A look at Butte’s churches

IMG_0636Towering over the Butte cityscape, in competition with the corporate symbols of the steel head frames for dominance, are the steeples of Butte’s churches, in themselves powerful symbols of the ethnic diversity that make up the population of the copper city.  This posting hardly pretends to cover all of the city’s historic churches–consider this a sampling of sacred spaces that too often are taken for granted.

Let’s begin with two landmark Methodist churches.  Cornish miners built the Romanesque-style Trinity Methodist Church in 1889 in Walkerville.  Methodist mine owners, Uptown merchants, and professionals attended the Mountain View Methodist Church (1899-1900, Link and Donovan have been identified as architects) in the middle of Uptown’s bustling business district near the county courthouse.  Butte Art Glass Company designed, built, and installed its wonderful stained glass. When I re-visited Butte in 2012, both congregations obviously were struggling with members, and the cost of maintaining large historic buildings.  They tried to get by by treating the two churches as part of the same congregation.  But in 2015, the congregations closed the churches.

The vernacular Gothic of the St. Lawrence Catholic Church (1897) in Walkerville hides what may be one of the most spectacular church interiors in all of Montana.  Frescos from 1906 adorn the ceiling, carved woodwork enlivens the interior, and there in a 1944 M.P. Möller organ.  The congregation left the church years ago, and now a local preservation group keeps the building alive, renting it for gatherings, weddings, and the like.  But the future remains uncertain, and the sad fate of all three of these first churches speak to the decline in numbers of the city’s traditional ethnic communities in the last two generations.

1st Presybterian, now theater, W. Park by H.W. Patterson, Butte

Will the ultimate fate be similar to the grant Romanesque-styled First Presbyterian Church (1896), now the Covellite Theatre?  Last year, a proposal came forward to convert what had been a community theatre since the 1960s into a movie house in for Uptown residents.  Can, again, a viable use be identified for one of the grandest church buildings in the state?

1st Baptist, W. Broadway, 1907, by Charles Passmore & Co., Butte

First Baptist Church is another fine example of Romanesque style in stone and red brick in Butte.  Built in 1907-1908, the building, designed by architects Charles Passmore and Company, has been a downtown anchor ever since. Its two round stained glass windows came from the Ford Brothers Glass Company in Minneapolis.

IMG_0597Stone work in a Gothic style reminiscent of a Cotswold village parish distinguishes St. John’s Episcopal Church in Butte.  Built in 1881, with later additions in the 20th century, the church is considered the oldest in the city.  Copper magnate William A. Clark lived nearby and he helped to fund the church.

St. Paul UM, 1899, by Wm White, Galena at Idaho, ButteThe original St. Paul Methodist Episcopal Church South (1899) was designed by architect William White in a restrained Gothic/Norman style similar to that of St. John’s Episcopal.  But the real significance of the property lies with its association with miners’ attempts to organize and the influence of the International Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) in Butte history.  The property’s National Register marker summarizes it nicely:  “By 1918, the church housed the Butte Daily Bulletin, a radical newspaper voicing policies of the anti-corporate Nonpartisan League, published by William F. Dunne. The office was also a known stronghold of the incendiary Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). On September 14, 1918, local police and federal troops under Major O. N. Bradley raided the Bulletin, arresting twenty-four men and thwarting a miners’ strike.”

NR church just n of federal building on main street, butteAnother Gothic landmark listed in the National Register in Butte is St. Mary’s Catholic Church, now home to a Catholic women’s foundation, on North Main Street near the federal building.  The congregation was among the city’s earliest but a fire destroyed the church building leading to construction of this building at the onset of the Depression.

St. Joseph Catholic, Arizona or Utah, ButteSt. Joseph Catholic Church is quite different in its architecture, a strong statement of Classical Revival from 1911.  The architect was Austrian-born Albert O. Von Verbalism, who also designed the magnificent High Victorian Gothic St. Helena Catholic Cathedral in Helena.    St. Joseph is still an ethnically vibrant congregation some 100 years later.

IMG_1081The Christian Scientist Church follows the blending of Colonial and Classical Revival design so often found in the congregation’s churches no matter their location in the United States.  This building dates to 1920 and Walter Arnold was the architect.

B'nai Israel Temple, 1903, Galena St., ButtePerhaps the grandest of the Uptown religious buildings is the Onion-dome steeple of the historic B’nai Israel Synagogue (1903), which was one of three Jewish houses of worship in Butte and is now the oldest synagogue in continuous use in all of Montana.

