To those who built a state, and made history

Sad news came out of the state capitol last week when budget cuts gave the Montana Historical Society no choice but to announce that its uber talented staff just don’t have the funding to travel to the hundreds of important places across the state, to gather stories, preserve historic buildings, conserve invaluable documents and photographs, and to celebrate with communities both large and small the history, traditions, and people that made Montana the special place it is.

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It’s unfortunate when a state steps back from its past and thinks its future is better without it.  When I look for those who built the state, the deep past is where I start, and the leaps forward in how Montana’s tribes are documenting and interpreting their history to their terms and needs, one of the most important developments in Montana’s heritage development over the last 30 plus years.

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Then there are the properties that link the peoples of Montana and their sense of themselves and their past–cemeteries large and small across the state, where veterans are commemorated and families celebrated.

IMG_7537Fort Kipp Cemetery, above, is one of those place, nestled on the river bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.  On a larger scale but still intimate, personal, and compelling is the city cemetery of Red Lodge, hundreds of miles away. Here surrounded by the mountains

are graves from the early Finnish residents who came to work at the coal mines and build a community. Some are of a traditional design, immediately translated from the old country.  Others–like the cast iron family marker shown above–are as mainstream as American industry could make it at the turn of the twentieth century:  a prefabricated marker cast somewhere back east but with Finnish lettering, speaking to those who also came over in c.1900 to build a new land.

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The Finnish imprint on the landscape of Carbon County has been eclipsed by generations of growth since the early 1900s, but as the 2016 Road Show of the Montana Preservation Alliance demonstrated, buildings large and small are still part of the landscape.  With a few acres of land outside of Red Lodge, Finnish settlers and their descendants have maintained a place of community–the Kavela–which remains vibrant some 100 years later.  At this place of ethnic identity and celebration, you almost feel like an intruder–that you have stepped inside a sacred circle as an outsider.  But families go out of their way to make you feel welcome, through fellowship, good food, and stories of past and present.  The Kavela naturally features one of the most traditional Finnish community buildings–the sauna, built of concrete in the 1920s.  Speak of tradition, ethnic pride, and assimilation–a concrete sauna might say it all.

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Indeed what you can find in the Finnish landscape of Carbon County is repeated countless times across Big Sky Country, just in different languages and with different forms.  It is why you get off the interstates and travel the backroads, the dirt roads, for

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the markers of the nations that built our nation can be almost anywhere. It might be of the many ethnicities who mined the copper of Butte, or the African American railroad

workers and other average citizens who established permanent institutions such as the Bethel Union AME Church in Great Falls, pictured below.

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Stonemasons from Croatia are credited with many of the architecturally striking stone buildings in Lewistown, shown below, whereas if you stop and explore the state capital

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of Helena, you can see where  Irish Americans banded together to fund some of the state’s most iconic structures, from the majestic Catholic Cathedral that overlooks the city and the commanding statue of General Thomas Meagher in front of the State Capitol.

From the Meagher statue it is only a few steps to the east to the doors of the Montana Historical Society.  Its operating hours are fewer but you will find an institution not just of the past but of the future for like the land itself, the society, its collections, and dedicated staff are the keepers of the things and words that remain from those who built the state.  The idea that Montana can stride into the 21st century without the Montana Historical Society is folly, defined.

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Livingston’s Mountain View Cemetery

img_3013On the northwestern outskirts of Livingston is Mountain View Cemetery, another of the historic properties that certainly existed when I carried out the 1984-1985 fieldwork for the Montana state historic preservation plan, but since it was a cemetery, we as a field gave it, or any cemetery for that matter, little consideration thirty years ago.

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As soon as you get past the 1966 entrance gates, you find a cemetery that is certainly historic–established as the town was beginning in the 1880s and still used by community over 125 years later.  Mountain View is also aesthetically interesting in its overall plan, with its intricate pattern of curvilinear drives and well-ordered arrangement of graves, then several of the grave markers themselves are impressive Victorian statements, of grief, of family, and of pride of accomplishment.

The section set aside for Union veterans of the Civil War was the most interesting historic feature to me.  As explored in other posts over the last three years, Montana has many reminders of the Civil War era within its built environment. Clearly in the early decades of the cemetery, this section with its separate flag pole and government-issued grave markers was very similar to what a national cemetery might be.  The generation that established the cemetery also wished to remember and signal out for praise the veterans of the great war that had just consumed the nation.

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Within this section of Mountain View are also grave markers that are not government issued slabs of marble but that are more expressed of the sense of loss felt by the family. Below is the granite pulpit, with a bible resting on top, for Frank Baker, who died in 1896 but, as the marker notes, was a veteran of Company I of the 49th New York Infantry.

