Hillcrest Cemetery, established in 1883, is not only one of Deer Lodge’s oldest community institutions, it is also one of its most compelling and beautiful nestled as it is west of the town within the Deer Lodge Valley. Burials here date to at least 1872 (the earliest legible death date I found on a marker). The general layout of the cemetery comes from a map provided by the City of Deer Lodge on its website.
The diversity of its grave markers adds to the beauty and rich stories found at Hillcrest. The classical mausoleum for the John Morony family commands the northern end of the cemetery, with its low square posts linked by chain defining a spot that is within the cemetery but also outside of it. John Morony was a Montana native who gained great wealth as the managing director of the Amalgamated Copper Company in addition to several banks from Great Falls to Anaconda, Missoula, and Dillon and as a major investor with the Montana Power Company.
South of the Marony mausoleum is most of the cemetery’s burials, with the well maintained grounds marked by large trees, various ornamental plantings and drives that crisscross the cemetery allowing you easy access to its different sections.
The ethnic diversity of those buried here is striking, reminding us that Deer Lodge was more than the location of the state prison (a very important fact) but also a place that the railroads shaped, with the Utah Northern, then the Northern Pacific, and finally the Milwaukee Road laying tracks through the valley. The latter had the most impact as the Milwaukee made Deer Lodge a division point with roundhouses and other buildings, which stood in the 1980s but are now largely gone.
There are many markers of artistic value, from formal, carved stones rich in symbolism and architectural detail to those of a more vernacular design origins, which can even be difficult to translate today.
Hillcrest Cemetery also has grave markers that reflect patterns found in other Montana community cemeteries in those that mark fraternal lodge memberships and service in the U.S. armed forces.
The cemetery also has early pioneers buried here, including Conrad Kohrs, whose historic ranch, the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, is a National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service not far from the cemetery.
The grave markers above are just a few of the many at Hillcrest Cemetery worthy of acknowledgement and fuller study. This historic place is one of the most interesting community cemeteries I have encountered in Montana.
Without the striking cast-iron front gate proclaiming the U.M.W. of A. Cemetery, passengers in the cars and trucks roaring along U.S. 87 in Musselshell County would have no idea that they were passing through mining country. Outside of Red Lodge in Carbon County, Colstrip and Decker in Rosebud County, and Belt in Cascade County you don’t hear much about coal mining in Montana. The focus in the state’s history has always been squarely on the more extensive, and lucrative, mining in precious minerals, especially in western Montana. But here in the Bull Mountains north of Billings, investors were interested in the coal deposits as early as the 1880s. Significant investment didn’t come, however, until the Milwaukee Road decided to drive its transcontinental railroad line through the Musselshell Valley, just north of the coal deposits in and around the Bull Mountains.
In 1907 Republic Coal Company opened its first mine, but it was mine no. 2 that became the great producer, with miners at the peak bringing up 150 cars of coal a hour–and the production rarely slowed for the next 20 years until the Milwaukee Road lost interest in coal as it transformed its engines to diesel fuel and the depression came in 1930.
Most miners lived in Klein while others boarded at nearby Roundup, the county seat. Klein reached an estimated 1500 residents at its peak. Republic No. 2 stayed open to 1956, 25 years later the Milwaukee Road had abandoned the line and the region.
Klein is still here, greatly diminished by the closing of the mines and railroad in decades past. But the town’s cemeteries convey stories of those who lived, worked, and died there. The UMW and Miracle Lodge #84 face each other on U.S. 87 and are worth exploring in some depth.
The setting of the UAW cemetery is beautiful, nestled between the highway and the foothills to the west. The graves are facing east and most of the grave markers are small to medium in size; little ostentatious display by the families here.
Although the cemetery dates to the early 20th century, it has a few examples of Victorian-styled cast-iron fences to define family plots or in the case of the second image, to highlight the death of a child.
But throughout the cemetery, you are drawn to the many ethnic names, members or at least supporters of the United Mine Workers, who came to America to find a new life, and lie buried in this rural cemetery in central Montana.
In the winter/spring of 2020, a new German newspaper contacted me about using several images from the website taken at Lennep, a small Milwaukee Road Town, along Montana 294 in Meagher County. The newspaper wanted to consider its American counterpoint, its isolated location in Montana, and is history. The editors named the story Ghostown Lennep.
