Country Towns in Beaverhead County, Part II

Jackson MT, MT 278Jackson, Montana, is another favorite place of mine in Beaverhead County.  Located on Montana Highway 278, far away from any neighborhoods, the town dates to the 1880s, as

Jackson Mercantile, MT 278, L&C sign on sidethis area of the Big Hole Valley opened up to ranching. Its name came from Anton Jackson, the first postmaster; the town still has a historic post office building even though its

population barely tops 50.  That is enough, once kids from surrounding ranches are added, to support the Jackson elementary school–a key to the town’s survival over the years.

Jackson School, MT 278Jackson grows significantly during the winter, as it is an increasingly popular winter get-away destination, centered on the historic Jackson Hot Springs, which had been upgraded and significantly expanded since my last visit in 1984.

Jackson MT Hot SpringsBut my real reason to tout the wonders of Jackson, Montana, lie with a simple but rather unique adaptive reuse project.  A turn of the 20th century church building has been converted into a hat manufacturer business, the Buffalo Gal Hat Shop–and I like hats!

IMG_2995Grant is another ranching town along a Montana secondary highway, this time Montana Highway 324.  Like Jackson, it too has enough year-round residents and children from nearby ranches to support a school, a tiny modernist style building while an older early 20th century school building has become a community center.

Grant only attracts the more hardy traveler, mostly hunters.  The Horse Prairie Stage Stop is combination restaurant, bar, and hotel–a throwback to isolated outposts of the late 19th century where exhausted travelers would bunk for a night.

Grant bar and lodgeBack when I visited in 1984, Monte Elliott (only the third owner of the property he claimed) showed off his recent improvements made within the context of a business location that dated to the Civil War era.  The lodge still keeps records from those early days that they share with interested visitors.  In the 21st century, new owner Jason Vose additionally upgraded the facilities,  but kept the business’s pride in its past as he further expanded its offerings to hunters and travelers.

IMG_3499Far to the north along Montana Highway 43 is the Big Horn River Canyon, a spectacular but little known landscape within the state.  Certainly anglers and hunters visited here, but the two towns along the river in this northern end of Beaverhead County are tiny places, best known perhaps for their bars as any thing else.

 

Certainly that is the case at Dewey, where the Dewey Bar attracts all sorts of patrons, even the four-legged kind.  The early 20th century false-front general store that still operated in 1984 is now closed, but the town has protected two log barns that still front Montana Highway 43.

Wise River still has four primary components that can characterize a isolated western town:  a post office, a school, a bar/cafe, and a community center.  It is also the location for one of the ranger stations of the Beaverhead National Forest.

The station has a new modernist style administrative building but it also retains its early twentieth century work buildings and ranger residence, a Bungalow design out of logs.

The forest service station has provided Wise River with a degree of stability over the decades, aided by the town’s tiny post office and its early 20th century public school.

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IMG_2967Just as important as a town anchor is the Wise River Community Center, which began in the gable-front frame building as the Wise River Woman’s Club but has expanded over the last 30 years into the larger building you find today.

Wise River Woman's Club with extension

But to my eye the most important institution, especially for a traveler like me, is one of the state’s most interesting bits of roadside architecture, the Wise River Club.  I have already written about this building, from my 1984 travels.

Wise River Beaverhead Co. MTThe liveliness of that 1984 exterior–note the mini-totem pole, the log benches, wagon wheels, and yes the many antlers defining the front wall–is muted in today’s building.

IMG_1660But the place is still there, serving locals and travelers, and a good number of the antlers now grace the main room of the bar.

IMG_0549Wise River, unlike Dewey but similar to Jackson, has been able to keep its historic general store in business.  The post office moved out in the 1990s to the new separate building but the flag pole remains outside to mark how this building also served both private and public functions.

Wise River Mercantile, Wise RiverThe country towns of Beaverhead County help to landmark the agricultural history of this place, and how such a huge county as this one could still nurture tiny urban oases.  Next I will leave the rural landscape and look at Beayerhead’s one true urban landscape–the county seat of Dillon.

Country Towns of Beaverhead County, Part One

Monida from MT 508, 2

Monida, at the Idaho-Montana border, on Interstate I-15.

Country towns of Beaverhead County–wait,  you cry out: isn’t every town in Beaverhead County a country town?  Well yes, since Dillon, the county seat, has a single stop light, you can say that.  But Dillon is very much an urban oasis compared to the county’s tiny villages and towns scattered all about Beaverhead’s 5,572 square miles, making it the largest county in Montana.

IMG_3387Let’s start this theme with the railroad/ federal highway towns.  Monida, at the state border with Idaho, is a good place to start, first established as a place on the Utah and Northern Railroad line as it moved north toward the mines at Butte in 1881.  Monica had a second life as a highway stop on the old U.S. Highway 91 that paralleled the tracks, as evident in the old garages left behind.