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The David K. Buchanan marker, of the stone masonry type associated with the Woodmen of the World in other Yellowstone Valley cemeteries, dates to 1907, and records the calvary career of this Union veteran from Pennsylvania in the “civel war.” (original spelling)

Mountain View has several impressive examples of these Woodmen of the World grave markers that have a floral tree motif, with limbs sawn off to suggest how the body of society was lessened by the individual’s death.

Of particular interest is the marker for the Rickard family where the two trees, one for each spouse and one child , are linked together, symbolizing a family tightly intertwined in death as they were in life.

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The George Gannon grave marker is a variation on the Woodmen trees, where a logs carved in stone serve as a base for an open book that tells his story.  Victorian era cemeteries are often very expressive, and the Mountain View Cemetery in Livingston has many other

 

interesting grave markers scattered throughout its grounds. The cemetery, with its beautiful setting, well-kept grounds, and expressive memorials, give night to the historic people of Livingston in a way that streetscapes and historic houses rarely capture.

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Billings’s historic cemeteries

For 90 years, Billings residents have marked and told the stories of its first cemetery–that of the short-lived Yellowstone River settlement of Coulson (c. 1877)–and of those early pioneers buried on the southern rimrocks overlooking the valley.  This early effort of preservation and interpretation was led by leading Billings civic capitalist, I. D. O’Donnell, himself one of the first settlers of the region.  He led the creation of both the monument

to Luther “Yellowstone” Kelly (a project that now is getting a major renovation) and the monument to the Coulson, or “Foothill,” Cemetery.

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In the 1920s, after his retirement as the chief of irrigation for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, O’Donnell took up a greater interest in local history.  He interviewed many of his fellow early citizens, creating the collection Montana Monographs that you can still read at the Parmly Billings Library, and taking steps to restore the forgotten Coulson cemetery and Kelly gravesite.

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The obelisk monument made of river rock became the city’s initial historic site–or historic spot as the monument stated–and it fed right into the romance of the west as portrayed in movies, popular fiction, and radio:  the image of “Foothill,” where men died

 

with their boots on, from gun fights or other stereotypical frontier violence.  The reality was far different–most, such as Ellen Alderson, the wife of early merchant and hotel operator John Alderson, died from diseases, accidents, and not violence.

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In the last 30 years, the sprawl of the modern city to the east has surrounded what was once a quiet, even forlorn space. Efforts from the city to provide improved parking and walkways in recent years are positive improvements at the cemetery.

The historic driving tours of Billings always include a stop, or at least a mention, of the Kelly grave and Boothill Cemetery.  But on the eastern side of town, along Central Avenue, is just as important of a historic cemetery, the Mountview Cemetery–which expanded c. 1920 out of the earlier Billings Cemetery, established during the town’s initial settlement in 1882.

Many visitors appreciate the beauty and landscaping at Mountview Cemetery but it seems that few consider it to be a historic site.  But to my mind, it is certainly the most significant historic cemetery in Billings for here lie the graves–many understated to be sure–of a group of civic capitalists who built not only Billings but led the development of the Yellowstone Valley in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

O’Donnell (d. 1948) is buried here as is his grand collaborator in the early 1900s Preston B. Moss (d. 1947)–their homes still stand next to each other in downtown Billings as does the home of Henry W. Rowley, the engineer who came with the Minnesota and Montana Land Company to build the Big Ditch in 1882 and who stayed to work with his colleagues to build the city.  A. L. Babcock was not tight, let’s say, with O’Donnell, Moss, and Rowley, who brought the Billings Sugar Company into existence in the first decade of the 20th century, but Babcock was a Republican political leader and major investor in his own right, as downtown landmarks attest.

In the earlier Billings Cemetery you find the Civil War veterans markers for Alonzo Young, whose Young’s Point was an early Yellowstone River landmark (now approximately the location of Park City) and the previously mentioned John Alderson, who ran the National Hotel, the two-story log building that put Coulson “on the map” back in 1878. The contributions of Young and Alderson, buried here side by side, are forgotten today–which is truly unfortunate.

The defined family plots, either by property cast-iron Victorian fences or by low stone walls, are a key architectural feature of the earlier cemetery, as well as some of region’s famous stone carved Odd Fellows grave markers, such as that for the Bundys, located just beyond the grave of early settler Thomas McGirl.

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This brief overview does not do justice to the  city’s historic cemeteries.  Certainly I gave Boothill consideration in the 1984-1985 and even wrote about it in both of my books on Billings history.  But Mountview is a historic landscape that only now I recognize–and I hope to do more exploration in the future.

