Sheridan County In 1988

After my comprehensive work in Montana from 1984-85 I returned in 1988 to revisit and add new places to my visual understanding of the state. Here are most of the color slides I took in Sheridan County on my second trip to Plentywood and environs.

I particularly looked at the railroad corridors–big surprise I know. Above is the Great Northern depot at Medicine Lake and below is a similar combination of Great Northern depot and elevators at Antelope.

The other railroad corridor I wanted to look at was the Soo Line, which operated a short spur line into the county in the early 20th century. I’m glad I did since hardly any buildings exist along this route today. Below is the T-town plan of Outlook.

Outlook in 1988 still had its classic Soo Line combination depot, with both passenger services, baggage warehouse and station office wrapped in one building. Below is the Outlook railroad corridor.

The station was in fair condition then (it is gone now) and I took a couple of images along with a close-up of the two-seat privy.

Other “towns” on the Soo Line had nothing left but deteriorating elevators. Here in 1988 was what was left in Raymond.

In Plentywood, the county seat, I took images of the great fairgrounds sign and the New Deal-era Sheridan County Courthouse.

I also was so happy to see the Orpheum movie theater still in operation.

Finally I always have found it fascinating that at Plentywood’s main intersection stood 3 bank buildings at the three corners–and at Montana’s best known socialist county in the early 20th century.

And in 1988 I also took care to document the town’s Northern Pacific depot. Railroads and banks dominated the county at its founding.

Last scenes: the Flandrem community monument on Highway 16 and a bit of badlands scenery along Highway 5 (the image is from my original trip in 1985, this the bit of snow, taken February 1985).

An end of the century trip to Central Montana

The vast majority of my effort to document and think about the historic landscapes of Montana lie with two time periods, 1984-85 and 2012-16. But in between those two focused periods, other projects at the Western Heritage Center in Billings brought me back to the Big Sky Country. Almost always I found a way to carve out a couple of additional days to get away from the museum and study the many layers of history, and change, in the landscape by taking black and white images as I had in 1984-85. One such trip came in 1999, at the end of the 20th century.

In Billings itself I marveled at the changes that historic preservation was bringing to the Minnesota Avenue district. The creation of an “Internet cafe” (remember those?) in the McCormick Block was a guaranteed stop.

But my real goal was to jet up highways 191 and 80 to end up in Fort Benton. Along the way I had to stop at Moore, one of my favorite Central Montana railroad towns, and home to a evocative set of grain elevators.

Then a stop for lunch at the Geraldine bar and the recently restored Geraldine depot, along a historic spur of the Milwaukee Road. I have always loved a stop in this plains country town and this day was especially memorable as residents showed off what they had accomplished in the restoration. Another historic preservation plus!

Then it was Fort Benton, a National jewel seemingly only appreciated by locals, who faced an often overwhelming task for preserving and finding sustainable new uses for the riverfront buildings.

It was exciting to see the recent goal that the community eagerly discussed in 1984–rebuilding the historic fort.

A new era for public interpretation of the northern fur trade would soon open in the new century: what a change from 1984.

I beat a quick retreat back to the south, following the old Manitoba Road route along the Missouri and US Highway 87 and back via highway 89 to the Yellowstone Valley. I had to pay a quick tribute to Big Timber, and grab a brew at the Big Timber

Bar. The long Main Street in Big Timber was obviously changing–new residents and new businesses. Little did I know how much change would come in the new century.

One last detour came on the drive to see if the absolutely spectacular stone craftsmanship of the Absarokee school remained in place–it did, and still does.

My work in Tennessee had really focused in the late 1990s on historic schools: few matched the distinctive design of Absarokee. I had to see it again.

Like most trips in the 1990s to Billings I ended up in Laurel–I always felt this railroad town had a bigger part in the history of Yellowstone County than

generally accepted. The photos I took in 1999 are now striking– had any place in the valley changed more than Laurel in the 21st century?