I won’t provide a translation of the entire article, but the author Leon Hohmann provided me a transcript in English, from which I learned quite a bit about Lennep, Montana. The author wrote:
“But the history of the small town begins with another person: Martin T. Grande settled in 1877 in the place that was probably still nameless at that time. This is what history books tell us. He was the first white man in this area an immigrant from Norway who made his living by keeping 3000 sheep. Shortly afterwards, other settlers from Grande’s home village came to the mountain region, worked on his ranch or built their farms.
But this arrival does not seem to have gone very smoothly: A descendant of the first settler reported in an interview that Indians had burned down the first buildings because the border between the area of the natives and the immigrants was moved further and further to the west. Thus the territory of the Indians became smaller and smaller.
In the following years, Martin T. Grande’s ranch became bigger and bigger, more Norwegians came, whom he gave work, and he took an increasingly important position. His countrymen called him “good old patriarch”.
But quite fast the contemplative collection of some ranches and farms became a bigger village. Almost overnight the actual town of Lennep, west of Martinsdale, was built along the Jawbones railway line and served as a small stopover, according to a dissertation on the history of the region. That must have been in 1899. It was also the year that an auditor from the operating company Montana Railroad travelled there and named the place after his German homeland. His name: Johann Wilhelm Fuchs “
Since interest in Lennep, Montana, has an international audience and it has always been among my favorite Milwaukee Road places, I made plans to revisit in 2021–ten years since my last visit–and see the condition of the town.
I started with a resource given a brief look in 2011–the town cemetery, which is well maintained as the Lennep Memorial Park. The names of the early settlers such as the Grande, Hoyem and Hereim families are prominent as are the Thompsons, who were Masons. The wives–not named–of Andrew Berg have a distinctive obelisk grave marker.
Leon Hohmann continued with the story of Johann Fuchs–who became Wilhelm Fuchs in his new adopted town of Lennep, Montana. Hohmann wrote:
“Johann Wilhelm Fuchs was born on September 2, 1859, in Lennep, Sarah Baldy from the Remscheid town archive found out. His parents: Hermann Fuchs from Elberfeld, who was a teacher at the higher citizen school in Lennep, and his wife Elise a born Hilger.
Growing up on Munsterplatz, he was a young adult when he decided to train as a businessman, which was quite astonishing since his father did not have this profession. But Sarah Baldy has an idea why young Johann Wilhlem took this path: Because his maternal grandfather, Johann Wilhelm Hilger, who died only a few months before the birth of his grandson, was a merchant.
The archivist suspects that this Johann Wilhelm Hilger founded the company Gebrüder Hilger with his brother Daniel. Around 1856 the brothers built a large cloth factory in Wilhelmsthal in Radevormwald, where up to 600 people worked at times. After a fire in 1890, the company had to file for insolvency. Later, the cloth factory became a paper mill, whose production was only stopped on November 30 1970. Since then, the main building has been empty and neglected.
To what extent Johann Wilhelm Fuchs became active in his grandfather’s business has not been communicated. If he did, then probably not for too long. For at the age of 23, he left his home country to start a new life in the United States of America. This is the conclusion drawn from data in the North Rhine-Westphalia State Archive.
He arrived as Johann Fuchs on August 11, 1882, on Ellis Island, New York with two pieces of luggage. He started his journey from Antwerp on the Belgenland I of the Red Star Line as passenger number 23. What he did after his arrival is unclear.
His name only reappears around 1894, when Montana Railroad is founded as the third railway company in the state. At that time, however, he called himself Wilhelm J. Fuchs. He is said to have already planned a train route from Helena to the East with Montana Railroad President Richard A. Harlow. In 1899, in the course of the construction of the Jawbones Railroad, he also travelled to the village of the settlers from Norway. He named the railway station there “Lennep”. Whether he also lived in Lennep is not known, however. His trace is finally lost in 1904 after the operating company of the Montana Railroad had left.”
The buildings that remain today appear to date to the decade of the railroad’s arrival, from c. 1907 to 1917. Certainly that decade marked the height of population and activity here. The wind-swept setting of Trinity Lutheran Church is unchanged. This Gothic Revival church remains the town’s commanding landmark, and remains the active community center. Hohmann noted: “In 1914, the beautiful building was constructed from wooden shingles. The invitation to tender for the church was published in The Harlowtown News on 25 July 1913 with the aim that the construction should be completed by 15 November of the same year. But apparently, the structure of the Trinity Lutheran Church had been delayed. The new building cost 4300 dollars, paid by the Lutheran church congregation, which was founded in 1891.”