Butte’s historic cemeteries

IMG_0907Far from the bustle and grime of the Richest Hill on Earth are the historic cemeteries of Butte.  As I have said many times already in this blog, I rarely considered cemeteries during the 1984-1985 state historic preservation plan work.  That was a huge mistake for Butte.  The three historic cemeteries I wish to consider here–Mt. Moriah, St. Patrick’s, and B’nai Israel–document the city’s ethnic diversity like few other resources, reinforcing how groups survived in a city together although they often keep to their separate communities.  But the cemeteries also have sculpture and art worthy of attention and preservation–they are outstanding examples of late 19th and early 20th cemetery art and craftsmanship in the United States.

IMG_0908The Masons established Mr. Moriah Cemetery Association in 1877.  The cemetery has many striking markers, especially the Thompson Arches (seen above and below), an elaborate statement to mark a family plot, especially when compared to the cast-iron

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fences found elsewhere in the cemetery, like for the Nicholls family. The Victorian cast

IMG_0911iron fence, when combined with the carving and detail of the gravestone itself makes quite the statement for Cornish identity in Butte at the turn of the century.  Note the dual fraternal lodge marks, one for the Masons, another (the linked chain) for the Odd Fellows.

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IMG_0904Frank Beck left this earth in 1909, and the marker for Frank and his wife Agnes is remarkable for the inclusion of the family pet, noted above as Frank and His Faithful Dog.

The early 20th century gravestones and family plots are impressive largely wherever you ramble in Mt. Moriah Cemetery, and I am limiting my comments to merely a few markers. But you cannot help but notice the family gravestone, sculpture actually, for the Noyes family, a large neoclassical setting with the motif “The Day Break and the Shadows Flee Away,” framed by two large metal angels holding wreaths.

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Not everything in Mt. Moriah is so spectacular, but the evidence of the skill and creativity of Butte’s gravestone makers can be found throughout the property.

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B’nai Israel Cemetery is small in comparison yet it is a valuable space that documents the Jewish community’s long history in Butte. It is not quite as early as Mt. Moriah, dating to

IMG_09281881 when the Hebrew Benevolent Association first acquired the land from the Northern Pacific Railroad.  Congregation B’nai Israel acquired the property in 1905, two years after finishing its landmark synagogue in uptown Butte.

B'nai Israel Cemetery, Butte

St. Patrick Catholic Cemetery is also located in this part of the city.  It dates to the 1870s and contains thousands of burials.  When I visited in 2012 the cemetery was in OK condition but needed help, not just in basic maintenance but in the repair of tombstone damaged over the decades.  Just about a year ago in a story in the Montana Standard of March 1, 2015, members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Irish Catholic fraternal group, pledged new efforts for the cemetery’s preservation: “‘A walk around this holy ground will tell you more about the people of Butte than a week spent at the library,’ said Jim Sullivan, one of 60 members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Butte.”

IMG_0927The cemetery seems to stretch to the very edge of the city, but it is worth a long walk around for what you can discover about the Catholic impact on Butte in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

IMG_0926There are spectacular sculptural monuments to prominent city builders, such as the Classical Revival-style temple crypt for merchant price D. J. Hennessy.

IMG_0919Adjacent are separate plots maintained for Sisters who served and died in Butte as well as larger, more elaborate memorials for priests who served in Butte over the years.

A surprise near the rear of the cemetery is a large memorial section for military veterans of the Spanish-American War of the late 1890s.  This conflict is often ignored in today’s history books but numerous cemeteries in Montana have memorial sections for those who fought and died in that war.

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The dominant grave marker at St. Patrick’s is a small stone tablet but cemetery sculpture emphasizing the cross can be found throughout the property.

Then there are a handful of sculptural markers with an angel theme, and these are among the most spectacular in the cemetery. The Daly marker (below) is an elegant, moving

statement of loss and sorrow.  The O’Farrell monument (below) likewise conveys sorrow and loss in the combination of an angel and the cross but by including a relief carving of O’Farrell it also serves as a very public memorial for a prominent family member.

Throughout this brief exploration of three historic cemeteries, I have deliberately left the stories associated with this remarkable cemetery art to the side.  A few years ago, in 2010, local historian Zena Beth McGlashan published her book “Buried in Butte.” I wished the book had existed in 1985–maybe then I would not have ignored one of the most fascinating and significant sections of Butte: its three adjacent historic cemeteries along South Montana Street.  Next, an exploration of Mountain View Cemetery.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.