Stevensville: continuity in the midst of change

Stevensville commercial HDSince my earlier work on the state historic preservation plan in 1984-1985, few places in Montana had experienced such rapid population growth as Stevensville.  The place had just over 1200 residents in the 1980s, and that increased to a mere 1221 in 1990.  But now Stevensville is close to 2,000 in population.IMG_2472

Stevensville Feed and Mill, 407 MainBut enough is still here–like the historic mill complex above–that even as the business changes there is still the feel of an agricultural town at Stevensville. A major reason for the sense of continuity is the Stevensville Commercial Historic District, which has helped to protect the core of the town.

IOOF Hall, 217-19 Main St, StevensvilleAlso, buildings such as the two-story Old Fellows Hall (1912) have been individually listed in the National Register, adding prominence to the historic district. The district has a range of one-story and two-story brick buildings, most from the agricultural boom of the first two decades of the 20th century. A notable exception is a two-story concrete block

Classical Revival-styled bank building, where the blocks are shaped to resemble masonry. You can find this architectural treatment across the state, most often in residential architecture. The Stevensville bank is an important commercial example.

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Stevensville Main St, 300 block oddOne major trend of Stevensville over 30 years is how buildings have been adapted to new uses.  You expect that in a commercial area with a rising population, but here it has happened to such landmarks as the historic turn of the 20th century school building,

Public School (1884) now Methodist Church, 216 College, Stevensville NRwhich is now the United Methodist Church, while the two-story brick American Four-Square house below is the historic Thornton Hospital (1910), but now serves as the Stevensville Hotel.  Both buildings are listed in the National Register.

IMG_2443One area that I really failed to consider in the 1984-1985 work was the diversity and cohesiveness of the historic residential neighborhood.  It too has been documented by a National Register historic district, but some dwellings, such as the impressive Classical Revival-styled Bass House have been individually listed.

Bass House, 100 College, Stevensville 1909Another favorite dates to the 1930s and the impact of the International Style on Montana domestic architecture:  the Gavin House, with its flat roof, its boxy two-story shape and bands of windows at the corners.

Gavin House, 1941, 219 College St, Stevensville, NR, internationalBetween these two extremes of early 20th century domestic design, Stevensville has an array of architectural styles, from the Folk Victorian to the more austere late 19th century vernacular to bungalows to revival styles.

Stevensville residents have used the National Register as an effective tool to commemorate their pasts but also to lay the foundation for a 21st century future in the midst of the some of the most rapid growth in the state.

 

Anaconda’s recreational culture

In the first half of the 20th century, Anaconda gained its reputation as a hard-working town, whether you toiled at the smelter, the pottery works, the railroad, or any of the many small businesses and shops across the city. With that hard work came the need

Washoe Theaterfor places to rest, relax, and enjoy the precious hours away from the workplace.  So much has changed in Anaconda since the closing of the smelter in the early 1980s–but the town’s distinctive places for recreation and relaxation remain, a big part of the reason Anaconda is one of my favorite places in Montana.

2011 MT Deer Lodge County Anaconda 017Let’s start with the magnificent Art Deco marvel of the Washoe Theater. Designed in 1930 by B. Marcus Priteca but not finished and opened until 1936, the theater has stayed in operation ever since.  It is remarkably intact, especially when owners refused to follow the multi-screen craze of the 1970s and kept the lobby and massive screen

intact.  It was a favorite jaunt in the 1980s to go to Anaconda, take in a movie at the Washoe and then cocktails at the Club Moderne. The interior design is attributed to Hollywood designer Nat Smythe.

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Anaconda Washoe Theater screenA drink after the movie: still happens with regularity in Anaconda, due to the plethora of neighborhood bars, from the Anaconda Bar to the Thompson Bar. The range of sizes and styling speaks to the different experiences offered by these properties.

The Locker Room Bar has a classic Art Deco look with its green glass and glass block entrance while the JFK Bar documents its date of construction while the rock veneer on concrete is undeniably a favorite construction technique of the 1960s.

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If not the bars, then you could retreat to your fraternal lodge or veterans group.  Fraternal lodges were everywhere once in Anaconda and several historic ones still survive.  The Croatian Hall, unassuming in its size and ornament, is one of the most interesting lodges on the east side, in the old “Goosetown” working-class part of Anaconda.  Sam Premenko established the club in Anaconda’s early years.

IMG_1554The Elks Club in the heart of downtown is a totally different statement, with its sleek 1960s modernist facade over an earlier turn of the century Victorian styled brick building reflecting a more prosperous and larger membership.

American Legion hall, 3rd and CedarWith its glass block entrances and windows, the American Legion lodge seems like another lounge, but the American Eagle mural says otherwise.

The Copper Bowl is a wonderful mid-20th century reminder of both the raw material that fueled Anaconda.  From the highway sign–a great piece of roadside architecture itself–you can see the slag piles from the smelter.  Bowling, so popular once, is disappearing across the country, except in Anaconda, where two different set of lanes remained in business–at least in 2012.

