Back on the Hi-Line: Hinsdale and Saco

Phillips Co Saco west on US2 showing old road, new, and GN tracks

Hinsdale (just over 200 people in Valley County) and Saco (just under 200 people in Phillips County) are two country towns along the Hi-Line between the much larger county seats of Glasgow and Malta.  I have little doubt that few visitors ever stop, or even slow down much, as they speed along the highway.  Both towns developed as railroad stops along the Great Northern Railway–the image above shows how close the highway and railroad tracks are along this section of the Hi-Line.  Both largely served, and still

Phillips Co Robinson Ranch w of saco roadside

serve, historic ranches, such as the Robinson Ranch, established in 1891, in Phillips County.  Both towns however have interesting buildings, and as long as they keep their community schools, both will survive in the future.

Valley Co Hinsdale school

Hinsdale School, Valley County

Phillips Co Saco school

Saco School, Phillips County

Of the two towns, I have discussed Saco to a far greater extent in this blog because it was one of my “targeted” stops in the 1984 survey.  The State Historic Preservation Office at the Montana Historical Society had received inquiries from local residents in Saco about historic preservation alternatives and I was there to take a lot of images to share back with the preservationists in Helena.  But in my earlier posts, I neglected two community

Phillips Co Saco post officebuildings, the rather different design of the post office from the 1960s and the vernacular Gothic beauty of the historic Methodist Church, especially the Victorian brackets of its bell tower.

Phillips Co Saco UM church

I ignored Hinsdale almost totally in its first posting, focusing on roadside murals.  This Valley County town is worth a second look, if just for its two historic bank buildings.  The former First National Bank and the former Valley County Bank both speak to the hopes for growth along this section of the Milk River Project of the U.S. Reclamation Service in the early 20th century.  Architecturally both buildings were touched by the Classical Revival style, and both took the “strongbox” form of bank buildings that you can find throughout the midwest and northern plains in the first two decades of the 20th century.

Valley Co Hinsdale 4 1st national bank

Valley Co Hinsdale 2 bankValley Co Hinsdale 1 bank

The rest of Hinsdale’s “commercial district” has the one-story “false-front” buildings often found in country railroad towns along the Hi-Line.

Valley Co Hinsdale 3

Local residents clearly demonstrate their sense of community not only through the school, which stands at the of the commercial area.  But community pride also comes through in such buildings as the c. 1960s American Legion Hall, the c. 1902 Methodist church (the separated cupola must be a good story), and St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.

Valley Co Hinsdale American Legion hall

Valley Co Hinsdale UM Church 1902

Valley Co Hinsdale St Albert's Catholic

These small railroad towns of the Hi-Line have been losing population for decades, yet they remain, and the persistence of these community institutions helps to explain why.

Bitterroot Valley: Agricultural Wonderland

Ravalli Co Museum 1As the historic promotional image above conveys, the Bitterroot Valley is an agricultural wonderland, but one dependent on irrigation and agricultural science. This image is on display at the Ravalli County Museum, which is located in the historic county courthouse from the turn of the 20th century.

Irrigation in Hamilton coLocal ranchers and boosters understood the economic potential of the valley if the land was properly nurtured.  Some of the best evidence today is along the Eastside Highway,

both north and south of Corvallis stretching onto Darby.  Lake Como, located between Corvallis and Darby, supplied much of this water:  it began as a private irrigation effort in 1909, and the dam has since been rebuilt to keep the water flowing, in addition to creating one of the favorite summer recreation spots in western Montana. In recent years, an interpretive marker by the U.S. Forest Service underscores the dam’s significance.

The water was just part of the story.  There were key farmer organizations such as the Grange, which still has a lodge in Corvallis.  This grange dates to 1884, which Elijah Chaffin led a local effort to join what was then a new national effort to help farmers and ranchers fight back against the railroads and other corporate interests.