IMG_1064On a far different scale is the Gold Street Lutheran Church.  Built in a restrained, late interpretation of Gothic style in 1936, the church shows the continued expansion of Butte’s religious centers from the Uptown area into what is called the Flats, where so many congregations now reside.

Our Lady of Rockies, Butte

And, of course, now overlooking the historic city and its surrounding suburbs is Our Lady of the Rockies, a massive symbol of the region’s religious faith, built in the 1980s.  Approximately 90 feet high–the third tallest statue in the United States, the project was a community effort.   Laurien Eugene Riehl, a retired Anaconda engineer, is credited with engineering the site and the statue.

 

 

Faith and a Smelter Town

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Anaconda over 100 years ago was a place of opportunity for laborers who wanted to gain a foothold in the Rocky Mountains through hard labor at the smelter, the pottery works, or the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific Railroad.  In a town dominated by the dictates and fortunes of the Anaconda Copper Company, Anaconda was a place where a respite from work was necessary–the last post looked at the range of recreation opportunities–but also a place where faith mattered, and still matters today.

Towering over the Goosetown neighborhood is the beautiful Gothic Revival styled St. Peter’s Austrian Roman Catholic Church, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Gleaming as a beacon for the hundreds of small one-story homes that surround it, the church is a statement building, from the Slavic community of turn of the 20th century Anaconda.  Designed by local architect W. W. Hyslop and built in 1898, the church served the Croatian, Slovenian, and Montenegrin residents of Anaconda.  Fr. John Pirnat convinced the diocese to allow the second church since St. Paul’s was dominated by the Irish community.  Pirnat served as pastor for the next half century and his church hosted countless ethnic festivals, strengthened bonds of community within the Goosetown neighborhood.

Zion Swedish Evangelical Lutheran, 524 Cedar St

Built about five years after St. Peter’s, the Zion Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church is another Gothic Revival landmark, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, that represents the Swedish Lutheran community of Anaconda.  With funding from the Swedish Mission Friends, the first frame church was finished in 1899 at a cost of $1600–but by 1904 came the new building with its substantial red brick facade and beautiful stained glass windows making the statement that the Lutherans were also here to stay.

The mainstream Protestant faiths were also represented by architectural landmarks such as the Romanesque red brick styling of the Methodist Church, the white frame cupola of the Presbyterian church located prominently on Main Street between the Washoe Theater and the Hearst Library, or the unique Castellated Gothic style of the First Baptist Church.

IMG_1394The craggy sandstone tower of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is the town’s earliest religious architectural landmark, with the sanctuary dating to 1891.  In 1978 t was among the first Anaconda landmarks to be listed in the National Register and remains one of the state’s most impressive examples of church architecture.

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Anaconda also has interesting religious architecture from the middle decades of the 20th century, especially in the concrete screens that help to define the exterior of the Gateway Christian Church and the 1970s contemporary style of the Holy Family Catholic Church, part of the Anaconda Catholic Community along with St. Peters.  Holy Family is located on West Pennsylvania Avenue  on the other side of the tracks from the town’s historic railroad depot.

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Catholic Church, n of tracks

These are just a sampling of the old and new churches in Anaconda, and many are still to be explored.  But the churches help to define neighborhoods to root the community in both past and present, especially so when new non-denominational Pentecostal congregations like Living Waters Revival Center take over older church buildings to use for their ministries today.

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Plains Country Towns in Montana’s Judith Basin

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Milwaukee Road Corridor, Moore, 1984.

In my work with the State Historic Preservation Office in 1984-1985, my colleagues put up with many of my own peculiar interests and views of the Montana historic landscape, especially the focus on public buildings and the state’s railroad corridors.  My interests, however, in the country towns of the Judith Basin was probably always a puzzler; staff always wished I would press on to Lewistown, where some of the best preservation work in the state was taking place in the mid-1980s (much more on Lewistown a bit later).  But I must admit that the maze of small towns–never numbering more than 200 or so souls in any given place–created by the railroads as they fought for market dominance in the rich agricultural region of the Judith Basin some 100 years ago was just fascinating.

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Grain elevators at Moore, 1984

And they remain so today.  The geographer John Hudson had provided basic insights on the creation, distribution, and purpose of the country towns in the larger development of the northern plains–he coined the phrase “plains country towns.” The constant elements that they all shared–oriented to the tracks, the dominance of grain elevators, the prominence of depots–underscore the railroad era origins.  But the towns all had their own individual places and statements, be it a woman’s club, a library, the school, and the bars and taverns.  Thirty years later, much was missing from what I experienced in 1984–every place lost population between 1980-2010–but much still remained, and residents seemed determined to keep it that way.

