The West Yellowstone Gateway

Gallatin Co West yellowstone Union Pacific Depot NRHD

When I think about nationally significant resources that are too rarely, for my taste, recognized as such, I think about West Yellowstone and its Union Pacific Railroad complex.  It is not that the residents of West Yellowstone, Montana, do not identify these places as vitally significant to their history–few districts have better public

interpretation courtesy of the West Yellowstone Walking Tour, one of the best examples of local heritage tourism I have seen in the country, period. But still within the history of the western national parks the role of the Union Pacific, as it extended far north of its mainline to reach Yellowstone National Park, is seldom considered, much less appreciated.

Officially the property was designated as the West Yellowstone Oregon Short Line Terminus and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Several buildings and structures, including a bit of the railroad line are included in the district.  Construction of the line occurred from 1906-1908 and the first passengers arriving in the latter year.  The passenger depot now serves as a museum, not just about the railroad but about the

Gallatin Co West yellowstone Union Pacific Depot NRHD 40

development of the park and the adjacent region.  Completed in 1909 and designed by the railroad’s engineering office using rhyolite stone, the depot with its prominent brackets and arches reflect elements of the Arts and Crafts style popular at the time.  When passenger traffic to the depot ended c. 1970, the railroad deeded the depot to the town of West Yellowstone and a private museum was installed c. 1972.  The Yellowstone Historic Center leased the depot in 2000 and has installed much improved exhibits–again part of the general improvement in public interpretation at the district in the last 30 years.

IMG_0873  The district’s architectural jewel, the Dining Room, dates almost a generation later to 1926.  Architect Gilbert S. Underwood designed one of the late marvels of the Rustic style as defined in the northern Rockies.  With its rugged stone exterior rising as it was a natural formation in the land, the dining room immediately told arriving visitors that an adventure awaited them, especially once they stepped inside and experienced the vast log interior spaces.

IMG_6551

IMG_6552

 

Gallatin Co West yellowstone Union Pacific Depot NRHD 34Other former Union Pacific buildings have been given adaptive reuse treatment by the town, with a baggage building becoming police headquarters and the former men’s dormitory has been converted into a local health clinic.

West Yellowstone is also an entrepreneurial landscape, with the early Madison Hotel, which is listed in the National Register, being just the beginning of a trend where local businesses began to serve visitors to the park, especially as the automobile replaced the train as the primary way to reach this gateway after World War II.

IMG_6580Thus, West Yellowstone is among Montana’s best examples of roadside architecture as distinctive 19502-1960w motels and a wide assortment of commercial types line both U.S. 191 but also the side arteries to the highway.

Livingston: seeing the obvious but missing the big picture

Park Co Springdale NPRR corridor

In my work on the state historic preservation plan in 1983-1994, I was excited about the new insight I could bring to the state’s landscape–the impact of the transcontinental railroads and the transportation and settlement corridors that they established in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Railroads were of course not a new theme then–books abounded on the railroad barons and the romance of the rails.  But as a built environment–that was new, reflecting current scholarship from John Hudson, John Stilgoe, and Roger Grant.  So whenever I hit a major railroad division point–like Livingston–I only saw the rails and what happened around them.

Park Co Livingston

That was certainly easy enough to do coming into Livingston from the west on old U.S. 10.  The railroad tracks were directly to the north, as well older elements of the town’s roadside architecture, like the exquisite Art Deco-styled radio station, KPRK, now closed for broadcasting (the station’s signal comes from Bozeman) but listed in the National Register. William Fox, a Missoula architect, designed this jewel in 1946.

Park Co Livingston art decoContinuing west you soon encounter post-World War II service stations and motels, some updated, some much like they were, on the outskirts of town and then, boom, you are in the heart of Livingston, facing the commanding presence of the Northern Pacific depot complex with warehouses–some now converted to new uses–coming first and then

Park Co Livingston 3massive passenger station itself. Opened in 1902, the passenger station was an architectural marvel for the new state, designed by Reed and Stem, who would continue on to great fame as the architects of Grand Central Station in New York City.  The station, interestingly, is not Classical Revival in style–certainly the choice of most architects for their grand gateways along the nation’s rail line–but a more restrained interpretation of Renaissance Revival style, completed in red brick.