An important partnership between the Bitterroot Valley Irrigation Company and the State of Montana came in 1907 when the state, through its agricultural extension program at Montana State University, established what was first called the Horticultural Sub-station and later the Western Montana Experiment Station on 20 acres of land donated by the irrigation company outside of Corvallis. Now known as the Western Agricultural Research Center (see below), the station allowed agricultural

Western MT experiment station 3 Hamilton co

scientists to “determine, by testing, the most profitable varieties of apples, pears, cherries, plums, walnuts, peaches, apricots, strawberries, bushfruits, and vegetables.” Initial success came with apples but after that waned, “the center’s emphasis shifted to the development of small fruits and the sweet cherry industry in the Flathead [Lake] area.”

The nearby Swanson’s Orchards are just part of the industry spawned by the combination of land, water, and science.  Charles J. Swanson began the ranch in 1909, turning to an apple crop by 1910.  Although the apple industry in the Bitterroot is greatly diminished since the boom of the 1910s, Swanson’s still operates as a family-run orchard. Throughout the valley are ranches that trace their roots to the 1880s to early 1900s and the first

307 Hanker Lane at RR tracks, Corvallis vic

Bailey Ranch, Hamilton Co

IMG_2810railroad spur through the valley.  With its Four-Square style dwelling, the Bailey Ranch, immediately above, is a good example of the places of the 1910s-1920s.  The Popham Ranch, seen below, is one of the oldest, dating to 1882.

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Popham Ranch,  460 Popham Lane, Corvallis vicinity NROne major change in the Bitterroot over 30 years is the fruit industry has diminished and how many more small ranches and suburban-like developments crowd the once expansive agricultural wonderlands of the Bitterroot. The dwindling number that remain deserve careful attention for their future conservation before the working landscape disappears.

Lazy Drive Ranch at Eastside Hwy, Ravalli Co

 

 

 

 

Ranching Landscapes in Beaverhead County

 

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OK Ranch outside of Wisdom

The Big Hole Valley of Beaverhead County is wide, expansive, challenging, and cattle country without par in Montana, and has been so for over 100 years. Livestock means hay and just outside of Wisdom is a beaverslide haystacker. These wooden pole and plank devises originated in the Big Hole Valley in the early 1900s and can be found in other

Beaverslide just NE of wisdom

prosperous valleys of western Montana.  Their purpose was simple–to stack huge piles of hay, sometimes reaching 30 feet in height, that would be left in place, in the open.  In the western Montana climate, there naturally would be some waste, but enough hay would remain usable to keep a ranch well supplied for 4-5 years.

Beaverslide, just N of Wisdom

big Hole Valley 1984The Big Hole Valley was a place of interest to me in 1984, noted by the image above, for how ranches used logs to build the physical infrastructure–the log snake fences, the gates, the log barns and other ranch structures–of their properties.

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IMG_2989What I didn’t give as much attention to, already commented on in this blog at numerous places, are the irrigation ditches, a more consistent supply of water that allowed ranchers to expand production.

Big Hole Valley local sign MT 278

Public interpretation of the ranching landscape was, not unexpectedly, meager back in the day.  This sign made by the local VFW post 3040 called the valley the “land of 10,000 haystacks.”  Wonderful ranching techniques had lessened the number of haystacks and haystackers found through the valley, but still some remain of the old tradition.

Beaverslides, MT 278 E of Jackson

State officials have worked with local ranchers to give travelers places to stop and consider the depth and wealth of the landscape before them.  Below are views of the Carroll Ranch, an early Big Hole Pass ranch that is now part of the larger Hamilton Ranch.

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There are several interpretive signs to tell the story of the Hamilton Ranch, which encompasses several historic buildings, and wonderful views of the valley.

hamilton ranch, Big Hole Pass

Then a separate marker explains the beaverslide haystacker, placed at the pull-off on Montana Highway 278, giving travelers one of their best opportunities to look at one up close (there is also one in the Deer Lodge Valley at the Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site.)

The Big Hole Valley may no longer be the land of 10,000 hay stacks but it still is a working landscape of ranch families, building new traditions as they also conserve past ways and landscapes in Montana.

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