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Moore still has its grain elevators but the Milwaukee depot is long gone, creating an empty space along the corridor.  Moore has the look of so many Milwaukee Road towns with a T-plan design apparent today even as the town decline from its height of 575 residents in 1920 to the 193 of today.

IMG_9790But the town, which compared to many I visited in 1984 had declined to a lesser degree (229 residents in 1980 to 193 in 2010), still has its public institutions.  The Moore Woman’s Club is celebrating its centennial in 2015 while the town’s public library is another key community center while the continued operation of the unassuming Moore public school

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IMG_9785_2is undoubtedly the major reason that the town is still here today.

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The Great Northern Railway spur line that snaked north from the Yellowstone Valley at Laurel through the Judith Gap then the basin was always a corridor of great interest to me, although the towns created along the way were small, seemingly inconsequential compared to the linking of Great Falls and Billings.

IMG_9770Traveling north out of the Yellowstone then Musselshell valleys, the Great Northern line entered the basin at Judith Gap, and the homesteaders who followed built a grand two-story brick school that spoke of their ambitions.

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The corridor then left in its wake places forgotten today.  Travelers along U.S. 191 may notice the old brick state bank building and elevators at Garneill, but they may not.

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The highway veers away from the railroad line at Garneill, meaning that the old state bank at Buffalo was a forgotten place in 1984–and the town remains so today.

Buffalo, Judith Basin Co (p84 35-15)

First State Bank, Buffalo, 1984.

Hobson, on U.S. 87/Montana 200, has experienced a much brighter history. Its brick bank building houses a local bar.  While no depot remains, the town’s railroad line remains a IMG_9797

IMG_9792point of focus, although most traffic, commercial and otherwise, relies on the highway.  Hobson’s population when I visited in 1984 was at its height, 261 people in 1980, and it still tops over 200 today.  Another defining characteristic is Hobson’s rather unique (for a plains country town) boulevard plan.

IMG_9794On either side lie business and public buildings and the street ends at the high school, where the six-man football field is a central element of the community’s public landscape.

IMG_9801The Murray Block, 1910, dominates the business district today as it much have done one hundred years ago–it is rare to see a false-front concrete block building.  The Masonic

IMG_9795Lodge probably helps to identify some of the builders of Hobson’s historic structures located on the boulevard.  But whoever the builders were, here is a very interesting place

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IMG_9799and just as importantly the properties are in use, be they a cafe, a store, or a library. A long two-lane road, Montana 239, stretches east from Hobson along the Judith River and headed into Little Belt Mountains.  The paved road ends at the earlier settlement of the

IMG_9419basin, the cowboy town of Utica, made famous by the paintings and writings of Charles M. Russell, the state’s most famous artist.  Utica has a strong sense of itself, although it is justa tiny place today.  A large part of that sense of the past is maintained and enhanced by the work of the Utica museum, the local historical society, and the town rod and gun club.  Utica has a level of public interpretation that was certainly not in place in 1984 and that today is rarely matched in a small Montana town.

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IMG_9422Utica also has done a commendable job of maintaining and preserving key community buildings, such as the early 20th century school and community hall, both properties associated with the homesteading boom of that time.  The town’s historic store is a little

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IMG_9427worse for the wear of 100 years of use, but it is still here, and the stone construction speaks strongly to the vernacular quality of the area’s built environment.

IMG_9428History and preservation are not the only reasons for Utica’s survival.  In true Montana fashion, most people who take the long drive here come for the food, drink, and good

IMG_9430times at the Oxen Yoke Inn–why else would you locate the town’s primary interpretive sign next to the bar’s parking lot.

IMG_9431For most travelers the highway from Hobson at the eastern end of Judith Basin County to Stanford, the county seat, in the center of the county, is just open road.  But between those two towns three Great Northern hamlets still have significant remnants of their past.  Moccasin was such a favorite in 1984 that the resulting book from the survey work,  A Traveler’s Companion to Montana History, had two images from the place–the New Deal school, with its totally out of place but flashy Art Deco design, and the two-story Classical Revival styled bank building. Moccasin MT JB CoMoccasin, Judith Basin Co (p84 85-1)Those landmarks remain in Moccasin, but much worse for the wear.  The school is clearly among those threatened landmarks highlighted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2012.  The bank is hanging on, barely.