Park Co Livingston NP depot 12The building is not particularly inviting for locals coming from the business district to the depot–that was not its primary audience.  Rather the grand entrance is track side, where passengers headed to Yellowstone National Park could depart for food, fun, frivolity, whatever they needed before the journey into the wildness of Yellowstone.

Park Co Livingston NP depot

Park Co Livingston NP depot 9Travelers were welcome to use the grand covered walkways to enter the depot proper, or to take a side visit to the railroad’s cafe, Martin’s as I

Park Co Livingston NP depot 7knew it back in the day, a place that rarely slept and always had good pie. The cafe changed its orientation from the railroad to the road as automobile travelers on U.S. 10 began to dominate the tourist market.  Now it has been restored as a local brew pub.

Park Co Livingston NP depot 11

The interior of the passenger station once held large public spaces for travelers and then more intimate spaces themed to either men or women.

Upstairs were spaces for offices, company lodging, and other company business.  The station was the railroad’s urban outpost was what was then still the Montana frontier–its statement of taste and sophistication still reverberates today even as the depot no longer serves passengers (except for occasion excursion trains Amtrak doesn’t run here anymore) and serves as a railroad and Park County museum.

Park Co Livingston RR and Murray Hotel

Thirty years ago, the overwhelming imprint of the Northern Pacific on the surrounding built environment was all I could see.  At one corner was one of the first local historic preservation projects, an adaptive reuse effort to create the Livingston Bar and Grille (once popular with the valley’s Hollywood crowd).

Park Co Livingston bar and grilleDirectly facing the center of the passenger station was the mammoth Murray Hotel–a flea bag operation in the 1980s but now recently restored as a hipster place to be, especially its signature bar.

My throwback place back in the 1980s, however, was Gil’s.  It was next to the Murray and the place to get the cheesy souvenirs you equate with western travel in the second half of the 20th century.

MT 2007 Park County Livingston 3Imagine my pleasant surprise last year when I found that Gil’s still existed but now had been converted into a decidedly up-scale establishment, far removed from the 1980s.

Park Co Livingston Gil'sI don’t know if I have encountered a more fundamentally changed place–cheap trinkets gone, let the wood-fired pizzas come on.

Park Co Livingston main st blocksI was not so blinded in 1984 by the concept of the “metropolitan corridor” that I ignored the distinctive Victorian storefronts of Livingston–how could I since they all, in a way, fed into the tracks.  But when I got to the end of that distinctive business district and watched the town, in my

MT 2007 Park County Livingstonmind, fade into the Rockies, I had captured the obvious but had missed the bigger picture–that’s the next story.

Great Falls Heritage Area, Part 5: Rails,Rivers, and a Smelter

2011 MT Cascade County Great Falls 024Many heritage areas in the eastern United States emphasize the relationship between rivers, railroads, and industrial development and how those resources contributed to national economic growth and wartime mobilization.  Great Falls can do that too.  Situated on the Missouri River and designed by its founders to be a northwest industrial center, entrepreneurs counted on the falls to be a source of power and then on the railroads coming from Minnesota, especially the promising Manitoba Road headed by James J. Hill, to provide the transportation.

IMG_0961Paris Gibson, the promoter of the Electric City, allied his interests to two of most powerful capitalists of the region:  Marcus Daly, the baron of the Anaconda Copper Company interests and James J. Hill, the future rail king of the northwest.  Their alliance is embodied in several different properties in the city but the most significant place was where the Anaconda Copper Company smelter operated at Black Eagle until the last decades of the 20th century.  When I surveyed Great Falls for the state

preservation plan in 1984 the smelter stack had recently come down but a good bit of the surrounding industrial plant remained.  When you look at the same place today, the site has been nearly wiped clean, still closed off to the public but ripe for the day when it could be a center for public interpretation of the impact of the smelter on the city, state, and nation.