The next town north on the corridor created by the railroad/highway/interstate is Lima, IMG_3369which possesses a Montana welcome center and rest stop.  That’s important because at this stop you also can find one of the state’s mid-20th century examples of a tourist welcome center, which has been moved to this stop and then interpreted as part of the state’s evolving roadside architecture.

Lima is a classic symmetrical-plan railroad town, the plan favored by the engineers of the Utah and Northern as the railroad moved into Montana.  The west side of the tracks, where the two-lane U.S. Highway 91 passed, was the primary commercial district, with several brick and frame two-story buildings ranging from the 1880s to the 1910s.

Lima west of tracks Peat Hotel and bar

Lima west of tracks 2 Peat Hotel and bar

The east side, opposite old U.S. Highway 91, was a secondary area; the Lima Historical Society is trying to keep an old 1880s building intact for the 21st century.

The town’s comparative vitality is shown by its metal Butler Building-like municipal building, and historic churches, ranging from a early 20th century shingle style to a 1960s contemporary style Gothic church of the Latter Day Saints.

The town’s pride naturally is its school, which developed from the early 20th century two-story brick schoolhouse to become the town’s center of community.

Lima school

Eight miles to the north is a very different historic schoolhouse, the one-story brick Dell school (1903), which had been converted into a wonderful cafe when I stopped in 1984.  It is still a great place–if you don’t stop here for pie or a caramel roll (or both), you goofed.

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The Calf-A is not the only place worth a look at Dell, a tiny railroad town along the historic Utah and Northern line, with the Tendroy Mountains in the background.  Dell still has its UPRR line at Dell

post office, within its one store, its community hall, and a good steakhouse dive, the false-front Stockyard Inn.  But most importantly, for an understanding of the impact of World

War II on Montana, Dell has an air-strip, which still contains its 1940s B-17 Radar base, complete with storehouse–marked by the orange band around the building–and radar tower.  Kate Hampton of the Montana State Historic Preservation Office in 2012 told me to be of the lookout for these properties.  Once found throughout Montana, and part of the guidance system sending planes northward, many have disappeared over the years.  Let’s hope the installation at Dell remains for sometime to come.

B-17 base landscape, Dell

There are no more towns between Dell and Dillon but about halfway there is the Clark Canyon Reservoir, part of the reshaping of the northwest landscape by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the 1960s.  The bureau in 1961-1964 built the earthen dam and created the

reservoir, which inundated the small railroad town of Armstead, and led to the re-routing of U.S. Highway 91 (now incorporated into the interstate at this point).

Clark Canyon Reservoir, reclamationThe reclamation project, which stored water for irrigation, also covered the site of Camp Fortunate, a very important place within the larger narrative of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and its relationships and negotiations with the Shoshone Indians.  An early

 

effort to mark and interpret the site came from the Daughters of the American Revolution, who not surprisingly focused on the Sacajawea story.  Reclamation officials added other markers after the construction of the dam and reservoir.

In this century the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail has added yet another layer of public interpretation in its attempt to tell the whole story of the expedition and its complicated relations with the Native Americans of the region.

North of Dillon along the old route of U.S. Highway 91 and overlooking the corridor of the Utah and Northern Railroad is another significant Lewis and Clark site, known as Clark’s Lookout, which was opened to the public during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial of the early 21st century.

The lookout is one of the exciting historic sites that have been established in Montana in the 30 years since my initial survey for the state historic preservation plan.  Not only does the property interpret an important moment in the expedition’s history–from this vantage point William Clark tried to understand the countryside before him and the best direction to take–it also allows visitors to literally walk in his footsteps and imagine the same perspective.

Of course what Clark viewed, and what you might see, are vastly different–the tracks of the Utah and Northern, then route of old U.S. 91 are right up front, while the town of Dillon creeps northward toward the lookout.

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Our last stop for part one of Beaverhead’s country towns is Glen, a village best accessed by old U. S. Highway 91.  A tiny post office marks the old town. Not far away are two historic IMG_3164

North of Glen you cross the river along old U.S. Highway 91 and encounter a great steel tress bridge, a reminder of the nature of travel along the federal highways of the mid-20th century.

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Finding Wisdom in Beaverhead County

IMG_0288Beaverhead County, named for the prominent, ancient landmark on the Beaverhead River at the corner of Madison and Beaverhead county, was the first rural place I visited in Montana after my arrival in Helena in 1981.  Why?  No pressing reason, except that the place name of Wisdom called out to me.

The Crossing, Wisdom

Our first stop was at Fetty’s, a classic Montana bar that friends tell me burned a few years ago.  In its place now stands The Crossing at Fetty’s, also a good place but a bit more upscale than the old c. 1930s bar/cafe.  The new place wasn’t the only change in Wisdom.  There was a new public school building and a new post office.