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IMG_9821Moccasin still has other historic buildings worthy of note, such as a church, its town pump, even a telephone booth (a real disappearing part of the landscape from 1984 to 2014).

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IMG_9822More importantly, its historic Great Northern combination depot, although battered, still is along the tracks nearby the elevators, reminding anyone looking closely enough of the railroad roots of the place.

IMG_9809The next two towns of Benchland and Windham also retain their historic depots.  The Benchland station has deteriorated in the last generation as documented in a comparison of a 1984 image with one from 2014.

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IMG_9834The Windham depot has been moved slightly off the tracks–but still within a stone’s throw of the rails.  The station, along with the historic commercial strip of the T-town plan, and historic elevators, still give meaning to the “W” of the town sign.

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IMG_9839The curve of the tracks headed to Stanford is a good place to rest with this post–more on the plains country towns of the Judith Basin in the next post.

Townsend: A Railroad Town on the Missouri River

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Townsend is a classic Montana crossroads town, with its historic heart, and primary commercial district, centered on the intersection of U.S. Highways 12 and 287.  But a closer look reminds you of the town’s origins as a railroad town, part of the Northern Pacific route, as it moved westward from Bozeman to Helena, Montana, along the valley of the Missouri River.  The town’s layout is a good example of a T-town plan, with Front Street (now U.S. 287) forming the top of the “T” while Broadway (U.S. 12) forming the stem, as shown above.

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Grain elevators and other light industrial and transportation-related buildings the lots between the railroad tracks and Front Street.  At the corner of the highway junction is one of the town’s oldest buildings, the Commercial Hotel of 1889, which still operates today as

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a bar and restaurant.  Historically this large two-story frame building, with hipped roof dormers creating even additional rental space under the roof, would have been an attraction for travelers and business people looking for a place just off the tracks, or later the highway. It is among a handful of late 19th century railroad hotels left in Montana.

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Broadway also had its historic landmarks, especially the neoclassical-styled State Bank of Townsend, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Dating to 1918, the building’s architect was the Albert Mooreman and Company firm from St. Paul, MN. The flanking two-story classical columns root the yellow brick building to its prominent corner lot–the bank’s survival into the twenty-first century is also a rarity in rural Montana.

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Broadway also has its mix of one- and two-story business buildings, from the American Legion and another Montana Mint Bar to the Professional Building of 1911.  Despite its proximity to both Helena and Bozeman, the town has retained its commercial vitality.

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At the end of the commercial district is the Broadwater County Courthouse, a mid-1930s New Deal project that has expanded significantly in the three decades since I carried out the original historic preservation plan survey in 1984-1985.  Its understated Art-Deco styling fits well its highway location.  And as to be expected in a “T-town” plan, its location at the end of Broadway, meaning the end of the stem of the “T” reflected well the comparative power between local government and the corporate power of the railroad.

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Being a resident of Helena from 1981 to 1985, I passed through Townsend many times on my way east since US 12 was a favorite trek.  I noticed these major landmarks and the patterns of railroad town plans but I must admit that I never strayed off of either Front Street or Broadway, and that was a mistake.

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South of Broadway are several valuable late-19th or turn of the century Victorian-styled residences, some of which have found their champions and have been restored while others need that champion to see the potential jewel underneath decades of change.  One historic neighborhood school building–now a Masonic lodge–also remains, along with many different churches, most of which date to the second half of the twentieth century.

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North of Broadway is a notable exception, the Victorian Gothic styled Townsend United Methodist Church, again an important survivor from the town’s opening generation of history.

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Townsend also had a set of interesting bungalows from c. 1920 on U.S. 12 as it moves east of the courthouse.  These are made of concrete block, shaped to mimic stone masonry.  It was a popular technique to give a house a solid, permanent look, and you tend to find it more in the west than in the east.  Of course, Townsend was not far from the major concrete works at Trident–a topic for a later posting.

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Last but not least Townsend, and Broadwater County, has an active historical society and local museum, established during the American Bicentennial in 1976–and expanding ever since at its location behind the county courthouse.

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Geraldine: A Milwaukee Road Town that made it

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My last post looked at the disappearing towns of the Milwaukee Road in central Montana’s Meagher County.  Those themes of a railroad, town creation, and abandonment were constant in several posts as I traced the imprint  of the Milwaukee on Montana’s landscape in the 20th century.  However, not all central Montana plains towns tied to the Milwaukee Road have disappeared–Geraldine in Chouteau County is one of those exceptions.