2011 MT Cascade County Great Falls 050

Great Falls already has shown an ability to reimagine and find new uses for its industrial landmarks, as demonstrated by the adaptive reuse projects surrounding its railroad corridors.  Yes, railroad corridors because while the Manitoba Road and its successor the Great Northern Railway dominated the city, the Milwaukee Road also built into the city in the first

 

Cascade Co Great Falls Milwaukee Road depotdecade of the 20th century and soon erected its tall tower depot right on the Missouri River.  But wherever you go along the river you find significant buildings associated with the Great Northern and its allied branch the Montana Central Railroad, especially the downtown warehouses.  Some are still fulfilling their original function but others

have taken on new uses as offices and museums, such as the local history center and the well-regarded children’s museum.

Still at the head of the city, as appropriate for its role in creating and sustaining Great Falls in its early decades, is the magnificent depot of the Great Northern.  Montana has many small town examples of the

“metropolitan corridor” written about by historian John Stilgoe; Great Falls is superb extant example of how the corridor shaped the landscape and architecture presence of urban centers across the northern plains. These properties suggest the richness of the industrial and transportation stories associated with the rise of Great Falls and its role in western history.

 

Lewistown: at the heart of Eastern Montana

IMG_9389Lewistown, the seat of Fergus County, has been a hub for trade and government for eastern Montana since the 1880s.  Beginning as a trading post, the town next served as a crossroads for traffic going to short-lived precious metal mines at Kendall, Maiden, Giltedge, and other places.  Cattle ranches, such as the famous DHS Ranch and the N-Bar Ranch, also surrounded the place.  By the turn of the 20th century, the town had over 1,000 residents.  But by this time, railroad companies eyed the area for possible agricultural development, and within 20 years Lewistown had boomed–gaining six times its population–and a fascinating array of commercial and public buildings in the wake of the population growth.

IMG_9381The Great Northern Railway not only an understated Classical Revival depot on one end of the town, it also expanded lines throughout Fergus County like tentacles desperate to grab as many wheat crops as possible.  The depot remains today, converted into a convenience mart and gas station (an adaptive reuse you do not commonly find for railroad depots).  On the other end of town stands the other major line–the Milwaukee Road–devoted to the homesteading rush in Fergus County.  It built an even grander

IMG_0004complex as a statement to its wishful dominance of the agricultural trade.  Shortly after the closure and bankruptcy of the line in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the depot became a large adaptive reuse project, turning the Milwaukee Road complex into the Yogo Inn and convention center, where, in 1984, I attended the Montana Historical Society statewide history conference.

IMG_9400The bloom grew stale over the decades and when I visited in 2013, the Yogo was clearly on life support; I was encouraged in May 2015 to find renovations underway–maybe there will be a third life for this Milwaukee Road landmark in Lewistown.

The Great Northern and the Milwaukee created the transportation network that brought homesteaders to central Montana by the thousands. Merchants, bankers, and craftsmen then rebuilt the downtown from 1904 to 1916, and much of that flurry of construction still serves residents today in the central business historic district, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

IMG_9973Classical Revival was the architectural statement of choice to this new Lewistown taking shape along Main Street.  The architects of the Montana State Capitol, Bell and Kent, designed a new Bank of Fergus County (above, on the right) in 1904.  It received another layer of classicism in the pilasters a decade later when owners wanted to match the flashy Judith Theater (1914), certainly one of the great examples of Beaux Arts design in a small Montana town movie palace.

Fergus Co Lewistown neoclassical bank  - Version 2

By 1916, however, bank officials were ready to support the town’s most complete interpretation of Classical Revival design in the new Montana Building, designed by the firm of Link and Haire.  The bank seemingly had few limits in front of it–homesteaders still arriving and agricultural prices were high.  But the boom went bust in the early 1920s and by 1924 the building had new owners, the First National Bank.  It has remained home to financial institutions ever since.

