans, tools, fire backs.  But a cast-iron grave marker–made of a single rectangular tablet with name and designs? That’s something special.

MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 28Benton Avenue Cemetery is worth a new consideration for its many different forms, materials, and designs.  When I lived in Helena some thirty-five years ago, I gave it scant attention–it deserves so much more.

MT Lewis and Clark County Benton Cemetery 4

 

 

 

Sanders County: Rural Wonders

Sanders Co MT Hwy 200 7Sanders County, like many of the places that are on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, has boomed in the last 25 years, from a population over 8,000 to the current estimated population of 11,300. It is close to Missoula, the eastern side is not far from Flathead Lake, Montana Highway 200 runs from Dixon to the end of the county at Heron. With wide valleys and narrow gorges created by both the Flathead and Clark’s Fork Rivers, which meet outside the town of Paradise, Sanders County is frankly a spectacular landscape, with dramatic mountain views framing open plains, such as the image above and the awesome gorge of Clark’s Fork River, below at Thompson Falls.

Sanders Co Thompson Falls and bridges 14 - Version 2The eastern side of the county is just as dramatic just in a far different way. For centuries First Peoples hunted game and dug the camas root in the broad upland prairie that became known as Camas Prairie, crossed now by Montana Highway 28.

IMG_7876Then, leading from the county’s southeastern edge there is the beautiful Flathead River Valley, followed by Montana Highway 200, from Dixon to Paradise, and most importantly,

IMG_7704a transportation route initially carved as a trail by the First Peoples who became the nucleus of today’s Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe and much later engineered into a major corridor by the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad, as it stretched westward from Missoula to the west coast.

Sanders Co MT HWY 200 NP line at lakeIn its wake, the Northern Pacific created most of the county’s townsites by locating sidings along the track. Substantial settlement arrived once the federal government opened lands for the homesteading boom in the early 20th century.

Sanders Co Dixon bar 1Dixon, named for the former Montana governor Joseph Dixon, is one of the remaining railroad/homesteading towns along the Flathead River. The fate of the community bar, above, is symbolic of the recent history of the town, one of population decline.


Decline but not despair, judging from the pride and identity reflected in the Dixon School. The classroom building dates to the end of the homesteading boom, 1919, and reflects a local contractor’s interpretation of Prairie/ Mission-style. The gymnasium, like several in rural Montana, comes from the New Deal era of the 1930s and is in the WPA Deco style often favored by the federal agencies.

Sanders Co Dixon school


The most spectacular historic rural school in Sanders County, however, lies to the northwest of Dixon in Camas Prairie. The setting itself is jaw dropping but then the tiny gymnasium is among the handful of really excellent examples of Prairie style in Montana’s public architecture.

Lake Co St. Camas Prairie school New Deal 5

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IMG_7872Local residents are being excellent stewards of this captivating property–certainly one of my favorite spots in the state combining landscape with architecture with history. The architect was the Missoula designer H. E. Kirkemo, and the school was completed in 1940, near the end of the New Deal school building programs.

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Bridges for Montana Highway 200 and the Northern Pacific Railroad cross the Clark’s Fork River at Paradise

Sanders Co Paradise railroad park

Located near the confluence of the Clark’s Fork River and the Flathead River–long a place of settlement for the Salish and later Canadian and American fur traders–is the town of Paradise, first platted by the North West Improvement Company, a group of investors aligned with the Northern Pacific Railroad, in 1908. Paradise today is one of the region’s best examples of a railroad town and served the railroad as a switching yard and division point, with lumber being the primary product shipped along the rails. The railroad opened its own Tie Treating Plant here in 1908, producing hundreds of thousands of railroad ties each year and at its peak employing 45 workers. It was one of two Northern Pacific facilities for the production of railroad ties–the second plant was on the eastern end of the line in Brainerd, Minnesota.

Sanders Co Paradise NP depot

The brick mid-20th century passenger station and office is a physical indicator of the importance of the Paradise operations to the Northern Pacific. Most small towns merited only a frame depot. No National Register-listed properties exist in Paradise.

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Let’s hope that changes soon as residents continue on their quest to preserve, restore, and transform the historic Paradise school as a community center and museum, not just of 20th century rural education but of the town and railroad history as well. Located on a hill north of town that provides excellent views of Paradise, the railroad tracks, and the river confluence, the 1910 nschool is an interesting piece of late Victorian public architecture, more Romanesque than anything else, particularly with its projecting central entrance with the arched window providing light to the hallways and staircases.