Kalispell: Growth and Preservation in Northwest Montana

 

Kalispell was a Montana jewel 0n the Great Northern Railway.  Despite that fact, in 1984 the preservation of the railroad’s historic passenger station was not certain.  This landmark, at the head of the T-plan town, still stood but was viewed as an impediment even an eyesore by some.  The depot (1892, 1899, 1914, 1929) was built when Kalispell was an important division point on the railroad’s main line then altered over the next three decades to the stuccoed exterior you find today.  It marked literally the beginnings of the town’s history.  Yet, when I held a public meeting at another landmark, the town’s historic Carnegie Library (1903) that had recently been through an adaptive reuse into the

Hockaday Art Museum, strong sentiments for more preservation were rarely heard. The depot was not listed in the National Register nor were many of the downtown buildings.  There were a few of the town’s rich stock of Victorian era houses listed. The success of the Hockaday and the Conrad Mansion (1892-1895) historic site seemed to be enough for many residents, or they thought preservation only meant pretty homes and buildings.

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Then came the work east of Kalispell in and around Glacier National Park to inventory and list eligible buildings to the National Register in the mid to late 1980s.  That, along with the loss of key downtown landmarks and new voices from preservationists and property owners, began to grow the interest in historic preservation.

The result was a massive multiple property study of Kalispell for the National Register of Historic Places, resulting in the listing of dozens of additional historical properties in 1994.  The historic railroad depot was listed and serves as home for the Chamber of Commerce and a visitor center, a front porch for the downtown. A new era in historic preservation had been launched, and the result today is impressive, as the next posts will explore.

Appreciating the town’s achievement in historic preservation over the last 20 years comes at an opportune time. The economic changes in the 1980s and 1990s are ready to be repeated again.  A federal grant, matched by local sources, will mean that the historic railroad corridor through the center of town will be moved–opening up acres for new construction.  Everyone knows this will be as fundamental of a change as when the Great Northern moved their division point to Whitefish in 1904. But now Kalispell has a strong historic core, identity, and purpose–the past has become fundamental to its future. Now let’s review that preservation achievement.

Flathead Co Kalispell Preserve America sign

 

Lincoln County’s Gateway Towns

Lincoln Co Troy 5I love Montana town signs, and Troy, deep in the state’s logging country, has one of the best.  The sign lures to a city park nestled along the Kootenai River.  The focus point is a

historic Great Northern depot, which has been moved to the park.  There is also an interpretive trail, part of a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, that tells the story of the Callahan boom, which mining and logging combined to lure investors and residents to the area.  It is a story arc that the forest service follows at other sites in a region the service describes as the Callahan Creek Historic Mining and Logging District. It is a very useful perspective on the town’s history, and not one that I pursued in 1984 when I explored this part of Lincoln County in the fieldwork for the state historic preservation plan.  I paid attention to the historic railroad corridor–Troy (1892) after all was on

Lincoln Co Troy RR corridor

Lincoln Co Troy facing RR

Lincoln Co Troy bar facing RRthe Great Northern’s main line, and I documented the few historic buildings left facing the railroad tracks today.  The Home Bar (c. 1914) and the Club Bar were institutions then, and remain so today.  The Kootenai State Bank building still stands but has experienced a major change to its facade–made better in part by the American flag painted over some of the frame addition.

img_8425The Troy Jail, above, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 and it remains the only building so listed in the town today.  D.E. Crissey, a local contractor, built it out of concrete in 1924 during Troy’s boom from 1916 to 1926 when its population jumped from 300 to 1300.  The Snowstorm mine, which produced lead, zinc, and silver, started to serve the demand for raw materials during World War I.  The mine soon turned what had been a small railroad town into a mining camp best known for its brothels and bars.  Then in the early 1920s the Great Northern decided to build a division point here, further booming the town. The Sandpoint Pole and Lumber Company began its logging business in 1923, and Troy suddenly was the largest town in the county

Lincoln Co Troy school 4

Perhaps the most impressive landmark left in the wake of the Troy boom is the public school, with the impressive central block flanked by classroom wings and a gymnasium built in later decades.  Home to the Troy Trojans, the soldier statue in front of the school is also a public art landmark in Lincoln County.

Troy thus was much more than just a gateway into Montana from U.S. Highway 2–it was once a mining center, but one that went broke fast as the mines played out in the 1920s, the Great Northern closed its roundhouse, and the Great Depression hit in the 1930s.