IMG_9967

IMG_9969

IMG_9951The splashy Beaux Arts classicism of the banks and theater catch your eye but much more common are two-story commercial blocks, often with a more understated classicism, where retail businesses used the first floor and professionals occupied the second.  The town had a several gifted craftsmen who left their mark in these buildings and others.

Detail Masonic Temple Lewistown Fergus Co IMG_9955Croatian stonemasons left impressive stone Romanesque arches at the Masonic Lodge, a detail I photographed in 1984 (left) and 2013 (right).  The building itself is a dignified statement of both craftsmanship and purpose, combining both classical and Romanesque elements using locally available stone.  It’s one of my favorite buildings in town.

Fergus Co Lewistown masonic temple downtown commercial HD 13 - Version 2Not far away is the I.O.O.F. Hall, from 1914.  Here is an even later example of Romanesque arches highlighting a building that is both a fraternal lodge but also valuable retail space.

IMG_9966Be they multi-story or just one-story commercial businesses, this set of commercial designs convey so strongly the promise of early 1900s to thousands of Montanans.  Lewistown’s population had reached 6,000 by 1920–that generation would be shocked to know that remains the population today. Much more on Lewistown to come.

IMG_9984

Stanford: Railroad Town Deluxe in Montana’s Judith Basin

IMG_9845The sign on U.S. Highway 87/Montana 200 says it all:  why not stop in Stanford?  If you are a railroad town planning fan, it is an absolute.  Geographer John Hudson a generation ago talked about the distinctive historical northern plains landscape created by the great transcontinental lines at the turn of the 20th century in his book, Plains Country Towns. His work, then just recently published when I was surveying the state for its preservation plan in 1984, became a conceptual bible of a sorts for me–allowing to see significance where others might just say, ah it is just another dusty western town.

IMG_8839Stanford, the seat of Judith Basin County, might appear to be exactly that when I first stopped in 1984.  The county had been established in 1920, one of the last during the homesteading boom.  The town’s  rhythm of one-story, often false-front stores conveyed little that might be considered special or noteworthy (although the Pump Bar is always worth a stop).

IMG_8838The old state bank building and a neighboring retail establishment were the only spaces that conveyed a sense of architectural styling.  The post office was a rustic-front building that didn’t automatically say “here’s the federal government.”  The local county museum–also worth a stop–stood in a typical mid-1960s commerical-type building.

IMG_8841

IMG_8844Stanford had been relatively stable since reaching its population height in 1960 of 615 residents–when I visited in 1984 it had only dropped by a few families to 595.  But now the town was boomed, to well over 700 residents, reflected in the new fronts to the town’s businesses and maybe an indication that the sign on the highway has worked.

IMG_8837With that growth, however, has come one significant loss to Stanford’s historic fabric–the standardized design of its Great Northern depot.  It was there during my last visit c. 1998 but is now an empty spot along the tracks.

IMG_8840Despite this loss, Stanford remains an excellent example of the T-plan railroad town of the Great Northern Railway.  The top of the “T” comes from the railroad tracks themselves and the lineup of grain elevators along the top of the “T.”  In the classic design, the next element is the passenger station, on the other side of the tracks from the elevators, serving as the opening to the actual town. The rest of the plan is intact, especially the long main commercial corridor with businesses and offices on either side terminating in the lot for the county courthouse, in other words local government was at the bottom of the “T” while the railroad, represented by the tracks and depot” stood at the top.

IMG_8842The Judith Basin Courthouse is an understated Classical Revival design finished in 1925 and designed by Havre architect Frank Bossuot. Its location, according to John Hudson’s interpretation, said it all about the power of the railroad companies in this era compared to local government.