Sanders Co Paradise school 7The school had just closed its doors for good when I lasted visited but the restoration planning has been underway ever since. I look forward to my next visit to Paradise to experience the final results. Near the school is another historic community property, the Paradise Cemetery, where tombstones mark the names of those who worked so long for the railroad and for the creation of this place within the Clark’s Fork River Valley.

Sanders Co Paradise cemetery

Powell County’s Little Blackfoot River Valley

IMG_2251Between Garrison Junction, where U.S. Highway 12 and Interstate I-90 meet, to Elliston, at near the Mullan Pass over the continental divide, is a beautiful, historic valley carved by the Little Blackfoot River.  It is a part of Powell County that hundreds whiz through daily as they drive between Missoula and Helena, and it is worth slowing down a bit and taking in the settlement landscape along the way.

NP and Mullan Road, Powell Co

Mullan Rd marker and mining, E of Elliston, US 12Captain John Mullan came this way shortly before the Civil War as he built a military road between Fort Benton and Walla Walla, Washington.  A generation later, in the early 1880s, the tracks of the Northern Pacific Road used the Mullan Pass to cross the divide and then followed the Little Blackfoot River west towards Missoula.

Elliston was the first Northern Pacific town of note on the west side of the divide and while today it is perhaps best known for Lawdog Saloon–definitely worth a stop–it also retains key public buildings from the early twentieth century, including its Gothic-styled

community church, a large gable-front log building that to my eye reads like a 1930s era community hall (I have not verified that), and then a quite marvelous  Art Deco-styled brick school, built by the New Deal’s Works Projects Administration in the 1930s.

Elliston school, Powell CoThe oldest federal imprint in Elliston comes from the ranger’s headquarters for the Helena National Forest in its combination of a frame early 20th century cottage and then the Rustic-styled log headquarters.

Helena National Forest ranger station, EllistonThe next railroad town west is Avon, which is also at the junction of U.S. Highway 12 and Montana Highway 141 that takes travelers northwest toward the Blackfoot River. Like Elliston, Avon has several buildings to note, although the National Register-listed property is the historic steel truss bridge that crosses the Little Blackfoot River and then heads into ranch territory.

Powell 3 Little Blackfoot River Bridge US 12 AvonThe bridge is a Pratt pony truss, constructed in 1914 by contractor O.E. Peppard of Missoula, and little altered in the last 100 years. As the National Register nomination notes, the bridge’s camelback trusses are unusual and have not been documented in other Montana bridges from the early 20th century.

IMG_1919Avon has another clearly National Register-worthy building in its 1941 community hall, a late New Deal era building, which has served the community in multiple ways, as a meeting place for the Avon Grange, a polling place, and a place for celebrations of all sorts, including stage presentations and bands.

Avon Community Hall, 1941, probably WPA

Avon Community Hall, New Deal, 1941

Avon Community Hall 1941 New Deal interiorThe Avon School also has a New Deal era affiliation, with the Works Progress Administration. Although remodeled in the decades since, the school still conveys its early 20th century history.

 

Avon School US 12 2Avon even has its early 20th century passenger station for the Northern Pacific Railroad, although it has been moved off the tracks and repurposed for new uses.

IMG_1933In front of the depot is the turn of the 20th century St. Theodore’s Catholic Church.  The historic Avon Community Church incorporates what appears to be a moved one-room school building as a wing to the original sanctuary.

Early railroad era commercial buildings also remain in Avon, with a frame false front building serving both as a business and the community post office.  Birdseye Mercantile is an architecturally impressive stone building, dated c. 1887, that has for a decade housed a quilt business.  It too may be National Register worthy.

Birdseye Mercantile, 1887, AvonAnother important property in Avon, but one I ignored in 1984-85, is the town cemetery, which also helps to document the community’s long history from the 1880s to today.

Avon Cemetery, SE, Powell Co

Avon Cemetery, W, Powell CoHeading west from Avon on U.S. Highway 12 there are various places to stop and enjoy the river valley as it narrows as you approach Garrison.  I always recalled this part fondly, for the beaverslide hay stackers–the first I encountered in Montana in 1981–and they are still there today, connecting the early livestock industry of the valley to the present.

Philipsburg: Victorian Town in the Pintlers

Granite co, Phillipsburg, BroadwayMiners first began to gather at what is now Philipsburg in the late 1860s; the town was later named for Philip Deidesheimer, who operated the Bi-Metallic Mine works. As the Bi-Metallic Mine and Mill expanded operations in the 1880s, a rapid boom in building

occurred, creating one and two-story brick buildings with dazzling Eastlake-styled cast-iron facades. The town was incorporated in 1890.