The old town general store remains closed, and it has been mothballed to a degree with plywood over damage windows, I suspect. Hohmann wrote about this building: “The train line was necessary for the inhabitants of the ranches around Lennep because the trains supplied the grocery store with food. The goods were not only sold to the people of Lennep, but also inhabitants of the neighbouring villages. Also, the gold-digger camps in the Castle Mountains to the north are said to have supplied from Lennep. At least some hobby historians in American internet forums suspect this. Furthermore, a gravel road connected the village with the Cumberland Mine. Silver and lead were mined there.” The building clearly was a center point for trade and communication. Some deterioration has occurred, but relative minor repairs and a new coat of paint would correct that. The congregation renovated the church in 2016 and at that time added the new porch and handicap access ramp.
The school house–which has not had students since 2011– remains in decent condition although some missing roof shingles could pose water problems. Water and moisture is not the threat in this part of the west as I am accustomed to in the east but a leaky roof is never a good thing. A nearby dwelling has that modern replacement metal roof–it too stood quiet at the time of my visit in June 2021 but appears to be in solid condition.
The dwelling between the store and school, however, is in danger of serious deterioration. Half of its shingles are missing–the deck is not in great shape. You wonder if this building is not the next to disappear from Lennep.
Yet, when you stand back at the church and took back southeast toward the railroad line and town, the view of the buildings and landscape is little changed in ten years. Lennep might be a ghost town but it is still there, as a marker of the impact of the Milwaukee Road on the Meagher County landscape.
A final marker to the east can be found by continuing on Montana Highway 294, which closely follows the old Milwaukee Road corridor for several miles before the track and the highway diverge.
That would be the brick powerhouse necessary to power the electric engines that the Milwaukee Road used in this section of its route. Cows might surround it today but in the early 20th century the brick powerhouses scattered along the line were signs of modernity, of the electric power that distinguished the Milwaukee from all of the other transcontinental railroads in Montana.
Over eight years ago I wrote about Phillipsburg as a Victorian mining town that had the “bones” to become a heritage tourism magnet along the Pintlar Scenic Route.
I was astounded at the number of people there in early June 2021 Thursday—not the weekend. Certainly the reputation of the Sweet Shop has grown, and grown. it was a busy place.
The other attraction was just under construction when I visited in 2012. The Phillipsburg Brewery, located in the late 1880s Sayres Building, is a great local micro brewery but you can taste its wares at restaurants statewide.
It’s an impressive adaptive reuse project for even the interior still retains a late 19th century. Not over built or over restored. Just re-energized to serve the town again.
There was a historic change from 2012 at the most unlikely place—the city cemetery. In 2012 I commented on the Victorian theme of several of the burial plots. It remains a remarkable place for that artwork in cast iron.
What was new? A commendable effort to address the silences of the past, in the case of Phillipsburg the large Chinese community who once lived there, worked there, and many prospered there during the mining boom of 1890-1920s.
The Granite County Historical Society in 2014 placed an interpretive marker in the cemetery to tell the story of the Chinese burial ground—located in a corner far from the Victorian center of the cemetery. We are now challenged to learn more about the names on the plaque and understand better their contributions.
The marker stands alone, as did the Chinese community in the era of racial segregation. The burials in this section range from the late 1880s to 1932. When were the headstones removed? I don’t know yet. But here is the place, several names are listed in primary sources. The next steps to end this silence await.
Standing quietly next to Forestvale Cemetery is Helena’s Odd Fellows Cemetery, formed in 1895 when several local lodges banded together to create a cemetery for its members. Most visitors to Forestvale probably think of this cemetery as just an extension of Forestvale but it is very much its own place, with ornamental plantings and an understated arc-plan to its arrangement of graves.
Compared to Forestvale, there are only a handful of aesthetically imposing grave markers, although I found the sole piece of cemetery furniture, the stone bench above, to be a compelling reminder of the reflective and commemorative purpose of the cemetery.
One large stone monument, erected in the 1927 by the Rebekah lodges (for female members) of the town, marks the burial lot for IOOF members who died in Helena’s Odd Fellows Home, a building that is not extant. The memorial is a reminder of the types of social services that fraternal lodges provided their members, and how fraternal lodges shaped so much of Helena’s social and civic life in the late 19th and early twentieth century. Helena’s Odd Fellows Cemetery is a significant yet overlooked contributor to the town’s and county’s historic built environment.