IMG_8843

But today, in the 21st century, that earlier arrangement of space has lost much symbolic significance. The courthouse, with its inviting landscaping and plantings, is the town gateway.  People enter Stanford not by train but by highway and the highway runs south of town, meaning the courthouse and the residents around it are what you first encounter–the community comes first and the railroad comes second.

IMG_8848So plains country towns can change–as in Geyser the next stop to the west, where a modern school extension works in partnership with the classic two-story front-tower building from the 1910s-1920s.  And where, in Geyser, the old state bank has been converted into a surveyor’s office, for growth is coming into western Judith Basin County.

IMG_8849Yet whatever the 21st century promises for these places across central and eastern Montana–most do not have much of a future to contemplate–the past is always near, as the grain elevators from 100 years ago stand as silent sentinels of the hopes and ambitions of the homesteading generation.

IMG_8850

Plains Country Towns in Montana’s Judith Basin

Created with GIMP

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.

Moore Elevators Fergus Co

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.

IMG_9782

IMG_9783

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

IMG_9787

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

IMG_9788

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.

IMG_9769

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.

IMG_9779

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

IMG_9802

IMG_9798

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.

IMG_9425

IMG_9429

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

IMG_9426

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.

IMG_9818

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).

IMG_9812

IMG_9810

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.

IMG_4054

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.

IMG_9840

IMG_9838

IMG_9841

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.

Railroad Towns of the Clark’s Fork Valley

IMG_5595

The name Carbon County seemingly says it all–here is a Montana place that is mining country, and coal mining at all.  As earlier posts have discussed, coal mining is vitally important to the county’s history.  The county seat of Red Lodge was a major coal mining town. But even Red Lodge’s historic built environment speaks of another side of Carbon County’s history. Its tall shiny grain elevator along the railroad tracks remind us that Carbon County was also agricultural country, especially in the Clark’s Fork River Valley.Carbon Co Red Lodge elevator - Version 2

The next couple of posts will explore this part of Carbon County–the towns and places many tourists roar by as they seek out Red Lodge and the mountains beyond.  Some places were, and are, tiny but still changes over 30 years are apparent. Boyd, for instance.  In 1984 I caught this iconic view of past and present at the historic Boyd store. The building is still there but the facade is changed, to a rustic western style, one more to the liking of fast-moving tourists.

General Store- PO. Boyd Caron Co. MT  IMG_5919

Edgar is a place that admittedly I gave little attention to in 1984.  That was a mistake.  I missed a very interesting modernist-styled school, probably part of the county-wide WPA projects for schools in the late 1930s, along with another 1960s styled addition.  The school closed in 2009.

Carbon Co Edgar New Deal school 3 - Version 2

IMG_5594

Edgar still has its bar, located in a fine one-story brick building–but not much else from the decades when it mattered in the 20th century.

IMG_5589Fromberg is a different story.  Unlike so many country railroad towns in Montana, Fromberg has a strong sense of itself, both in the present and in the past.  Part of that has to be a reflection of its comparative stability.  Its population height came in 1940, with mover 500 residents.  Today the population remains over 400, just about a 100 person decrease over 70 years.  For Montana rural towns that is exceptional.  Indeed, from my first visit in 1984 to my last in 2015, the town had only lost a few families.

IMG_5598 IMG_5597Fromberg has its own museum; the centerpiece of which is its restored railroad depot, part of the old Northern Pacific spur line.  In true northern plains fashion, other historic buildings have been moved onto the museum grounds.  It’s not quite a building zoo but the buildings give the place enough presence to attract visitors speeding along the highway.

IMG_5600 IMG_5599

Fromberg is a t-plan town, and all of the patterns of that type of town planning are apparent.  From the depot, running west, is the primary commercial street, with brick and fame buildings on either side.

IMG_5601

IMG_5622

The historic Odd Fellows hall dominates the commercial district–its conversion into the town’s post office, rather than a historic building being lost so a modern standardized design post office could be put in its place, is an excellent example of historic preservation done right.  Indeed, Fromberg residents have embraced the possibilities of preservation and multiple buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

IMG_5623

IMG_5618The mural about overland travel on the front of the Clark’s Fork Bank adds a touch of public interpretation.  If you want first-person stories, a stop at the Little Cowboy Bar (and “museum”, located at where the commercial district intersects with the highway, will be worth it.  It is one of the region’s classic watering holes.