These were just the first of the changes since 1982. Wisdom is still the tiny homesteading era town that I recalled.  Key community landmarks remain: witness the two-story Craftsman-style Masonic Hall and Gothic-styled church building.

Beaverhead Co, Wisdom masonic lodge

IMG_2945The town’s large community hall remains in constant use.  The separate Women’s Club

Beaverhead Co, Wisdom community Centerbuilding once welcomed ranch wives and daughters to town, giving them a place to rest and providing a small library of books.  It has been converted into a small lodge for skiers and hunters–a great small town example of adaptive reuse.

IMG_2944Of course the major landmark for travelers through Wisdom in the late 20th century was Conover’s Trading Post, a two-story false front building–clearly the most photographed place in town, and inside a classic western gun and recreation shop.

Beaverhead Co, Conovers store, WisdomBut the Conover’s facade, even the name, is no more.  Not long after my 2012 visit to Wisdom, new owners totally remade the building and business, opening a new store named Hook and Horn.

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Image from tripadvisor.com.

One significant property I sought out in 2012 was the town cemetery, a resource type that I had ignored almost totally across Montana in the initial state historic preservation plan work.  The cemetery marks the town’s height of population during the early twentieth century, and contains several interesting grave markers, including the headstone for Frederick Finsley, a veteran of the Civil War who served in a Union regiment from West Virginia, and the cast metal obelisk for  the Gallen family.

Wisdom Cemetery, MT 43 8

 

Wisdom was where I started my exploration into Montana over 30 years ago.  But, surprisingly, during the 1984-1985 state historic preservation plan work I sorta glossed over Beaverhead County, and didn’t spend the time there that I should have.  In my new work I was determined not to repeat that mistake and have spent four long days in the county, exploring well known historic places (Big Hole National Battlefield, Bannock State Park) and even more time at the not so well known.  In the next posts I want to consider the diverse types of landscapes that make up this county, from ranching to mining to railroad towns to river towns to special Native American landscapes.

 

Laurin, Alder, and the Ruby River Valley

IMG_0211For travelers along Montana Highway 287 the villages of Laurin and Alder are a mere diversion as you motor along from Sheridan to Virginia City.  From those towns the Ruby River winds into the mountains, and they were the “end of the line” for the railroad spur that tied the southern part of Madison County to the state’s rail system. About two miles south of Sheridan is a former late 19th century Queen-Anne style ranch house that now houses the Ruby Valley Inn, a bed and breakfast establishment.

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IMG_0217At Laurin, St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church is a major Ruby River Valley landmark. It roots the settlement history of this place deep in the valley;  John Batiste Laurin, for whom the village is named, established the place in July 1863. The church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Laurin was never large and a few repurposed commercial buildings indicate that.  The historic Laurin School is now a private home, an excellent example of adaptive reuse of a historic rural school.

IMG_0221While Laurin has a reserved, calm feel to it, Alder feels like the highway road-stop it has been for decades.  Its historic brick school is not as architecturally elaborate as Laurin but in 2012 it was still open and serving local students.

IMG_0203Other commercial buildings from the early 20th century were now abandoned, including the eye-popping, yellow-painted false front bar and steakhouse, which I understand has moved its business elsewhere since 2012.

The town’s combination store, gas station, and post office I trust remains in business although if not, I wouldn’t be surprised.  These buildings are disappearing from the roadside across the state.IMG_0212At Alder you can go south on Montana Highway 357 and follow a good, paved road to the Ruby Dam and Reservoir.  Part of the New Deal’s contributions to reshaping rural Montana through new or expanded irrigation projects, the Ruby Dam is not an awe-inspiring engineering feat on par with Fort Peck Dam.  But the views are striking and here is another engineered landscape created by mid-20th century irrigation projects from the Bureau of Reclamation.

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IMG_0210Back on Montana 287 is one of the first log buildings that I visited in Montana, known as Robber’s Roost.  Listed in the National Register, this two-story log building dates to 1863, constructed by Pete Daly as a road house for travelers to the Virginia City mines.  Tradition has it that it also became a hang-out for road agents who stole from travelers, thus the name.  It is an important part of the vernacular log construction tradition of the territorial era in Montana history.

Robber's Roost

The next post addresses Virginia City, the birthplace (in many ways) of Montana preservation.

Jefferson’s Jewels

Boulder Valley N from hot springs, MT 69 – Version 2Jefferson County, nestled as it is between the much larger population centers of Helena (Lewis and Clark County) and Butte (Silver Bow County), has often been neglected in any overview or study of Montana.  But within the county’s historical landscape are places and stories that convey so much about Montana history and the historic properties that reflect its culture and identity.