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Milwaukee Road depot at Geraldine, c. 1998

Geraldine was established c. 1913 along a major spur line of the Milwaukee Road that connected its division point at Harlowtown to the much larger railroad transportation center of Great Falls to the north.  Due to the richness of the high plains agriculture of southern Chouteau County–the land south of the Missouri River–and the commitment of its citizens, Geraldine has remained generally solid through the decades.  According to census records, the town has never topped 400 residents, 375 being the largest number of residents, and now, according to the 2010 count, there are only about 100 less, a little over 260 residents.  Losing what amounts to 25-30% of the population over the 100 years sounds like a disappearing town, true, but in an eastern Montana perspective, it is not.  As this blog has documented at many places, too many plains country towns have lost 50% or more of their population in just the last 30 years.

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In the 1984-85 historic preservation survey, Geraldine impressed me for several reasons.  First was the dominating presence of the grain elevators, as seen above and with the first photo in this blog.  I had grown accustomed to Milwaukee Road towns where the corporate standardized design for the combination depot–a building that joined both freight and passenger operations–dominated the railroad corridor.  Here the elevators punctuate the skyline and loom over the town itself–the railroad created the need for them, certainly, but by the end of the 20th century the elevators were still viable businesses while the depot had become a local museum and community center.

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Then there was the town plan.  Milwaukee Road country towns were “T-plan” towns where the tracks, depot, and elevators defined the top of the T while the town’s business district formed the stem of the T.  Geraldine was a bit different, a tilted T-plan town, where the top

IMG_8818of the T, due to the railroad’s approach was slanted, giving Geraldine, compared to other Milwaukee towns, an off-kilter look.  Geraldine also still had business, although the number of independent places had diminished since 1984-1985.  Two key institutions today are

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the local state bank, a Classical Revival-styled two-story building from c. 1914 that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the First National Bank of Geraldine.  Unlike scores of other local institutions in the 1920s and 1930s, the Geraldine bank did not close its doors and continues to serve ranchers and town residents today.  It is a rock from Geraldine’s past that surely helps to define its future.  The same can be said for the

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Geraldine school–home of the Tigers.  This local school has several different building periods, as this image of its facade indicates, but maintaining a school district is vital to the town–plains country towns that lose their schools soon become abandoned places.

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Geraldine touches upon many key theme of eastern Montana history–in subtle yet significant ways.  It even lightly touches on another theme of this blog–Montana Modernism.  No one was much looking at the contemporary styled buildings of the late 1950s and 1960s in 1984-1985.  I was no exception.  But in the 21st century, we want to document those buildings and appreciate how the new architecture expressed the hopes of the post World War II generation.  Geraldine’s contribution is its United Methodist

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Church, with its particularly notable tall concrete bell tower, mixing a bit of tradition with the new look of the postwar generation.

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Geraldine of course has a classic western watering hole–Rusty’s Bar and Grill, completed with its front glass block windows.  It is highly recommended–not much on the outside admittedly but a full community experience on the inside.  Historic depot and bank, modern-styled church, unique town plan, and great bar:  more than enough reasons to come to Geraldine, not once but whenever travels take you between Great Falls and the Musselshell River Valley.

An Easter Greeting from St. Peter’s Catholic Mission

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In all of the justified and well-meaning excitement for a Great Falls of Missouri heritage area–an effort I fully support as an administrator of a statewide heritage area in Tennessee–let’s always remember the western end of Cascade County where so much started.  The First Nations Buffalo Jump State Park at Ulm is the reminder of the centuries old Native American shaping of the landscape.  Here, on a graveled road within a working ranch, stands another key National Register site where Catholic missionaries attempted to build a new world with Blackfeet Indian–St. Peter’s Catholic Mission.

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Just getting there is awe-inspiring as the road winds its way around Crown Butte and through dazzling landscape of where the plains meet the mountains in Montana.  St. Peter’s did not become a major settlement, despite its early founding–it seems in the middle of nowhere today, which it is, but in the mid-19th century it was right where it needed to be, at the intersection of Native American and white missionary culture.

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The church itself is an unassuming log building, c. 1878, with a frame bell tower later later. But it was an outpost in that missionary effort among the Blackfeet 150 years ago.  I wrote about this place and the later Holy Family Mission on the Blackfeet Reservation in en essay “Acculturation by Design” years ago so I won’t belabor the success and failure of those efforts here.  You can see for yourself. Other remnants of the old mission school survive,

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some barely hanging on, as they are still part of a working ranch.  The cemetery high above the church, and every other part of the old mission, is probably the most compelling site.  And a perfect place today, or any day for that matter, for contemplation of the story of men, culture, faith, and history on the northern plains.