IMG_5626

Fromberg also has documented its historic domestic architecture, raining from vernacular styled early 20th century homes to more stylish bungalows and even a couple of good examples of Dutch Colonial Revival style.

IMG_5617

IMG_5614

The homes are clustered around two historic churches, the brick St. Joseph Catholic church and the frame Gothic-styled and National Register-listed Methodist Church, built in 1907-1908 by contractor Charles Darnell and the community.

Carbon Co Fromberg St. Joseph Catholic - Version 2   IMG_5615T

The historic Fromberg school, like its counterpart in Edgar, was part of the countywide program of building modern schools by the WPA during the New Deal.  Its still impressive facade conveys well the WPA’s sense of modernism, and it remains the town’s primary community center today.

IMG_5607

Red Lodge: Coal Town on the Clark’s Fork River

Clark's Fork River, off U.S. 212, Carbon County, MT

Clark’s Fork River, off U.S. 212, Carbon County, MT

When the Northern Pacific Railroad entered the Yellowstone Valley in the 1880s, officials and investors immediately began the search to find and acquire locally available deposits of coal.  First there came the Klein mines north of Billings and then by the end of the decade, the first move toward mines to the south, in the Clark’s Fork Valley, at what would become Carbon County with its major town of Red Lodge. Development began slowly, with the Depression of 1893 intervening, but as the era’s financial and railroad magnates combined the Great Northern, the Burlington Route, and the Northern Pacific into one huge co-operative venture, they selected a new place in the Yellowstone Valley, a town called Laurel at the confluence of the Clark’s Fork and Yellowstone rivers, to connect the three railroads. In short order, a Northern Pacific Railroad spur line was built down the Clark’s Fork to the place called Red Lodge–U.S. Highway 212 follows this route–and the boom was on.

IMG_5759Entering Red Lodge from the north via U.S. 212 you encounter immediately the town’s roots as a railroad town, as the historic Northern Pacific depot remains rooted at the head of the town.  Here is where my long-interest with the Red Lodge story began in 1984 when

IMG_5760I met with a small group of local historians, preservationists, and civic leaders determined to keep Red Lodge and its still intact historic environment together. The group’s vision for the depot was for it to be a visitor center, an arts center, but more than anything a community center, a visible sign of the turnaround that could happen.  Already, at the head of town artist Peter Toth had begun the new tradition with his mammoth wood sculpture, “In Honor of a Proud and Noble People,” installed in 1979, a theme of the region’s

IMG_5764Native American history and proximity to the Crow Indian Reservation that also was captured in a much more commercial way by the neon sign of the Red Lodge Cafe then, and still to my mind, the best place in town.  The neon, like Toth’s sculpture, was designed

IMG_5723

to attention of the one course of heritage tourism income that locals recognized:  that summer traffic coming out of Billings and off the interstate heading to Yellowstone National Park via U.S. 212 and the Beartooth Pass, one of the true highway wonders of the United States.  How to get people to stop, and how to restore pride and hope for the town itself: those motivated the group I met in 1984 moreso than any well meaning goal of merely preserving history and pretty buildings.

IMG_5758To say that the initial depot project was successful would be an understatement.  Thirty years later the depot is a public space that includes a gazebo, outdoor art, and a setting of history and culture rarely rivaled in the region.  As you move south from the depot, you also immediately encounter several of the dreams the groups discussed in 1984:  a National Register of Historic Places historic district (there are now more than one); restored and treasured public buildings such as the Carnegie Library and Carbon County Courthouse;

IMG_5746

IMG_5734

and their biggest goal of all in 1984, the acquisition, preservation, and transformation of iconic Labor Temple into a history museum and heritage center for the Carbon County Historical Society.

