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.

 

 

Railroad Towns of the Clark’s Fork Valley

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The name Carbon County seemingly says it all–here is a Montana place that is mining country, and coal mining at all.  As earlier posts have discussed, coal mining is vitally important to the county’s history.  The county seat of Red Lodge was a major coal mining town. But even Red Lodge’s historic built environment speaks of another side of Carbon County’s history. Its tall shiny grain elevator along the railroad tracks remind us that Carbon County was also agricultural country, especially in the Clark’s Fork River Valley.Carbon Co Red Lodge elevator - Version 2

The next couple of posts will explore this part of Carbon County–the towns and places many tourists roar by as they seek out Red Lodge and the mountains beyond.  Some places were, and are, tiny but still changes over 30 years are apparent. Boyd, for instance.  In 1984 I caught this iconic view of past and present at the historic Boyd store. The building is still there but the facade is changed, to a rustic western style, one more to the liking of fast-moving tourists.

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Edgar is a place that admittedly I gave little attention to in 1984.  That was a mistake.  I missed a very interesting modernist-styled school, probably part of the county-wide WPA projects for schools in the late 1930s, along with another 1960s styled addition.  The school closed in 2009.

Carbon Co Edgar New Deal school 3 - Version 2

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Edgar still has its bar, located in a fine one-story brick building–but not much else from the decades when it mattered in the 20th century.

IMG_5589Fromberg is a different story.  Unlike so many country railroad towns in Montana, Fromberg has a strong sense of itself, both in the present and in the past.  Part of that has to be a reflection of its comparative stability.  Its population height came in 1940, with mover 500 residents.  Today the population remains over 400, just about a 100 person decrease over 70 years.  For Montana rural towns that is exceptional.  Indeed, from my first visit in 1984 to my last in 2015, the town had only lost a few families.

IMG_5598 IMG_5597Fromberg has its own museum; the centerpiece of which is its restored railroad depot, part of the old Northern Pacific spur line.  In true northern plains fashion, other historic buildings have been moved onto the museum grounds.  It’s not quite a building zoo but the buildings give the place enough presence to attract visitors speeding along the highway.

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Fromberg is a t-plan town, and all of the patterns of that type of town planning are apparent.  From the depot, running west, is the primary commercial street, with brick and fame buildings on either side.

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The historic Odd Fellows hall dominates the commercial district–its conversion into the town’s post office, rather than a historic building being lost so a modern standardized design post office could be put in its place, is an excellent example of historic preservation done right.  Indeed, Fromberg residents have embraced the possibilities of preservation and multiple buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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IMG_5618The mural about overland travel on the front of the Clark’s Fork Bank adds a touch of public interpretation.  If you want first-person stories, a stop at the Little Cowboy Bar (and “museum”, located at where the commercial district intersects with the highway, will be worth it.  It is one of the region’s classic watering holes.

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Fromberg also has documented its historic domestic architecture, raining from vernacular styled early 20th century homes to more stylish bungalows and even a couple of good examples of Dutch Colonial Revival style.

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The homes are clustered around two historic churches, the brick St. Joseph Catholic church and the frame Gothic-styled and National Register-listed Methodist Church, built in 1907-1908 by contractor Charles Darnell and the community.

Carbon Co Fromberg St. Joseph Catholic - Version 2   IMG_5615T

The historic Fromberg school, like its counterpart in Edgar, was part of the countywide program of building modern schools by the WPA during the New Deal.  Its still impressive facade conveys well the WPA’s sense of modernism, and it remains the town’s primary community center today.

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The High Prairie of Stillwater County

IMG_5914Stillwater County is one of the most beautiful spots in all of the Yellowstone Valley.   The parallel routes of the Yelllowstone River, the c. 1882 corridor of the Northern Pacific Railroad, the c. 1920 route of old U.S. Highway 10 and the modern marvel of Interstate I-90, shown above, define the county’s historic landscape for most residents, and travelers.

IMG_5894But running directly north from the county seat of Columbus  is a two-lane Montana highway that takes you to a totally different landscape, that of the high prairie of thousands of acres of wheat fields.  The road ends about 20 or so miles away at the town of Rapelje, a promising trade center when it was first established as a railroad branch in 1913

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during the homesteading boom but now one of the region’s small country towns, defined by its school, its church, its cafe, and its grain elevators.  Its set of four early 20th century elevators, standing as sentinels of settlement but also as just man-made landmarks in a vast landscape of seemingly nothingness, is a remarkable statement of the built environment of Montana’s homesteading era.

IMG_5900Businesses are few and far between–the handful of local residents and scattered ranch families take their business to Columbus, or a bit farther to Laurel and Billings.  There is still a town cafe–the Stockman Cafe–which is run as a volunteer cooperative for those passing through.  The past few summers a June bike race has become a popular fund-raiser for the cafe.

IMG_5907The town has retained two public buildings–its post office and its school, the pride of the community, which was built in 1920 and has since been renovated and expanded with a new wing to the rear of the historic building.  The school is home to the Rapelje Rockets.

IMG_5903With less than 100 residents in Rapelje, the school educates ranch kids living throughout the county’s high prairie, a role similar to the local post office, which despite threats last decade to close many of the state’s rural post offices, still serves this farming community.

IMG_5898The loss of population means that Rapelje has just two primary sacred places:  the Gothic-styled community church, built during the initial decade of settlement, and the town

IMG_5901cemetery, which is located south of the village on a rise that overlooks the open prairie in all four directions.  Of course, as Rapelje fades into the past, the cemetery grows in its number of headstones–a sign of what limits the future holds for this high prairie town.

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