Dominated by the monumental Cruse family mausoleum, Resurrection Cemetery has been a Montana Avenue landmark for over 100 years. It is not the first Catholic cemetery in Helena–the original one was nearer the yards of the Northern Pacific Railroad and was closed c. 1906-1908, when Resurrection Cemetery was under development. The first cemetery became abandoned and many markers and crypts were not removed until the late 1940s and 1950s. Then in the 1970s, the city finished the process and turned the cemetery into Robinson Park, where a small interpretive marker still tells the story of the first Catholic cemetery.
Resurrection is a beautifully planned cemetery, with separate sections, and standardized markers, for priests and for the sisters, as shown above. Their understated tablet stones mark their service to God and add few embellishments. Not so for the merchant and political elite buried in the historic half of Resurrection Cemetery. “Statement” grave markers abound, such as the Greek Revival temple-styled mausoleum for the Larsen family, shown below.
An elaborate cross marks the family plot of Martin Maginnis, an influential and significant merchant and politician from the early decades of the state’s history (but who is largely forgotten today). Nearby is the family plot for one of Maginnis’ allies in central Montana and later in Helena, T. C. Power.
Joseph K. Toole, a two-time Governor of Montana, is also buried with a large but not ornate stone marker, shown below. Former senator Thomas Walsh is nearby but what is
most interesting about the Walsh family plot is the striking Arts and Crafts design for his
daughter Elinor Walsh, who died as a young woman. I have not yet encountered a marker similar to hers in all of Montana.
Another compelling marker with statuary is that of another young woman rendered in marble, a memorial to James and Catherine Ryan.
Thomas Cruse, who struck it rich with the Drumlummon mine at Marysville, had no qualms about proclaiming his significance and the grandest cemetery memorial in Montana bears his name. Cruse already had put up at least one-third of the funding for the magnificent High Gothic-styled St. Helena Cathedral in downtown Helena. At Resurrection, Cruse (who died in late 1914) was laid to rest in a majestic classical-style family mausoleum where his wife and his daughter were also interred (both proceeded Cruse in death). The Cruse mausoleum is the centerpiece of Resurrection’s design.
But the monuments for the rich and famous at Resurrection are the exceptions, not the rule. In the historic half of the cemetery, most markers are rectangular tablet types. The cemetery also has a separate veterans section.
Its castellated Gothic gate standing silently a few blocks off of Montana Avenue south of downtown Helena, Forestvale Cemetery was established, at the end of a trolley line, in 1890. Montana has just become a state and Helena would soon enough become the permanent state capitol. The cemetery is the final resting place for town and state founders, pioneers, and the hundreds of workers, merchants, ranchers, and mechanics who shaped Helena’s history for over 100 years.
As the interpretive marker at the entrance cemetery notes, the cemetery came into public ownership in 1991 and has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It “was designated as a ‘Rural Park,’ a place to walk through Montana history.”
I would agree fully with that assertion. When I moved to Montana in 1981 my first abode was the Chessman Flats, a Victorian row house converted to apartments next to the Original Governor’s Mansion. I soon sought out Chessman’s final resting place, a sizable family plot shown above. I also discovered the graves of many famous late 19th century Montanans who I was just learning about. Samuel Hauser, the banker and early territorial governor, is buried here in another family plot.
The Fergus family was another name I recalled, especially with the proud designation of “Pioneers 1862”. Several markers, like that for the Ecler family below, note the final resting place of that first generation of settlers in the Big Sky Country. Nor is Hauser the
only governor to be buried here. Tim Babcock, a late 20th century governor, is buried with a marker that outlines the state of Montana, a fitting tribute.
The Nicolas family plot is one of the view, compared to the many at Benton Avenue Cemetery, to be outlined by a low metal fence. But Forestvale also has a handful of the distinctive hollowed press metal grave markers, like the flamboyant combination of classical and Victorian motifs of the Leslie family marker.
The pressed metal markers for the Leslies are just the beginning of the Victorian funerary art represented at Forestvale. As shown below there is the Richardsonian Romanesque grave house memorial for the Brown family and the cut-off limbs monument for Mary Love Stoakes, who died in 1889.
Beautiful statuary is reflected in the grave marker for Lillian Stoakes Cullen, who died in 1897.
But as is obvious in the background of the photographs above, the great majority of the grave markers at Forestvale are much more restrained, rectangular slabs of rock, respectful but minus the Victorian flourish.
At the rear of the cemetery markers are missing, or are small and unadorned. In the far corner is a later memorial to at least 22 children who died at the Montana Children’s Home and Hospital from 1917 to 1932.