IMG_5740

The group understood the power of the Labor Temple:  they could tell a story not just of railroad magnates and economic development but could look at this history from those who came and labored in the mines, and built the town.  The building dated to the decade of Red Lodge’s height, 1910-1920, when the town’s population reached 5,000 but especially once the Northern Pacfic opened new mines at Colstrip to the east in the 1920s,  the town had been in a decades long period of population decline, where less than 2,000 people lived in 1980.  Many had given up, obviously, but those who stayed saw the bones of a possible community renaissance–and preservation was a big part of that.  That more recent story comes next.

Sandstone Masonry and Historic Landmarks in Columbus, Montana

IMG_5866Columbus, the seat of Stillwater County, has long served as an architectural and settlement landmark in the Yellowstone Valley.  Today when you drive down old U.S. highway 10 (Pike Street) next to the very active tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad, two patterns stand out.  First, the town retains its historic depot and a well-defined railroad corridor–reminding everyone that here is one of the valley’s original railroad towns, from 1882-1883.  In a state where so many small town depots have been lost in the last 30 years, I always stop in Columbus just to see if its depot remains.

IMG_5910

This historic NP caboose is part of the displays at the Stillwater County Museum, which sits in a new building near the schools in the north end of town.

This historic NP caboose is part of the displays at the Stillwater County Museum, which sits in a new building near the schools in the north end of town.

The second feature is the striking stone masonry, found not only along the primary commercial blocks of the town but also throughout the residential neighborhood.  This beautiful turn-of-the-20th-century work is largely attributed to Michael Jacobs, a native of Italy who anglicized her name from the original Jacobucci.  Jacobs was a principal in the Montana Sandstone Company, a firm that not only built Columbus’s historic buildings but also took on commissions in Billings and Butte and its most famous project, the Montana State Capitol in Helena.  Jacobs’ imprint on the town was part of its recovery from the

IMG_5912Depression of 1893, which had rocked towns all along the Northern Pacific line.  But Colubmus recovered and rebuilt frame buildings in stone from c. 1900 to 1920 as the homesteading boom spread through the region.  in Italy, the Montana Sandstone Company provided facing stone to numerous buildings in Butte, but it was the contract for the Montana State Capitol that put the company on the map and established Jacobs’ fame and fortune.

New Atlas Bar Columbus

My favorite Jacobs building is the New Atlas Bar, which I first visited in 1982 and then made it tradition to introduce this special place to anyone traveling through the valley with me on fieldwork.  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the bar dates to 1915-1916, and was designed by Curtis Oehme.  For almost all of the 20th century it was operated by the same family who opened it, the Mulvihill family.  Known in the 1980s as the “See ‘Em Dead Zoo,” the historic interior features dozens of stuffed trophies, of all sorts of animals from the region.

IMG_0858

IMG_0855

IMG_0854 IMG_0860

But its historic interior of back bars and ladies lounge is intact, and although the place doesn’t quite have the vibe of 20 years ago, it is still a community gathering spot along historic Pike Street.

IMG_5876Michael Jacobs’ stately Victorian residence is another example of the firm’s craftsmanship as are a series of remarkable tombstones in the town’s Mountain View Cemetery.  The carvers of these monuments are either Jacobs or another firm employee Pasqual Petosa.

IMG_5887 IMG_5889

The county courthouse, however, is not of sandstone, but still it is an impressive Classical Revival statement in its porticoed Ionic entrance and symmetrical facade.  Located in the north end of town, the courthouse, designed by Warren Dedrick, remains an anchor for the county’s history during the homesteading boom.  It first opened its doors in 1921.

IMG_1236

Unfortunately the courthouse faces an uncertain future.  This year proposals have come forth to replace the building, or to modify it significantly with additions, due largely to the county’s population growth and need for greater public space in the last 15 years.  The local preservation commission called for discussions and full consideration before the town, and county, loses such a heritage asset as this striking historic landmark.