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Hardin and Montana’s Modernist Traditions

The National Register-listed Burlington Route depot  is now the chamber of commerce office.

The National Register-listed Burlington Route depot is now the chamber of commerce office.

Hardin is different than so much of eastern Montana It was created along the Burlington Route–a railroad line that entered the state in the early 20th century and headed north to Billings–and not the three dominant lines of the region:  the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific, and the Milwaukee Road.  Its town plan is different: streets radiate out from the depot, the centerpiece of the design, although tradition soon overruled design:  businesses soon adapted the plan into the standard T-town look that you find throughout the region.

From the depot, looking northwest, the Hotel Becker, also in the National Register, is the town's most recognized landmark from its first decade of development.

From the depot, looking northwest, the Hotel Becker, also in the National Register, is the town’s most recognized landmark from its first decade of development.

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To the northeast of the depot, the street soon took on the look of an alley as owners adapted the plan to the preferred T-town look of a proper “Main Street.”

Hardin is also different because like its huge neighbor to the north, Billings, Hardin’s demographic story is not one of a boom in the early twentieth century followed by decades of declining population.  When I first visited in the early 1980s, the town’s population had grown by one thousand since the 1950s, and it has even grown a couple of hundred more since then, rather than the story so often documented in this blog of rather steep declines in eastern Montana towns from 1980 to 2010.  Hardin even weathered the closing, and now slow demolition, of its industrial mainstay, the Holly Sugar Refinery, which dominated the skyline and local industry from its opening in 1937 to its closing in the early 1970s.

The refinery, shown here in 2013, is  just east of the town proper and has served as a major landmark for travelers on I-94.

The refinery, shown here in 2013, is just east of the town proper and has served as a major landmark for travelers on I-94.

The opening of the refinery in the Depression decade also coincided with yet another trend that makes Hardin different:  its impressive collection of modernist designs, which started with the magnificent Big Horn County Courthouse.

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The courthouse was constructed between 1937 and 1938 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) effort; J. G. Link of Billings was the architect, as the firm was for so many New Deal projects in the region.  The courthouse is the state’s most successful blending of regional materials with standard WPA Modern design.  South of Hardin is the Big Horn Canyon, a beautiful deep gorge that frames the river.  The striking stonework of the courthouse came from a quarry near Fort Smith and linked the modern courthouse to the local landscape.

Over the next two generations, and into the present, the town has continued to grace its built environment with interesting examples of modern design.  Some naturally reflect the Art Deco styling of the courthouse.  The entrance to the Community Bowling Alley is very mid-century Deco, and other commercial buildings have a hint here and there of Deco styling, especially in the use of a band of glass block windows on the historic Gay Block.

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What really is really impressive in Hardin are several buildings from Montana’s contemporary era of the 1950s and 1960s, first in commercial buildings and storefronts, especially the metal-clad and International style-influenced Zelka Machine Shop.

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Two congregations also caught the modernist favor.  The Methodist built a rectangular brick International styled-influenced sanctuary while the Congregationalists added an almost Saarinen-esque design to the townscape.

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Nor did residents ignore domestic architecture styles, either in the past, as attested by this Prairie-style dwelling, or in the present, as in the recent Neo-Prairie style addition to the formerly classical-styled town library.

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Perhaps the best comes last in the dramatic lines and stone aesthetic of the First Interstate Bank Drive-In Bank, located between the town’s commercial artery and its residential district, or the slashed up quonset-hut vernacular of a car wash located on the outskirts of town.  Whatever look you like of Montana modernism, Hardin has something that touches on that design aesthetic.

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Modernism in Glendive

My last post on Glendive, the primary commercial and transportation center of the Lower Yellowstone Valley, looked at the Northern Pacific Railroad’s imprint on the town. :et’s shift focus into the early 20th century, when the automobile corridors–the Yellowstone Highway or U.S.Highway 10–began to leave their marks on the town.