IMG_0464Let’s begin with the place so often in the news lately, the Montana Development Center, the location of the historic Montana Deaf and Dumb Asylum (1897-1898), a stately red brick Renaissance Revival-style building listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.  Since the building was being considered for listing, it was a top priority for the state historic preservation plan work in 1984.  It remains in need of a new future 30-plus

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A photo of the asylum from 2007

years later.  The architect was John C. Paulsen, who then served as the State Architect.  The building represents an early effort by the state to provide for its citizens, and the presence of the institution in Boulder shaped that town’s history for the next 120 years.

Boulder is a place of impressive public buildings.  The Jefferson County Courthouse (1888-89) is another piece of Victorian architecture, in the Dichardsonian Romanesque style, again by John K. Paulsen.  It was listed in the National Register in 1980.

IMG_0475Another public institution once found in numbers across Montana but now found only in a few places is the high school dormitory, for students who spent the week in town rather than attempting to travel the distances between home and the high school on a daily basis.  Boulder still has its high school dormitory from the 1920s, converted long ago into apartments.

Boulder schools dorm

Indeed the importance of schools to not only the state’s history of education but the mere survival of communities has been pinpointed by various state preservation groups and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Jefferson County still has many significant surviving school buildings from the early 20th century, none of which have been listed yet in the National Register.

Carter school, 1916, Montana City School

Carter School, 1916, Montana City

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Clancy School, now the Jefferson County Museum

Basin School, Jefferson Co

Basin school, still in use

Caldwell school

Caldwell school, one of the few buildings left in this old railroad town

Whitehall still has its impressive Gothic style gymnasium from the 1920s while the school itself shows how this part of the county has gained in population since 1985.

Whitehall school, Jefferson CoCommunity halls represent another theme found in the Montana landscape; Jefferson County has an excellent example in its 1911 community hall in Clancy, which now serves as the local library.  Likewise, fraternal lodges played a major role as community centers in early Montana history–the stone masonry of the two-story Boulder Basin Masonic Lodge makes an impressive Main Street statement.

Irrigation and sugar beet cultivation are key 20th century agricultural themes, typically associated with eastern and central Montana.  Jefferson County tells that story too, in a different way, at Whitehall.  The irrigation ditches are everywhere and the tall concrete stack of the sugar refinery plant still looms over the town.

In 1917 Amalgamated Sugar Company, based in Utah, formed the Jefferson Valley Sugar Company and began to construct but did not finish a refinery at Whitehall.  The venture did not begin well, and the works were later sold to the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company in 1920, which never finished the plant but left the stack standing.  Nearby is Sugar Beet

Sugar Beet Row houses, Whitehall

Row, where hipped roof duplex residences typical of c. 1920 company towns are still lined up, and in use, although their exteriors have changed over the decades.

Ting's Bar, Jefferson City

Through many posts in this blog, I have identified those informal yet very important community centers found in urban neighborhoods and rural outposts across the state–bars and taverns.  Jefferson County has plenty of famous classic watering holes, such as Ting’s Bar in Jefferson City, the Windsor Bar in Boulder, or the Two Bit Bar in Whitehall, not forgetting Roper Lanes and Lounge in Whitehall.

Whitehall bowling and bar

Speaking of recreation, Jefferson County also has one of my favorite hot springs in all of the west, the Boulder Hot Springs along Montana Highway 69.  Here is a classic oasis of the early 20th century, complete in Spanish Revival style, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its rough worn exterior only hints at the marvel of its pool and experience of this place.

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Mining always has been part of Jefferson County’s livelihood with still active mines near Whitehall and at Wickes.  The county also has significant early remnants of the state’s

 

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The coke ovens above are from Wickes (L) and Alhambra (R) while the image directly above is of 21st century mining continuing at Wickes.

mining era, with still extant (but still threatened as well) charcoal kilns at Wickes (1881) and at Alhambra.  Naturally with the mining came railroads early to Jefferson County.  As you travel Interstate I-15 between Butte and Helena, you are generally following the route of the Montana Central, which connected the mines in Butte to the smelter in Great Falls, and a part of the abandoned roadbed can still be followed.

IMG_1033Another good example of the early railroad development is at Corbin, where a major ore concentrator operated by the Helena Mining and Reduction Company was located in the 1880s.  The concentrator handled 125 tons of ore every day. The concentrator is long gone but the foundations, while crumbling steadily, remain to convey its size and location.  The tall steel train trestle overlooks the town, a powerful reminder of the connection between the rails and mines. It is part of the historic Montana Central line, first built as a wood trestle in 1888 and then replaced with the steel structure found today in 1902.