The Sweet Grass of the Yellowstone Valley

IMG_6258

Sweet Grass County has one of the most spectacular landscapes of the entire state of Montana.  Located in the middle of the Yellowstone Valley, the county has long been a significant crossroads, from the prehistoric era to today.  At the county seat of Big Timber, Interstate Highway 90 (along with the historic route of old U.S. Highway 10) parallels the Yellowstone River.  The town is also the southern point of origin for U.S. Highway 191,

2011 MT Sweetgrass county 014

The Lazy J, near the intersection of U.S. 191 and old U.S. 10, is a classic bit of mid-20th century roadside architecture.

which strikes northward cutting across Central Montana and continuing until the highway ends at the Canadian border, north of Malta.

IMG_6331Established by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1882-1883, Big Timber has the classic T-Plan town plat found on so many Northern Pacific towns.  But one reason I have long liked this place is the quirkiness of its town plan.  The depot and the elevators are where they

IMG_6329should be, forming the top of the “T,” but the beautiful early 20th century stone masonry Sweet Grass County Courthouse is neither on McLeod Street (the stem of the T) nor at the end of the T, dividing the town’s commercial area from its residential neighborhood.  No, it IMG_6333is a block west of the intersection of McLeod Street and old U.S. Highway 10–an uncommon arrangement of public space in northern plains railroad towns.  A public park

IMG_6314

effectively marks the end of the historic town.  When I first surveyed the town in 1984, I found that an old 1946 highway marker for the Lewis and Clark Expedition had been moved to the park a year prior to my visit, and the interpretive sign told me that the town had a sense of its place in history.  In the decades since, residents have added a monument to the town’s early wool industry along with a bronze sculpture, titled “Free Spirit” by Dave Hodges, linking the place to the open spaces and cowboy culture of the valley.  Coming soon will be the new headquarters for the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, an institution that searched high and long for a home until finding Big Timber.

IMG_6316

IMG_6313

IMG_6271Public interpretation through art is another change I encountered in Big Timber.  The most striking dates to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial at the start of this century.  On the walls of the local grocery store are three panels telling the story of the expedition in Sweet Grass County as the men encountered the confluence of the Boulder and Yellowstone rivers.  IMG_6296On another commercial building near the intersection of U.S. 191 and old U.S. 10 was an unexpected surprise:  a mural recreating–or is it reinterpreting–the famed Milwaukee Road promotional poster from the turn of the 20th century that encouraged homesteaders

IMG_6267to head to Montana. Oddly the reproduction mural gives the Northern Pacific corporate emblem but the route shown is the Milwaukee’s route, admittedly also showing where the two lines ran side by side in parts of the Yellowstone Valley.

IMG_6290

Public interpretation has not extended into an intensive involvement with the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1984, only one property–a segment of the Bozeman Trail where it crossed the Yellowstone–in the county was listed, and that stood on Sweet Grass’s far western border to Park County.  Then, right after I had finished the project, the iconic western hotel, The Grand, was listed in the National Register.  In the 30 years, a handful of Big Timber landmarks also have been designated on the National Register:  the Classical Revival-styled Carnegie Library, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and the Big

IMG_6324

Sweetgrass Co Big Timber 6 - Version 2 IMG_6306Timber City Hall.  Little doubt these landmarks are cherished–when more library space was necessary this century the expansion of the historic building was done appropriately, keeping this landmark in service for decades.

IMG_6308But when you consider just how intact the town’s historic environment from the 1880s to the 1950s is today, you think a National Register historic district nomination in order, or at least one for the historic commercial district, which has a wonderful array of building types, designs, and, luckily for Big Timber, open businesses, including one of my favorite bars in all of the state–at least favorite bar signs–the Timber Bar.

IMG_6273

IMG_6274

IMG_6275IMG_6284The next post will look deeper in the historic buildings of Big Timber, and then stretch north to a real jewel, the Melville Lutheran Church.