Historic Texaco Station in Art Moderne style, Glendive , MT

Historic Texaco Station in Art Moderne style, Glendive , MT


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As the Yellowstone Highway left town and headed west, two outstanding examples of roadside architecture survive, the c. 1930 Art Moderne-styled Texaco gas station, complete with a small motor court for lodging in the rear, and a later historic drive-in, Frosty’s, complete with the low canopy typical of the early non-standardized drive-in establishments.
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Also feeding traffic into the heart of Glendive was the 1925 Bell Street Bridge over the Yellowstone River. This National Register-listed bridge was once a gleaming steel and concrete landmark of modern transportation; it continues to serve the town as a pedestrian bridge.
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Downtown Glendive is dominated by a modern monument to its time of greatest prosperity–the city reached its population high of just over 7,000 in 1960: the Dawson County Courthouse of 1962. Designed by the long-established Billings firm of J. G. Link, the courthouse represents the “contemporary modern” movement in the state’s architecture of the 1950s and 1960s.
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Dawson County Courthouse, 1962, Glendive, MT

Dawson County Courthouse, 1962, Glendive, MT


An even more striking example is the space age aesthetics found in the town’s public library, which when I lasted visited Glendive in the 1980s still served its original purpose as a local bank.
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The contemporary sixties look even extended into Glendive’s historic neighborhoods, as reflected in the A-frame style of the First Congregationalist Church, and into new commercial buildings, such as the Saarinen-esque sloping roofline of the historic Safeway store, now adapted into the Eastern Montana Events Center.
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Glendive has lost over a quarter of that 1960 population, checking in the 2010 census at just under 5,000 residents. Before we leave this spot on the Yellowstone, let’s explore more its historic neighborhoods, full of a range of interesting domestic architecture from 1900 to 1960. That’s the next post.

Traveling the historic Manitoba Line, from Havre to Big Sandy

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The impact of the Great Northern Railway on the settlement of northern Montana really can never be over-emphasized–its mark on the settlement landscape and later transportation routes is that important.  Most travelers, and many residents, do not realize that the railroad, then named the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba, did not initially strike straight across the plains to Glacier National Park.  In 1887 it turned at Havre and headed southwest towards Great Falls, creating a distinct modern landscape along Big Sandy Creek that you may still follow today.

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The first important stop was Fort Assinniboine, a U.S. army base established in 1879, before the first settlers arrived. The army maintained this major base until the 1910s and later in that decade its land and buildings became the Northern Montana demonstration farm, allowing state and federally supported agricultural reformers learn and demonstrate best practices in farming techniques and crops for the region.  Today it remains part of the state’s extension service, which has adapted some buildings for new uses while keeping others preserved as part of the nationally significant story of the U.S. military and its occupation of the northern plains.  

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When I visited the fort site in 1984, the highway marker was the primary interpretation.  The farm’s administrators have since worked with the Montana State Historic Preservation office to locate interpretive markers outside of several buildings.  Tours of the complex are also available by reservations.

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 As part of the federal process of transforming the landscape of Big Sandy Creek, the homesteading boom left its mark everywhere in the 1910s.  But also in 1916 the federal government established the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation for the Chippewa Cree.  The Manitoba Road’s intersection with the reservation came at Box Elder, at the border between Hill and Chouteau counties.  In 1984 one of the early Great Northern-era combination depot still stood at the town, although it seemed destined for destruction. Imagine my surprise in 2013 when the depot still remained, but barely so. 

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The gas station’s roadside architecture also faces an uncertain future.  But St. Anthony’s Catholic Church remained a key landmark and along U.S. 87 in the reservation stood a new architecturally distinctive building:  the Northern Wing Casino.  

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Big Sandy is easily the largest town of northern Chouteau County, a place that abounds in surprises.  In 1984 the town’s old homesteader hotel remained, and so many other Montana towns had lost these artifacts of the early 20th century settlement. 

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Thirty years later, the hotel remains in place, as do several other architecturally important buildings, from the Northern Monana State Bank, a vault-like neo-classical style building to the modern contemporary styling of St. Margaret Mary’s Catholic Church.

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 Impressive adaptive reuse projects also had taken place, with the community turning the historic Great Northern depot into a center for its historical society and museum.  Big Sandy has a t-town plan, with its stem lined by businesses and other ventures, such as the false front Odd-Fellows Lodge or the recently established coffee shop.

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The town’s New Deal era school remained, although the building’s original International Style design was somewhat muted by a new roof and other cosmetic changes. Yet, here was the school that nurtured Jeff Ament, who moved to Seattle and gained fame as part of the internationally significant band, Pearl Jam.  

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Big Sandy has steadily lost population since 1984–600 people remained in the 2010 census–but key landmarks remain standing and in use.  Impressive.  The days of the Manitoba Road are long gone but this early railroad town still makes a powerful historical statement.