Cedar Park Bowling Lanes, N sideIf not bowling, why not read a book.  At least that was the motivation behind Progressive reformers and their initiative to create “free” (meaning no membership fees) public libraries at the turn of the 20th century.  Anaconda has one of the state’s earliest and most architecturally distinctive libraries in the Hearst Free Library.

Funded by Phoebe Hearst (mother of William Randolph Hearst), the library reflected a Renaissance Revival style in red brick designed by San Francisco architect F. S. Van Trees.  It opened in 1898 and served as an inspiring public space, part library, part public meeting space, part art museum.

IMG_1511Another Progressive-era institution is Washoe Park, established by the copper company and home to the first fish hatchery in the state.  Washoe Park was a place for outdoor recreation, with ball fields, picnic areas, and amusement attractions.  It also was home for the town’s baseball field and its historic grandstands and refreshment

center still serve those who come to see.  The Anaconda Copper Company had the diamond and grandstand built c. 1949 and the first teams to play were organized by the city’s different fraternal lodges.  Besides the classic look of the grandstand nearby

is the refreshment/ recreation center, a building in the Rustic style, an architectural type associated with parks of all sorts in the first half of the 20th century.

IMG_1517New renovations at the park have been underway, improving trails, the hatchery, and the outdoor experience plus adding public interpretation at appropriate places.  The park is being re-energized but respect still shown its early elements, such as the historic Alexander Glover cabin, built c. 1865 and identified as the oldest residence in Anaconda, which was moved into the park as an interpretive site, early, c. 1920.

IMG_1523Another outdoor recreational space that has been receiving renovation is the historic Mitchell Stadium complex, a New Deal project of the Works Progress Administration from 1938-1939.  The stadium, designed to give the high school modern facilities for football and track and field, is quite the place, retaining so much of its original understated Art Deco styling.

Mitchell Stadium, 1938-9 from Mt CarmelUnlike Washoe Park, here was a new public space, in keeping with the New Dealers’ faith in recreation and community, that was not a creation of the copper company for adult workers but for high school athletes.

It also is a property that I totally overlooked in the 1984-85 survey.  True it was not 50 years old then but it was a WPA project that deserved close scrutiny as part of the larger federal effort to improve high school education and public spaces.

Mitchell Stadium, through fence

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Certainly one of the most interesting conversions of industrial landscape into recreation landscape–on a whole another scale from the rails to trails movement–is how the grounds of the original smelter site at Anaconda have been transformed into a modern golf course. Rare is the opportunity to play a round but also walk around and consider public interpretation of a blasted out mining property.

IMG_1507But even on the links of this innovative adaptive reuse project you cannot escape the overwhelming presence of the copper company stack, and mounds of devastation it left behind.  Here is an appropriate view that sums up the company influence on the distinctive place of Anaconda.

 

Last notes on Bozeman, for now

IMG_6984Few places in Montana, or for the nation for that matter, have benefited more from historic preservation and heritage development than Bozeman. To see a grain elevator complex find new uses and life in a century where grain elevators are typically a relic of a bygone era, tall hulking figures on the northern plains landscape, you discover that so much of our historic built environment can be re-imagined and put back into use.

No doubt Bozeman has changed markedly in this century–as the 2007 photo of the  Masonic Lodge and Army-Navy store (a place I frequented in the 1980s) as given way in 2015 to a bike and ski shop. Yet the landmark sign–with the horse rearing up as if to say what the hell is going on here–remains, a bit of the old cowtown of the past.

The fraternal lodges and the American Legion remaining on Main Street is an important link to a past when these organizations were central to the town’s growth and development–mainstays of community still today as their eagles fly high over the business district.

Gallatin Co Bozeman St James Episcopal ChurchThe town’s historic churches are other important anchors.  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, St. James Episcopal Church is a distinguished statement of Gothic Revival executed in locally quarried sandstone designed by architect George Hancock of Fargo, North Dakota and built by local contractor James Campbell in 1890.

Gallatin Co Bozeman Theory Building 1Preservation efforts 30 years ago were focused on Main Street landmarks, with much success.  But the combination of preservation and adaptive reuse has moved into the town’s railroad corridor with similar positive results, and the number of historic neighborhoods have multiplied.

But work remains to be accomplished, as the 2015 effort to Raise the Rialto on Main Street shows–yet the number of partners involved also show how the audience for preservation has grown over the years.  Montana State University is a key component for the future too.  The university’s growth over a generation is astounding. Its

historic core has never looked better.  The question with the university is growth and how that is managed for the benefits of the students, but also the neighborhood and community that surrounds the university.  If growth deteriorates the community, then students lose–the lure of Bozeman and its many attractions become that much less.

Just as old and new MSU co-exist in harmony so too must historic Bozeman and every expanding MSU remain partners, in communication, and working together.

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The Great Falls Heritage Area, part one

IMG_9146Along the Missouri River is Paris Gibson Park, deep in the heart of Great Falls, Montana.  Gibson was one of the classic civic capitalists of the late 19th century who understood that as the community prospered he too would achieve this dream of building a great western empire, with his town of Great Falls as the center.  Almost 100 years after his death, in 2015, residents, preservationists, historians, and economic developers began discussions on establishing a heritage area, centered on Great Falls, but encompassing the Missouri River as the thread between the plains and mountains, that has shaped the region, and the nation, for hundreds of years.  I strongly endorse the discussion and will spend the next several posts exploring key resources in Cascade County that could serve as the foundation for a larger regional story.