Lincoln Co Troy mural

In 1984 as I traveled from Troy via Montana State Highway 508 to Yaak, the only “town” left in the state’s far northwest corner, you could still encounter key mining properties along the Yaak River, such as this concentrator at Sylvanite.

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The Keystone Mill was barely hanging on to the side of the mountain then, now it is nowhere to be seen.  Montana 508 has instead become a gateway to some of the some of the most open, untouched high mountain landscape, one that meanders back and forth with the river, bridges, and, perhaps most importantly, bars.

That would be the Dirty Shame Saloon–another institution that some back in the city thought that perhaps I should avoid.  Glad I did not.  Had a great meal there in 1984, and even though the bar’s dining area has been extended, it still had that vibe, of both a local place but also another remnant of the old logging and mining days along the Yaak.

Lincoln Co Yaak dirty Shame saloon 1

Yaak by way of local paths and trails is a gateway too, between Idaho and Montana and Montana and British Columbia.  More to the point it is a gateway between what was and what still is within the Montana landscape.

Lincoln Co Yaak store/bar

Yaak’s general store, service station, lodging, and whatever else you need is another throwback place, and can be found on the web as the Yaak River Tavern and Mercantile.  You haven’t “done” Montana if you don’t make it to Yaak.

 

Libby: Disaster and Persistence

Lincoln Co Libby stem of T planLibby is the seat of Lincoln County, a typical railroad town along the historic Great Northern Railway corridor.  The image above is from the town’s railroad depot, the symbolic beginning of town, from which runs a long main street of businesses, reflecting the T-plan town design, where the long railroad corridor defines the top of the T and the main street forms the stem of the T.

The depot is a good example of the railway’s “Chalet” style that it used in many of its Rocky Mountain properties, reflecting the influence of the early resorts in Glacier National Park and the railroad’s wish to connect such rural outposts as Libby with the tourism traffic it wished to generate along the line.

Libby was much like I remembered it from 1984.  The town’s population had dropped by about 100, and some historic store buildings had been leveled, but a new brew pub was in operation and the historic Dome Theater was still going strong.

Lincoln Co Libby old city hall police station

And I liked the New Deal impact on Libby’s public buildings, such as the WPA Deco City Hall, which is now solely the domain of the police department.  Then there is the Lincoln County Courthouse, truly a story of two buildings in one as the mid-1930s Art Deco-styled

Lincoln Co Libby New Deal courthouse 1

img_8345courthouse received a totally new front, in a contemporary style, in the 1970s as the town and county expanded in the wake of the federal spending in constructing Libby Dam. The rectangular blockiness, flat roof, and band of windows set within a symmetrical facade makes the courthouse one of the state’s best designs for a rural public building in the late 20th century.

img_8348 I liked all of those things about Libby in 1984. Imagine my shock and disappointment to learn, as everyone else did, that Libby was one of the poisoned places in the west.  In 1919, vermiculite, a natural material that contains asbestos, had been discovered outside of town, and the mines were still operating, producing 80 percent of the vermiculite in the world, under the control of the W.R. Grace company. Residue from the mines had been used in local yards and buildings for decades, a fact that was not known  when I visited the town for the state historic preservation plan.  When the discovery of the danger became public, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency entered into the fray in 1999, it was already too late for many residents.  A federal Superfund project began, and did not conclude its work until 2015, spending some $425 million. Then in 2009 the Environmental Protection Agency announced a public health emergency, spending another $130 million to help residents and to leave a new health infrastructure in place.  In a generation, Libby had been turned inside out.  EPA announced in 2016 that the cleanup would continue to 2018, and that the project was the longest in the agency’s history.

Lincoln Co Libby hospital 4

The Cabinet Peak Medical Center (2014), designed by CTA Architects, represents the beginning of a new chapter in Libby’s history, as it starts its second century. It extends the city’s earlier healthcare history, represented by the historic St. John Lutheran Hospital, which opened in the 1952 and operated until 2014 when it was closed in favor of the new Cabinet Peaks center.

Lincoln Co Libby hospitalDespite the disaster, I saw many signs that Libby residents were determined to remain and rebuild their community.  One of the most powerful examples is the conversion of one of  the town’s historic schools into a new community arts center as well as school administration offices.