Corbin sign and trestle

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Corbin concentrater site, Jefferson Co (46-21)

Corbin concentrator site, 1984

Corbin train trestle

The Northern Pacific Railroad and the Milwaukee Road were both active in the southern end of the county.  Along one stretch of the Jefferson River, which is followed by Montana Highway 2 (old U.S. Highway 10), you are actually traversing an ancient transportation route, created by the river, the railroads, and the federal highway. The Northern Pacific tracks are immediately next to the highway between the road and the Jefferson River; the Milwaukee corridor is on the opposite side of the river.

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The most famous remnant of Montana’s mining era is the ghost town at Elkhorn.  Of course the phrase ghost town is a brand name, not reality.  People still live in Elkhorn–indeed more now than when I last visited 25 years ago.  Another change is that the two primary landmarks of the town, Fraternity Hall and Gilliam Hall, have become a pocket state park, and are in better preservation shape than in the past.

IMG_0410Fraternity Hall was famous at the time of the state historic preservation plan survey as one of the best architectural examples of false front, Italianate style-influenced commercial buildings in the northern Rockies.  The two photos below, one from 1985 and the other from 2013, show how its preservation has been enhanced under state guardianship. Its projecting bay and balcony are outstanding examples of the craftsmanship found in the vernacular architecture of the boom towns.

The adjacent Gillian Hall is also an important building, not as architecturally ornate as Fraternity Hall, but typical of mining town entertainment houses with bars and food on the first floor, and a dance hall on the second floor.

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While the state park properties dominate what remains at Elkhorn, it is the general unplanned, ramshackle appearance and arrangement of the town that conveys a bit of what these bustling places were like over 130 years ago–residences and businesses alike thrown up quickly because everyone wanted to make their pile and then move on.

Elkhorn is not the only place of compelling vernacular architecture.  Visible along Interstate I-15 is a remarkable set of log ranch buildings near Elk Park, once a major dairy center serving Butte during the 1st half of the twentieth century. John and Rudy Parini constructed the gambrel-roof log barn, to expand production available from an earlier log barn by their father, in c. 1929.  The Parini ranch ever since has been a landmark for travelers between Butte and Helena.

Nearby is another frame dairy barn from the 1920s, constructed and operated by brothers George and William Francine.  The barns are powerful artifacts of the interplay between urban development and agricultural innovation in Jefferson County in the 20th century.

IMG_1042The historic barn at the Jefferson Valley Museum is the Brooke Barn from 1914, another example of the dairy production then taking place in this part of Montana as the same time that the mines were booming in nearby Butte.Jefferson Valley museum, WhitehallThe adjacent rodeo grounds at Whitehall host in late July the Whitehall Bucking Horse Futurity competition and fair.

Whitehall rodeo groundsThe bucking horse competition is not the only major summer event in the county.  Along the old federal highway and the Jefferson River at Cardwell, music promoters took a historic highway truss bridge, converted it into a stage, and have been hosting the Headwaters Country Jam, the state’s biggest country music festival–a bit of Nashville every June in Montana:  I have to love it.

IMG_0348 Here is adaptive reuse at perhaps its ingenious best, and successful adaptive reuse projects are another constant theme found across Montana.  Whitehall itself has a second example in the conversion of a 1920s Craftsman-style building on Legion Avenue (old U.S. Highway 10).  Indeed, although travelers do not use the older federal highway much since the construction of the interstate, Whitehall has several good examples of roadside architecture–yes, another blog theme–along Legion Avenue, such as a Art Moderne-styled automobile dealership and a classic 1950s motel, complete with flashing neon sign.

West of Whitehall is another 20th century roadside attraction, Lewis and Clark Caverns, a property with one of the most interesting conservation histories in the nation.  It began as a privately developed site and then between 1908 and 1911 it became the Lewis and Clark Cavern National Monument during the administration of President William Howard Taft.  Federal authorities believed that the caverns had a direct connection to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  The Corps of Discovery camped nearby on July 31, 1805, but had no direct association with the caverns.  A portion of their route is within the park’s boundaries.

Lewis and Clark caverns visitor center, MT 2During the mid-1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the park with new trails in the caverns; state and local authorities wanted more site development since the park stood along U.S. Highway 10, with potential tourism growth.  In 1937-38, the federal government transferred the national monument to state control and in 1938 state officials launched Lewis and Clark Caverns as Montana’s first state park.  Since my work 30 years ago, the state has re-energized the park with a new visitor center and interpretive exhibits that better convey the caverns’ significance, especially to Native Americans who had used the place centuries before Lewis and Clark passed nearby.

Faith, and the persistence of early churches across rural Montana, is perhaps the most appropriate last theme to explore in Jefferson County.  St. John the Evangelist (1880-1881) dominates the landscape of the Boulder Valley, along Montana Highway 69, like few other buildings.  This straightforward statement of faith in a frame Gothic styled building, complete with a historic cemetery at the back, is a reminder of the early Catholic settlers of the valley, and how diversity is yet another reality of the Montana experience.