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IMG_2333The quality of the Victorian commercial architecture still extant in Phillipsburg, such as the 1888 Sayrs Block above, astounded me during the 1984-85 preservation work. So much was intact but so much needed help. Residents, local officials, and the state preservation office understood that and by 1986 the Philipsburg Commercial historic district had been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Granite Co, McLeod and Doe Blocks, PhillipsburgWhat is exciting is that in this decade, entrepreneurs are building upon early successful renovations and adaptive reuse project to launch new businesses and create new jobs. The town’s population is growing, after 30 years of decline.

No business has been more central to this transformation than the Sweet Palace, shown above, which is next door to the two-story brick Masonic Lodge.


Another key to recent success has the resurrection of local hotels and bed and breakfast establishments, along with the staging of various summer productions at the town’s Opera House Theatre, built in 1896, making it the longest continuous operating theater in the state. These properties give visitors a reason to stay longer, and not just stop at the Candy Store, grab a brew at one of the town’s historic bars, and then move along.

The town has recently added an amphitheater, located behind the historic school building, that also serves summer events that drive ever-increasing numbers of people to visit this mountain mining town and to spend more time and money there. This is modern-day heritage development at work.

Amphitheater, PhillipsburgThe new developments in Philipsburg are interesting and invaluable changes since 1984-1985. At the same time, I am happy that residents have still embraced their historic public buildings in a similar fashion.  The photograph I used in my book about the town in 1985

Phillipsburg HS, Granite Co (p84 59a-28)was the Philipsburg School, with its soaring tower symbolizing the hopes that residents had for Philipsburg’s future in the 1890s. The historic school, which is listed in the National Register, remains although the community built a new building adjacent to the historic one in 1987. (you can see a corner of the new building at the lower left).

IMG_2317When I first visited in 1984 the only building in Philipsburg listed in the National Register was the Queen Anne-styled Granite County Jail of 1902.  It also remains in use.

IMG_2145But now the Classical Revival-styled Granite County Courthouse (1913) is also listed in the National Register.  Designed by the important Montana architectural firm of Link and Haire, this small town county courthouse also speaks to the county’s early 20th century ambitions, with its stately classical columned portico and its central classical cupola.

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Granite Co, Phillipsburg, courthouse, 1912-13, Link and HaireBy climbing the hill above the courthouse you also gain a great overview look of the town, reminding you that these rather imposing public buildings are within what is truly a modest urban setting that is connected to the wider world by Montana Highway 1.

Overview of Phillipsburg, facing S

A couple of final thoughts on Philipsburg.  Its range of domestic architecture from c. 1875 to 1925 is limited in numbers but impressive in the variety of forms, from brick cottages to brick Queen Anne homes to textbook examples of bungalows and American Four Squares.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the M.E. Dow House is a frame Queen Anne home, modest considering the flamboyant Eastlake-styled cast-iron front to his downtown business block.

IMG_2118The Philipsburg Cemetery, which like so many that I ignored in 1984-1985, was a revelation, reflecting the quality of Victorian period architecture found in the town.

IMG_2341The beauty and serenity of its setting were impressive enough, but then some of the family plots and individual markers reflected Victorian era mortuary art at its best.

Phillipsburg Cemetery 5  This cast-iron gate, completed with urns on each post and the music lyre gate, is among the most impressive I have encountered in any small town across America.  And this cemetery has two separate ones.

Phillipsburg Cemetery, metal gateMany grave markers came from local or nearby masons but others, like these for the Schuh and Jennings families, were cast in metal, imitating stone, and shipped by railroad to Philipsburg.

Other markers are not architecturally impressive but they tell stories, such as the one below, for Mr. George M. Blum, a native of Germany, who was “killed in runaway at Phillipsburg” in 1903. I look forward to a future visit to this cemetery for further research.

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Mining in Beaverhead County

Hecla Smelter, Glendale, Breaverhead Co (p84 54-19)

Hecla Smelter at Glendale, 1984

Beaverhead County is so huge; it comes as no surprise that its landscape encompasses so many significant Montana themes.  But I found out in 1984, and then again during historic preservation workshops in 2012, that Montanans do not think as Beaverhead as mining company. In the book A Traveler’s Companion to Montana History (1986) I emphasized the Glendale site (above).  The smelter was enlarged and improved once the Utah and Northern tracks reached Melrose, in Silver Bow County, in 1881.  The town once had 3,000 residents.  Between 1881 and 1900 the Hecla Mining Company produced some $22 million in ore, but by 1904 the ore had been mined out and Hecla ceased operations.