Sand Coulee Coal Mine, Cascade Co (32-34)

Abandoned coal mine at Sand Coulee from the 1984 preservation survey.

Let’s begin with the coal deposits to the east of Great Falls, often forgotten places today but the exploitation of the easily accessible belts of coal not only provided the railroads crisscrossing the region with necessary coal but also left in their wake classic mining communities such as Belt, just off of US 87/Montana 200.

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Situated along a creek nestled within coulees of coal, Belt is a classic mining town, where all of the historic buildings are situated along the main road into town.  When I visited in 1984, Belt like most central Montana towns was no where near its population height of over 1100 residents during the homesteading boom, but its 800 plus residents in 1980 was a marked increase from recent decades and many of the town’s historic buildings were in use.

Belt, Cascade Co (32-23)

The Farmers and Miners State Bank said so much to me in 1984, and beyond its classical facade so in keeping with the Classical Revival style favored by state banks throughout the state.  It was the name:  farmers and miners–both walked the street and helped to make the town.

IMG_8860Thirty years later, Belt’s population had bottomed out, declining to under 600 by the time of the 2010 census.  But both times I have stopped by, in 2013 and 2015, the town has a sense of life about it, and hope.  The town’s two historic taverns, the Harvest Moon Tavern  and the Belt Creek Brew Pub, as well as the Black Diamond Bar and Supper Club attract visitors from nearby Great Falls and elsewhere, giving the place a sense of life at evenings and weekends.

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IMG_8868When planners talk about heritage areas, they often focus on the contributions of local entrepreneurs who take historic buildings, like the Pioneer above, and breathe new life into them.  Throughout small town Montana and urban commercial districts, new breweries and distilleries are creating such opportunities.

Cascade Co Belt Hardware 1896 Belt historic district NR  - Version 2

IMG_8859IMG_8862Belt has a range of historic buildings, mostly of vernacular two-part commercial style that speak strongly to the boom of 1900 to 1920.  The Victorian-styled cornice of the Belt Hardware Store (1896) speaks to the town’s origins.  The Knights of Pythias Lodge of 1916 has been restored as a community theater, another reason for visitors to stop and explore.IMG_9850.jpgThe result is a living cultural experience, since nothing in Belt is over-restored or phony feeling.  It is still a gritty, no frills place. That feel is complemented by the Belt museum, which is housed in a historic jail on road down into town and within sight on a railroad trestle, a reminder of what literally drove the town’s development, coal for the railroads.

IMG_8865During the 1984 survey, I gave the jail a good bit of attention since this stone building spoke to the craftsmanship of the era, the centrality of local government as the town developed, and the reality that this building was the only thing in Belt listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But in 2004 the state historic preservation office approved the Belt commercial historic district, and that designation has done much to drive the town’s recent revival.  Belt is just the first place that speaks to the promise of the Great Falls heritage area concept.

 

 

Ekalaka: Montana’s Southeast Corner

IMG_0424Traveling south along Montana-Dakota border on Montana Highway 7, Ekalaka appears as an oasis of settlement, as it lies almost hidden away along Russell Creek.  The seat of Carter County, the town is perhaps best known for the Carter County Museum, a solid institution of natural and local history.  Since I had last visited 25 years earlier the museum facility had grown substantially–while the town had slipped to just over 300 residents, according to the 2010 census.

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The museum is best known for its dinosaur collections but it also has rich local history collections, and features one of the county’s homesteading era schools moved to the grounds. Central School operated from 1920 to 1947.

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So much of what you find in Ekalaka dates to that same time period.  The state established Carter County in 1917 and three years later the present-day Carter County Courthouse was opened for business. Wwhen I visited in 2013 this three-story frame building with a Colonial Revival-styled cupola was undergoing renovation.  It stands at the heart of the

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town, creating a large public space that is shared by the county’s two demographic extremes, represented by the elementary school and a more recent county nursing home.

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The physical fabric of Ekalaka’s main street was much the same as it had been in 1984, but now there were more shuttered buildings.  Community landmarks included the combination town library and Masonic Lodge building from the first half of the 20th century and the new post office from the first decade of the 21st century.

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Deb’s Coffee Shop, the Guest House, and the Mainstreet grocery are still-going concerns while the most obvious commercial landmark–the old Eagles Lodge building–is home to the Ekalaka Eagle, one of the oldest small-town newspapers in the state, almost as old as the town itself.

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Carter County in 2013 did not have a property listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and the Eagle Building appears to meet the register criteria, but you could also consider the whole commercial area as a historic district for how it still reflects a rural county seat of the 20th century.

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Other historic properties abound in Carter County, from the Medicine Rocks north of Ekalaka to Camp Needmore–an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp–south of town in the Custer National Forest.  More on those landmarks in later posts.  I am still not finished exploring Montana’s southeastern corner.

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