Willow Creek: end of the line

IMG_6775Willow Creek was the end of the line for both the Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Road railroads as they vied for dominance in turn of the 20th century western Gallatin County.  The Northern Pacific came first with its spur line to Butte in the late 1880s then the Milwaukee arrived c. 1908.  Both used the same corridor, along what is now called the Old Yellowstone Trail on some maps; the Willow Creek Road (MT 287) on others.  It was a route that dated to 1864–the town cemetery, according to lore, dates to that year and Willow Creek has had a post office since 1867.

To find Willow Creek you follow the tracks and go south, entering one of the most beautiful rural landscapes left in the county. At the head of town is a historic early 20th century grain elevator on the old Northern Pacific line.

From there the old Yellowstone Trail highway curves into the town itself, creating a streetscape that takes you back 80 years at least, when Willow Creek was full of promise as a two-line town.

Gallatin Co Willow Creek

Two important commercial landmarks face each other.  First is the frame, false front early 20th century Willow Creek Cafe and Saloon, a local establishment that I cannot recommend enough.  It is the social heartbeat of the town.

IMG_6771Across the street is the “employment center,” the Willow Creek Tool and Technology which sells its wares across the west out of its brick building from the 1910s. (Note the faded advertising sign that once greeted travelers on the Yellowstone Trail highway.)

IMG_6762The cultural side of Willow Creek is represented by several places: homes and galleries of different artists, a monthly arts festival in the summer, and two special buildings from the 1910s.  The Stateler Memorial Methodist Church, c. 1915, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built from rusticated concrete blocks (from the cement factory at Three Forks) designed to resemble stone masonry, the church building is home to one of the oldest congregations (1864) in the Methodist Church in Montana.  The Gothic Revival-styled sanctuary is named in honor of its founding minister Learner B. Stateler.

IMG_6770Nearby is another crucial landmark for any rural Montana community–the local school.  The Willow Creek School is an excellent example of the standardized, somewhat Craftsman-styled designs used for rural Montana schools in the 1910s. Two stories of classrooms, sitting on a full basement, was a large school for its time, another reflection of the hopes of the homesteading era.

Gallatin Co Willow Creek school 3Additions in form of a gym and added rooms had come to the north and the school and its lot is the town’s community center. Although so close to Three Forks, the school kept its

enrollment enough to maintain a Class C status in athletics and its tiny football field and track, with a beautiful view of the Tobacco Root Mountains, might be one of the most scenic athletic field spots in the west. No wonder that residents do what they can to keep the school and the town alive in an era of great change in Gallatin County.

Gallatin Co Willow Creek football field 1

 

 

 

Montana’s Three Forks, Part 2

Gallatin Co Three Forks 6Three Forks, Montana, is unique in how competing railroads shaped this one small town between the 2008 and 2010.  The last post discussed how the Milwaukee Road came first, and its landmark Sacajawea Inn stands at the north end of the town’s main street.  On the east side–see the Google Map below–became the domain of the Northern Pacific Railroad and its spur line to the copper kingdom of Butte

Gallatin Co Three Forks bank/ Masonic temple

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Between the two railroads, Three Forks grew rapidly in the second decade of the 20th century during the homesteading boom.  Two places that help you decode the town’s history and built environment.  At the south end of Main Street is the Headwaters Heritage Museum, which is located in the National Register-listed Three Valleys Bank, a Romanesque Revival-styled two-story brick building from 1910, when John Q. Adams started the town. The museum opened in 1982–I can recall its beginnings as place of pride and energy, now it maintains a fine local history collection.

Other National Register properties from the 1910s help to tell the town’s story as they remain in use creating new futures in the 21st century.  These include the classical styled Ruby Theater of 1916, listed in 1982, and the 1913 United Methodist Church, later damaged during a 1925 earthquake but restored by the congregation to its Gothic Revival style in 1993.  All of these buildings speak to town hopes and dreams during the homesteading boom as much as the slowly deteriorating grain elevators at the north end, not listed in the National Register, speak to what happened to those dreams in the 1920s and 1930s.

You can also explore the story of transportation and Three Forks at a new visitor center facility–at least new to this traveler in 2015–at you enter the town from the north.

It is just north of the Sacajawea Hotel and the town’s historic Milwaukee Road depot, which is now a restaurant and casino.  The visitor center emphasizes the Milwaukee story, especially how the railroad viewed the town as its first gateway to Yellowstone.

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The planned centerpiece of the visitor center is the moved railroad depot from Trident, a planned company town from 1908 that produced cement from the abundant resources along the river.  The community is raising money for its restoration and adaptive reuse as a heritage center.  The original company name was the Three Forks Portland Cement

IMG_6785Company. In 1914  Charles Botcher bought the plant, renamed it the Ideal Cement Company and kept it in business under that name until the 1980s.