IMG_3522  When I returned to Glendale in 2012, I made sure to take a replica shot of the place I had photographed almost 30 years earlier.  But I also went father and did my best to document a mining landscape in danger of disappearing in the 21st century. Below is an image when the Hecla smelter was in full production.

Glendale smelter photo at Canyon Creek Kilns 4There are some intact buildings at Glendale, but also numerous parts of buildings, facades and foundations that convey how busy the Glendale Road was some 100 years ago.

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One resource that needs more study is the Glendale cemetery, located on a low hill that overlooks the ghost town.  Access is through private land, and I have not gotten a close look but what can be seen from public right of ways tells me that the cemetery is a valuable historic site, a place of memory for those long gone from this land.

Glendale cemetery

Glendale cemetery 1Hecla Mining Company operated 28 kilns at a site a few miles away.  Within the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest, the Canyon Creek Kilns are a remarkable property, preserved and now interpreted through the efforts of the U.S. Forest Service.  The Forest Service should be commended for this effort. As the images below suggest, this property is one of the best places in Montana to stop and think of the mining landscape of the turn of the twentieth century and imagine what a moonscape it would have been 100 years ago when the kilns consumed all of the surrounding timber.

The public interpretation at the site is impressive.  It explains how a kiln was constructed, what a kiln did and how the wood was prepared.  It also ties the history of this site to the larger operations of the Hecla Mining Company at Glendale.

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The Hecla works, and the recent preservation and interpretation of these sites, are just the beginning of the mining history of Beaverhead County.  Next up? the ghost towns of Farlin and Argenta.

Finding Wisdom in Beaverhead County

IMG_0288Beaverhead County, named for the prominent, ancient landmark on the Beaverhead River at the corner of Madison and Beaverhead county, was the first rural place I visited in Montana after my arrival in Helena in 1981.  Why?  No pressing reason, except that the place name of Wisdom called out to me.

The Crossing, Wisdom

Our first stop was at Fetty’s, a classic Montana bar that friends tell me burned a few years ago.  In its place now stands The Crossing at Fetty’s, also a good place but a bit more upscale than the old c. 1930s bar/cafe.  The new place wasn’t the only change in Wisdom.  There was a new public school building and a new post office.

These were just the first of the changes since 1982. Wisdom is still the tiny homesteading era town that I recalled.  Key community landmarks remain: witness the two-story Craftsman-style Masonic Hall and Gothic-styled church building.

Beaverhead Co, Wisdom masonic lodge

IMG_2945The town’s large community hall remains in constant use.  The separate Women’s Club

Beaverhead Co, Wisdom community Centerbuilding once welcomed ranch wives and daughters to town, giving them a place to rest and providing a small library of books.  It has been converted into a small lodge for skiers and hunters–a great small town example of adaptive reuse.

IMG_2944Of course the major landmark for travelers through Wisdom in the late 20th century was Conover’s Trading Post, a two-story false front building–clearly the most photographed place in town, and inside a classic western gun and recreation shop.

Beaverhead Co, Conovers store, WisdomBut the Conover’s facade, even the name, is no more.  Not long after my 2012 visit to Wisdom, new owners totally remade the building and business, opening a new store named Hook and Horn.

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Image from tripadvisor.com.

One significant property I sought out in 2012 was the town cemetery, a resource type that I had ignored almost totally across Montana in the initial state historic preservation plan work.  The cemetery marks the town’s height of population during the early twentieth century, and contains several interesting grave markers, including the headstone for Frederick Finsley, a veteran of the Civil War who served in a Union regiment from West Virginia, and the cast metal obelisk for  the Gallen family.

Wisdom Cemetery, MT 43 8

 

Wisdom was where I started my exploration into Montana over 30 years ago.  But, surprisingly, during the 1984-1985 state historic preservation plan work I sorta glossed over Beaverhead County, and didn’t spend the time there that I should have.  In my new work I was determined not to repeat that mistake and have spent four long days in the county, exploring well known historic places (Big Hole National Battlefield, Bannock State Park) and even more time at the not so well known.  In the next posts I want to consider the diverse types of landscapes that make up this county, from ranching to mining to railroad towns to river towns to special Native American landscapes.