The cemetery’s interpretive marker noted that at Forestvale “There was never any prejudice as to creed or color.” That is not true, outside the north fence of the cemetery is a grave yard for Chinese residents of Helena. This section is not well kept, and judging from the number of depressions, the number of people buried here could be sizable.
A summer 2018 story in the Helena Independent Record told of a new local effort to identify the number of graves in this section and to begin a process to right a wrong. Certainly the present condition is unacceptable, and hopefully steps will finally take place to place the “Chinese section” into the publicly owned and maintained cemetery.
Nestled in the shadows of Mount Helena, across the street from Carroll College, with its boundaries made up of 1950s and 1960s suburban housing, and the historic main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad is Benton Avenue Cemetery, which dates to 1870. The preservation effort here over a generation has met with several successes. The cemetery was reclaimed, documented, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
But my visit on Memorial Day 2018 left me with the feeling that the cemetery is an under-appreciated historic property. There are no signs of true neglect, but it was so quiet on Memorial Day that I did think the place had become an almost forgotten historic asset–an afterthought in today’s busy world. I hope not–because this cemetery has many jewels to explore and appreciate. Perhaps the most striking–certainly most rare to see–are the cast iron baskets–or bassinets, see below, that surround two children’s graves.
These are remarkable yet sad artistic creations–I have not seen anything comparable in my research in historic cemeteries in either the west, the midwest, or the south. The Benton Avenue Cemetery has an amazing array of cast-iron fencing that define family
plots–certainly the ironwork was a status symbol in the late 19th century and there is no one statement. Families adorned their graves with fences much as they surrounded their houses in the nearby neighborhoods.
There are numerous hollowed cast-iron grave markers too. Almost everytime I share this late 19th century style marker with a viewer, they say, well they must be rare, what an odd thing. But these markers were wildly popular in the railroad era. You could
order the marker with whatever designs or inscriptions you wish and they would soon be delivered. Finding family groups of these hollow metal markers is rare, however, so the grouping for the Toole family at Benton Avenue deserves a close look.
Veterans of the U.S. Army, several dating to service in the Civil War, are buried at Benton Avenue. Other graves are just marked by slowly fading wood tablets.
Ornamental planting abounds, and added beautiful color on Memorial Day. My favorite grave marker is both early and unique. Cast-iron is a material once crucial for all sorts of items in a household: pots, pans, tools, fire backs. But a cast-iron grave marker–made of a single rectangular tablet with name and designs? That’s something special.
Benton Avenue Cemetery is worth a new consideration for its many different forms, materials, and designs. When I lived in Helena some thirty-five years ago, I gave it scant attention–it deserves so much more.
As discussed at several places in this blog, I have given careful consideration to the historic cemeteries of Montana in the fieldwork of 2012-2016. When the initial survey for the state historic preservation plan took place in 1984 to 1985, cemeteries rarely registered with anyone–the professionals were not looking that way nor were communities. That is no longer the case in historic preservation–cemeteries are an increasing area of interest.
Home of Peace was established in 1867 and the cast iron fence around its boundaries dates to that time. The earliest identified grave marker is 1873 but the Hebrew Benevolent Society (or Association), which established the cemetery originally, believes that Home of Peace includes burials from the 1860s. The beautiful arched gateway to the cemetery dates c. 1910, the same time that the cottonwoods were planted and most of the existing ornamental plants in the cemetery were added. Most of the burials are arranged in family groups, outlined by low stone or concrete walls. Some are individuals, or couples. A few are non-Jewish since at one time the association, which still owns the cemetery, allowed for their burials.
The date of most markers are from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. Mostly made of granite and sandstone, with some marble as well, the grave markers reflect Victorian styles and Classical influences. Herman Gans’ marker from 1901, seen below, is a mixture of both.
The cemetery contains several veterans markers in the standardized tablet design provided by the War Department and later the Veterans Administration. The grouping in the forefront, below, identifies two veterans from the Spanish-American War of 1898.
In the mid-1970s the association transferred some of its land for the construction of Capitol High School, which now almost surrounds the cemetery, which had once stood faraway from the center of Helena’s population.
The looming presence of the school grounds is a worry for future preservation of the cemetery–could it be possibly overlooked, ignored, and abandoned? One online resource about the cemetery remarks that there are more Jews buried in the cemetery than live in Helena today. But this sacred place is a powerful reminder of the contributions of the Jewish community to Helena’s growth and permanence. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the cemetery should be valued as one of the city’s oldest and most significant historic properties.
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.
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.
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.
Fort 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.