Little remains of Trident today, except for its concrete roads that help to mark the blocks of the town, although no houses remain today.  They were still there into the 1990s but later company owners, who still produce cement from the plant, and ship it by railroad across the region, tore them down early in this century.  Trident is now a fascinating remnant, a historical archaeology site, and its depot in Three Forks will probably become the place to tell that story into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Logan: A forgotten railroad junction in Gallatin County

Gallatin Co Logan Gallatin RiverLocated between the Gallatin River and Interstate I-90, Logan is a forgotten yet still historically significant railroad junction on the Northern Pacific Railroad.  Established c.

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1890 the place was first known as Canyon House, for early settlers, and then named Logan in honor of a family who owned land there.

Gallatin Co Logan store

The original Canyon House name has reappeared in Logan since my last visit in 1985 with the name given to this conversion of an old store/hotel to apartments

Logan became the place where Northern Pacific trains went one of two ways:  crossing the river and heading to the recently established state capitol of Helena or staying south of the river and heading to the copper mines at Butte.

In time the railroad company developed Logan as a mini-division point with a roundhouse, other railroad support buildings, and offices.  Today none of that remains–the roundhouse burned during the depression and was not replaced–but the tracks still dominate all views of the town.

One key community building that documents the early 20th century prominence of Logan is the two-story brick school.  It has been closed since my last visit in the 1980s but was converted into private use, and was for sale when I stopped in 1985.  Its size, brick construction, and classic progressive school architecture design speaks to the

 

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The school (far left) dominates the town’s built environment as you approach on old U.S. 10 from the west

promise that residents held for the town c. 1920. A historic church building also exists from the founding decades of Logan.  It too is now closed and faces an uncertain future.

As the various images of the railroad corridor indicates, Logan is still a busy place for train traffic but its population never rebounded after the depression decade.  Train traffic during World War II boosted local fortunes a bit–and the town’s large depot served hundreds of customers a day into the late 1940s. But once the Northern Pacific switched to diesel, coal stops like Logan was no longer necessary.  When I visited in 2015 I expected to find little to nothing but the tracks–or much more than I ever expected if the boom that had overwhelmed Belgrade and was consuming Manhattan had reached Logan.  A bit of whimsy instead has come into Logan, along with one of the best bar/steakhouses in this region:  the aptly named Land of Magic Dinner Club–the type of Montana oasis you cannot get enough of.

Railroad Corridors in western Gallatin County

Gallatin County is one of the oldest white settlement landscapes in Montana. The Bozeman Trail to the western gold fields introduced settlers from the 1860s to 1880 to the potentially rich land of the Gallatin Valley.  Then the Northern Pacific Railroad opened the heart of the valley to development as the tracks crossed the Bozeman Pass in the early 1880s.

Gallatin Co Manhattan 5Manhattan was not originally Manhattan, but named Moreland, as discussed in an earlier blog about the effort to build a barley empire in this part of Gallatin County at the turn of the century by the Manhattan Malting Company and its industrial works here and in Bozeman.  But the existing railroad corridor, along with the surviving one- and two-

Gallatin Co Manhattan rr corridor

story commercial buildings facing the tracks (and old U.S. Highway 10), always made a drive through Manhattan a pleasant diversion as I crisscrossed Montana in 1984-1985. The town has a strong 1920s feel, in large part because of an earthquake that destroyed a good bit of the town’s original buildings in 1925.

Manhattan has changed significantly over 30 years–as the storefronts above suggest–just not to the degree of Belgrade.  But you wonder if its time is not coming.  From 1980 to 1990–the years which I visited the town the most–its population barely ticked up from 988 to 1032.  In the 25 years since the population has expanded to an estimated 1600.

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Gallatin Co Manhattan  garageThe historic auto garage from c. 1920 above is one of the most significant landmarks left upon old U.S. 10, and I am glad it is still used for its original function in the 21st century.

Community landmarks-fraternal lodges, the wonderful 1960s modernism of the Manhattan public school, and historic church buildings add character and a sense of stability to Manhattan.

Different variations on the Bungalow style characterize the town’s historic neighborhood. Buildings, like along old U.S. 10, have changed but still that sense of the early 20th century comes strongly across as you walk along Manhattan’s sidewalks.

At the same time, the new face of Manhattan is appearing in developments just south of the railroad corridor and in new construction facing the tracks.  Both buildings “fit” into the town but stylistically and in materials belong more to the 21st century American suburb, especially when compared to the remaining vernacular commercial buildings.

Is Manhattan at a crossroads between its long history as a minor symmetrical-plan town along the Northern Pacific Railroad and its new place as one of the surrounding rural suburbs of the Bozeman area?  Probably.