Great Northern Towns in west Hill County, Montana

In my 1984 fieldwork, Havre was a base for quite a bit of travel along the Hi-Line.  One of the most compelling landscapes, and among my favorites for the state, were the little towns, regularly spaced about every eight miles, west of Havre.

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At the time, my understanding of this landscape was heavily influenced by recent works by the American Studies scholar John Stilgoe (Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene) and the historical geographer John Hudson (a series of articles that culminated in the book Plains Country Towns.) Stilgoe reminded me that railroads in the late 19th century not only defined towns and urban design but impacted American culture in how small, tiny spaces became part of urban, metropolitan life through the steel tracks.  Hudson explain why towns existed every six to seven miles or so throughout the plains (these were often single track lines so trains needed places to pull over for passing, and places where water and fuel could be acquired as necessary).  Hudson explained differences between railroad division points, where shops and offices would be located, and “country towns,” where typically a combination depot carried out all of the railroad’s corporate functions.

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This arrangement of space, and the ennobling of railroad culture in larger towns, was exactly what I saw in Havre and Hill County.  Ever since 1984, this has been among my favorite places in Montana.  In a posting last year I discussed the “disappearing depots” along the Hi-Line, focusing on west Hill County.  I want to revisit those same places today, with a deeper view on what was there in 1984 and what you find today.

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Inverness, established c. 1909, was the first place I stopped but spent little time there because already in 1984 its Great Northern depot was gone.  But in 2013, I was looking for beyond the Stilgoe-Hudson way of understanding plains country towns.  Inverness in 2010 had 55 residents, but still held several early settlement landmarks, such as its early 20th century elevators along the railroad, a National Register-quality c. 1920 store/gas station, and two large two-story frame blocks–the historic Inverness Hotel (most recently Inverness Supper Club) dates to the second decade of the 20th century.

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The Sacred Heart Catholic Church dates to the town’s beginnings, but a brick school from 1931 with 1952 additions closed in the early 21st century.

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Inverness’s c. 1960 post office is a great example of stone-faced standardized design that the postal service used in small towns across the nation in that decade. It was one of the offices threatened with closure in 2011.

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Rudyard, established 1909, was the largest of the west Hill County towns, about 500 people in 1980 but now with only 258 residents according to the 2010 census.  Its prominence in the second half of the 20th century is reflected in two buildings:  the tall concrete grain elevators along the railroad and the contemporary-styled Wells Fargo bank building on the prominent town corner facing the tracks and Reed Street.

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Thirty years ago, as the construction of a modern bank building attests, several stores and the Hi-Line Theater were hubs of activity; today most businesses are closed.

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Museums now abound–with the moved depot forming a small building zoo while an early 20th century stone building has become an auto museum.

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Rudyard also has one of the highway’s most famous town signs–boasting of a population now greatly diminished but the old sorehead remains–at the Sorehead Cafe in the heart of the four block long commercial district.

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One hundred years ago, Hingham (1910) seemed to be the town that would make it. From the railroad corridor several blocks of commercial businesses were filled in the next decade.

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There was a town square featuring a city park in the midst of it all.

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Here the town’s Commercial Club hosted the Hi-Line Fair, which “presented farmers and ranchers with an opportunity to exhibit their grain and livestock and to exchange ideas with people from other points along the Hi-Line.”

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While the buildings, outside of the brick neo-classical brick bank (1913-14), were frame, town boosters were confident these were only the initial businesses. But the second decade of the 20th century proved to be the town’s high point, and frame buildings still define local businesses.

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In 1930 they defined the town with a large, handsome two-story brick school at its south end (near U.S. 2, a recognition of the highway’s importance in getting students to and from Hingham).

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The Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church is a modernist landmark, and one of the most architecturally important buildings of the Hi-Line, part of the Great Falls diocese effort to improve and modernize its churches in the mid-20th century.  A much earlier frame Methodist Church remains, and has most recently served as a community chapel.

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The boosters of Gildford also had high hopes in 1910 and the homesteading boom brought a full fledged town into existence by 1915-16.

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The boom decade is marked by the extant Gildford State Bank (1914), which also served as the town’s post office when I first visited in 1984.  The town also had an early industry, the Mundy Flour Mill.

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Kremlin acknowledges its distinct name with its highway town sign.

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Settlement began in 1909, with a plat from land agent K.C. Farley, focused on the Great Northern section house, later replaced by a standardized depot, all of which is gone from the railroad corridor today.

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The WPA built a new high school in 1938, which remains a central landmark for the community, a symbol of the future, and a good way to end this posting.

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