 

Then the public library–home to an active and lively genealogy group and collection–is still a point of pride and activity.  The same is true for the mid-1970s Lincoln County Museum–a wonderful modern log building designed and built by the community during the American Bicentennial just outside of Libby–which remains an active part of the town’s heritage tourism offerings.

Lincoln Co Libby library

Lincoln Co Libby museum 5The asbestos crisis was a terrible disaster for Libby–yet residents refused to let it define their future.  There are past accomplishments to acknowledge, an active railroad depot to cherish, a beautiful river and lake, the mountains all around, as celebrated in this public art mural on a downtown building. This place is here to stay, and the historic built environment is a large part of it.

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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

A first look at Mineral County’s Milwaukee Road corridor

IMG_7379The two railroads and the river that shaped Missoula also carved the landscape to the northwest.  Following the Clark’s Fork River to the northwest, the Milwaukee Road passes through Mineral County, adding to a transportation corridor that, earlier, included the Mullan Road, and then later U.S. Highway 10.  It is now the route of Interstate Highway I-90 as i heads west to Idaho and then Washington State.

When I carried out the survey for the state historic preservation plan in 1984-1985, Mineral County had one property listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The DeBorgia School, built in the wake of the Milwaukee Road’s construction through the mountains in 1908, somehow survived the horrific fire of 1910 that claimed most of the county’s earliest buildings.  As the railroad’s impact declined, and school consolidation took place, the building stopped being a local school in 1956.  It has now served as a community center for longer than it was a school.  A small town library has been constructed nearby since my last visit some 30 years ago.

But what was a solitary landmark in 1985 has become a county proud of its transportation history, especially the impact of the Milwaukee Road and the towns of Superior, Alberton, and St. Regis all have National Register properties that interpret railroads, transportation, and transformation in Montana’s northwest.

IMG_7380As the interstate crosses the Clark’s Fork River near Tarkio it bypasses the earlier transportation network.  A particular marvel is the Scenic Bridge, listed in the National Register in 2010, especially how the bridge of U.S. 10, built in 1928, was designed in dialogue with the earlier high-steel bridge of the Milwaukee Road.

IMG_7378 The Scenic Bridge has been closed to traffic but is safe to walk across, creating great views of both bridges and the Clark’s Fork River–travel here has always been challenging.

Alberton also has important transportation landmarks, especially its National Register-listed Milwaukee Road passenger depot.  The railroad was why the town was established–it is so appropriate that now the railroad headquarters has been converted into city hall and other public uses.

Mineral Co Alberton MR depot

IMG_7367Twenty years historic preservationists stepped up to add numerous properties to the National Register throughout the county.  In addition to the passenger depot, the Montana Valley Book Store, above, was listed.  This two-story false front building, with attached one-story building, was once the town’s commercial heart and known as Bestwick’s Market–it has been close to the heart of book lovers for years now.  Montana Valley Book Store was a relatively new business when I first visited in 1984 but now it is one of the region’s cultural institutions, especially when a visit is combined with a quick stop at the adjacent Trax Bar.

Mineral Co Alberton school

IMG_7369The historic three-story brick Alberton High School (now the Alberton School) operated from 1919 to 1960 as the only high school facility within miles of the railroad corridor.  It too is listed in the National Register and was one of the community landmarks I noted in the 1984-1985 state historic preservation plan work.

Mineral Co Alberton modern h.s.I gave no notice to the replacement school, the modern Alberton High School, c. 1960.  That was a mistake–this building too reflects school design ideas of its time–the Space Age of the late 1950s and 1960s, when open classrooms, circular designs, and a space-age aesthetic were all the rage.  Alberton High School is one of my favorite small-town examples of Montana modernism.

Mineral Co Alberton modern h.s.The school is a modern marvel just as the high school football field and track are reminders of how central the schools are to rural community and identity in Montana. Alberton has held its own in population in the decades since the closing of the Milwaukee Road, largely due to its proximity to Missoula and the dramatic gorges created by the Clark’s Fork River.  Change is probably coming, and hopefully these landmarks will remain in service for years to come.

Mineral Co Alberton football field 1