Gallatin Co Manhattan RR crossingBut it has many positives in place to keep its character yet change with the times.  Many residents are using historic buildings for their businesses and trades.  Others are clearly committed to the historic residential area–you can’t help but be impressed by the town’s well-kept historic homes and well-maintained yards and public areas.

Like at Belgrade, historic preservation needs to have a greater focus here.  Nothing in the town is listed in the National Register but as these photos suggest, certainly there is National Register potential in this town.

 

 

 

 

U.S. 89 and the Blackfeet Reservation

2011 US 89 to Glacier Canon Sureshot 032U.S. Highway 89 enters the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on its southern border, heading for its junction with U.S. Highway 2 and the reservation center of Browning.  Before the junction, you cross the historic Two Medicine River, a historic corridor for the Blackfeet.  To the west of the river crossing is a highway historical marker for Coldfeet School, a one-

Glacier Co US 87 school markerroom school (not extant) built for Blackfeet children in 1933 during the New Deal. To the east of the highway river crossing, however, was one of the earliest schools (1889) on the reservation, the Holy Family Catholic

Mission. As the two photos above show, the massive nature of the historic built environment caught my eye like few places in Montana in 1985.  A few years later, I wrote an article titled “Acculturation By Design,” which looked at both Holy Family and St. Peter’s missions in Montana, for the “Great Plains Quarterly.” It discussed how the buildings were part of the

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turn-of-the-century white acculturation process–place Native American children in a structured, industrial-like environment then they could be more easily molded into “farmers.” It didn’t work the way the missionaries predicted and in the 1940s the mission was closed.  Forty years later I wondered about the future of the old dormitories that surrounded the mission chapel.

Glacier Co Holy Family Mission 7 – Version 2This panorama of the mission site today shows that neither of the dormitories remain, although the historic frame barn and mill still stand (to the left) while the chapel is still a dominating element, and has been incorporated into present-day Blackfeet culture. It is in excellent shape.

IMG_9293Another change is that the Blackfeet provide public interpretation of the site, through their own historical markers, which is extended into the adjacent historic cemetery, one of the most somber places in the region.  The old mission is now part of the reservation’s heritage tourism effort.

Glacier Co Holy Family Mission 1Glacier Co Holy Family Mission 6 – Version 2Returning to U.S. 89 and heading northwest, you head to the junction of U.S. Highway 2 and the town of Browning.  The town is a center for reservation education, as shown by the new campus for the Blackfeet Community College.

Glacier Co Browning Blackfeet community collegeHere too is another historic Catholic Church, the Little Flower Catholic Church, built in 1931, from locally available stone in a Gothic Revival style.  The congregation supports a small Catholic school next door.

Glacier Co Browning Little Flower Catholic ChurchThe Browning fairgrounds is an important Blackfeet recreation and cultural center, with this recent installation again providing public interpretation of Blackfeet culture.

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Across the street is the Museum of the Plains Indian, which the Indians Arts and Crafts Board of the U.S. Department of Interior established in 1941.  The museum and craft center was located at the junction of U.S. 2

Glacier Co Browning museum of plains indians 2and U.S. 89, heading north.  It created an appropriate, respectful way for the increasing number of auto tourists headed to Glacier National Park to learn about the Blackfeet in particular and Plains Indian culture in general.  The famous mid-20th century anthropologist, John Ewers, had worked tribes to create the museum’s initial exhibits and collections. In the 21st century, the Blackfeet have developed additional institutions to take advantage of tourism through the nearby Glacier Peaks casino and hotel, a complex that has developed from 2011 to 2015.

Glacier Co Browning casino 1These new buildings are part of a long-term continuum of tourism in Browning, starting with this old concrete tipi, built originally as a gas station in 1934 and now converted into a coffee shop.  And the Blackfeet

Glacier Co Browning tipi 1

Glacier Co BrowningTrading Post is a business found in all sorts of national park gateways–the classic place to get cheap souvenirs and t-shirts of all types, not to mention moccasins and all of the stereotypical material culture of Native American tourism in our country.

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To finish, for now, this look at U.S. Highway 89, we will end with spectacular architecture of the St. Mary’s Visitor Center at Glacier National Park, where the historic Going-to-the-Sun Highway junctions with U.S. 89. The center, built in 1964 from designs by Cecil Doty and the architectural firm of Brinkman and Lenon, is one of the state’s best examples of “Mission 66 modernism” associated with the National Park Service.  What I was particularly pleased to encounter in this decade are the new exhibits within the visitor center which finally give the Blackfeet

IMG_0673the primary voice on what the park means, and how visitors can think about it today.  The Native American presence on U.S. Highway 89 today is much more evident, with much more public interpretation, than in my travels 30 years ago.