Eastern Montana County Seats: Circle

McCone Co Circle sign

In my original post about Circle, the seat of McCone County, I focused on the fate of the Gladstone Hotel, a place that I had stayed at in 1984 and a property listed in the National Register of Historic Places as one of the few homesteading era hotels left in the region.  I also spoke about public institutions, the fairgrounds, schools, and the excellent McCone County Museum. In the years since I visited and talked about Circle in 2013, I have fielded several inquiries, and people wishing to see more.

McCone Co Circle St Francis Xavier Catholic

Sometimes you wonder how you neglected to speak about obvious landmarks, such as St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, which is among the town’s most impressive architectural statements.  It blends the more traditional late 19th century bell tower found at other Catholic churches will mid-twentieth century brick work and large glass block windows.

At least I had an excuse for the landmark across the street, the George McCone Memorial County Library, which in 2013 I could only get a decent side view (image on right) due to a public gathering taking place–one that I do not want to interrupt just to get a photo so the image on the left is from library’s website. I have another reason to return to Circle is the next couple of years! Public libraries are so important, period, but especially so in small towns.

McCone Co Circle school 4

McCone Co Circle school

McCone Co Circle school 1

Nearby the public library, naturally, is the large school complex area, with most of the buildings dating to the second half of the twentieth century, including the “spaceship” era of school building from the 1960s and 1970s (immediately above).  With this building type educators decided to move away from the standard rectangular classroom and build more flexible circle-designs to encourage innovation and flexibility from teachers.

McCone Co Circle fairgrounds 1

McCone Co Circle fairgrounds

Just as I could/ should have said more about the schools, I needed to do the same with the McCone County Fairgrounds, a comparatively huge public property on the town’s outskirts.  The county fair is almost as old as the county itself, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.  That’s right, McCone County was established in 1919.

McCone Co Circle streetscape

The fairgrounds, schools, and libraries–I discussed bars in an earlier post– are vital community centers in Circle, as its Vets Club, with that building occupying a strategic corner in town and its glass block windows distinguishing its entrance. As it is true with so many small western towns, regular movie showings are rare to non-existent. The Claret Theater was closed in 2013 and does not appears to have re-opened.

McCone Co Circle theater

A word about banks.  During the homesteading era, local banks competed for the patronage of the homesteaders.  When the boom went to bust, the banks closed up business but their buildings, typically well located in the town, remain and ever since different owners have converted these buildings into new uses.  A boutique had opened in one of the old Circle banks, seen below.

McCone Co Circle bank

Since I had visited Circle last some 30 years ago, Wells Fargo has located a new bank, again at a prominent street corner, and contributes significantly to the town’s financial services.

McCone Co Circle bank 1980sAnother new financial services building since my 1980s visit to Circle is the McCone County Credit Union building, shown below to the left of the landmark McCone County Memorial building.

McCone Co Circle medical clinic

These images are among those I took of Circle in 2013–it was a rather quick stop and I look forward having more time to explore in the next year.

McCone Co Circle old city hall ND?

Great Falls Heritage Area, Part 6: the cultural side

Cascade Co Great Falls business district 15

Few American cities are as obviously in love with a 20th century artist as Great Falls is with Charles M. Russell, often called the “cowboy artist.”  Russell became an icon in American western art by the mid-20th century, and Great Falls is home to multiple shrines, from the 1986 statue downtown of “Kid Russell and Monte,” the centerpiece of what was then a new downtown renewal project, and Bob Scriver’s earlier statue of “C.M. Russell: Cowboy Artist” outside of the C. M. Russell Museum, located adjacent to his historic home and studio in an unassuming Great Falls neighborhood.

Western art is a significant cultural phenomenon of the 20th century, no matter how one views it today.  And Russell, as the statues suggest, is a giant within the field, one of the handful whose work is still admired by devotees and critics today.

Cascade Co Great Falls CMR museum 3

Cascade Co Great Falls CMR museum 1

Russell’s Victorian cottage home and adjacent log cabin studio were really nothing out of the ordinary in Great Falls in the early 20th century while vernacular still easily stood side-by-side more identified forms of domestic architecture.  But his achievement rates these properties among the few 20th century National Historic Landmarks in the state, and they have been so recognized for many years now.

2011 MT Cascade County Great Falls 135

But there is much more to the cultural side of Great Falls that the looming presence of Charles M. Russell.  The city has an impressive range of architectural statements from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, with the Art Deco-styled New Deal-funded buildings of the county fairgrounds shown above falling in the middle of this architectural timeline.  Many of these are listed in the National Register of Historic Places as individual properties or as historic districts.  The historic neighborhoods have scores of worthy Victorian-style homes.  There are

then gargantuan statements of style and purpose constructed by the town’s Catholic community in the early twentieth century, from the Ursuline School to the massive Columbus Hospital, once of the city’s most important landmarks of its progressive era.

Cascade Co Great Falls Ursuline Center 3 - Version 2

The town’s soaring Arts and Crafts styled Masonic Temple has recently found new investors willing to tackle this early 20th century landmark and find a new future for it some 100 years later.

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Great Falls residents know such conversions can work, since when I first visited the city in 1982, everyone wanted to go and appreciate the conversion of the Dichardsonian Romanesque styled high school into the Paris Gibson Center, a new focal point for the arts in the city.

2011 MT Cascade County Great Falls 092.jpg

Paris Gibson Center was just the start of 30 plus years of successful historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects, keeping such mid-century modern landmarks as the Whittier School, another New Deal

2011 MT Cascade County Great Falls Whittier School 084project, and the Art Moderne landmark Intermountain bus station–once so proudly featured in the Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges movie, “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” part of that decade from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s when Montana was suddenly in the lens of Hollywood.

Cascade Co Great Falls bus station DecoAll of these buildings and places help to give Great Falls its unique sense of self, and its sense of achievement and promise.  And that is not to even mention the fun, funky stuff, such as the Polar Bears and having the

IMG_9102supper club experience of 50 years ago at Borrie’s in Black Eagle.  Stepping back into time, or looking into a future where heritage stands next to the

2011 MT Cascade County Great Falls 130atomic age, Great Falls and its environs–from Fort Benton to the northeast to Fort Shaw to the southwest–can give you that memorable heritage area experience.