Dutton, a country town with modern monuments

2011 MT Pondera County Dutton Mike's tavern 017At first glance, Dutton is like many northern plains railroad towns, located on the Great Northern Railway spur line between Shelby and Great Falls.  The false front of Mike’s Tavern, then other plain, functional one-story buildings–we have seen hundreds of similar scenes across the Big Sky Country.

2011 MT Pondera County Dutton modern school 023Then, suddenly, there is the cool mid-century modernism of the Dutton-Brady School (Brady is another neighboring railroad town), a style also embraced by the Bethany Lutheran Church.

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But neither of these buildings prepare you for the Dutton State Bank, perhaps the best small town modernist buildings in Montana.

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Anytime I have been in this part of Montana over the last 30 years, I have stopped to see if the Dutton bank was (1) still in business (times have been difficult for small banks to say the least) and (2) if the building had changed in a major way.  In the last 30 years, a small addition has been made to the rear of the building, but all other character defining features remain, especially the “wheat-themed” sign.  It lets anyone know that while the railroad provides the transportation, it is wheat that drives the local economy,  What a wonderful, fun commercial building.

 

Eureka!! It’s a Lincoln County Town

Flathead Co Eureka MT hwy marker

Nestled within the Tobacco Valley of northern Lincoln County is the town of Eureka, which serves as a northern gateway into Montana along U.S. Highway 93.  I first encountered the town in 1982, as I returned from a jaunt into Alberta, and immediately thought here is a classic linear town plan, a landscape created by a spur line of the Great Northern Railway.

Flathead Co Eureka streetscapeAs I would come to find out, on two return trips here in 1984, the town was much more than that, it was a true bordertown between two nations and two cultures.  The two trips came about from, first, a question about a public building’s eligibility for the National Register, and, second, the fieldwork for the state historic preservation plan, where such obvious landmarks as the National Hotel and Eureka passenger depot were noted.  Thirty

Flathead Co Eureka National Hotel 1907

Flathead Co Eureka GN depot 2years later I was pleased to see the National Hotel in much better condition but dismayed to see the Great Northern passenger station–a classic example of its early 20th century standardized designs–is far worse condition that it had been in 1984.

Flathead Co Eureka GN depotOtherwise, Eureka has done an impressive job of holding together its historic core of downtown one and two-story commercial buildings.  In 1995, owners had the Farmers and Merchants State Bank, built in 1907, placed in the National Register.  Walking the town, however, you see the potential of a historic district of this turn of the 20th century place.

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Oh yeah, what about that second reason for two trips in 1984?  That would be the Eureka Community Hall, one of the last public buildings constructed by the Works Progress Administration in Montana in 1942.

Flathead Co Eureka WPA community hall 2Located on a hill perched over the town, the building was obviously a landmark–but in 1984 it also was just 42 years old, and that meant it needed to have exceptional significance to the local community to merit listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  Eureka had been a logging community, and the depression hit hard.  The new building not only reflected community pride but also local craftsmanship, and it became a

img_8239foundation for community resurgence in the decades to come.  The building was listed in 1985, and was the first to have my name attached to it, working with Sally Steward of the local historical society.  But credit has to go to Pat Bick and especially Marcella Sherfy of the State Historic Preservation Office for urging me to take it on, and to guide me through the maze of the National Register process. Today, it has experienced an adaptive reuse and serves as a rustic log furniture store.

Flathead Co Eureka WPA community hall 4During those visits in 1984 I also held a public meeting in Eureka for the state historic preservation plan, where I learned about the Tobacco Valley Historical Society and its efforts to preserve buildings destined for the chopping block through its museum village on the southern edge of town. Here the community gathered the Great Northern depot (1903) of Rexford, the same town’s 1926 Catholic Church, the Mt. Roberts lookout tower, the Fewkes Store, and a U.S. Forest Service big Creek Cabin from 1926.

But thirty years later I found new public interpretation not just in the museum village but in the town itself, as Eureka introduced visitors to its history and setting and also told its

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border story of such fascinating people as Joseph Peltier, who built the first dwelling at the town site in 1891, and especially the cross-border entrepreneur Sophie Morigeau, who was trading in the area as early as 1863.

The Peltier log dwellings came within a year of each other, 1891 and 1892, and their size, finish, and log notching speak to the region’s rapid development.  His 1891 low pitched roof, v-notched cabin is typical, throughout the mountain west, of first homes–quickly constructed shelter.  The second house, with its hewn log exterior and crafted corner notching speaks to permanence.  The settler was here to stay in 1892.

Eureka has held its population steady over 30 years, just a few families over 1,000 residents, a sizable achievement considering the change in both railroading and logging over that time.  I think community pride and identity has to be contributors, because you see it everywhere, and I will close with two last examples.  The town’s library and nearby veterans park, and then the magnificent Art Deco-influenced high school–yet another New Deal era contribution to this special gateway town.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Falls Heritage Area, part one

IMG_9146Along the Missouri River is Paris Gibson Park, deep in the heart of Great Falls, Montana.  Gibson was one of the classic civic capitalists of the late 19th century who understood that as the community prospered he too would achieve this dream of building a great western empire, with his town of Great Falls as the center.  Almost 100 years after his death, in 2015, residents, preservationists, historians, and economic developers began discussions on establishing a heritage area, centered on Great Falls, but encompassing the Missouri River as the thread between the plains and mountains, that has shaped the region, and the nation, for hundreds of years.  I strongly endorse the discussion and will spend the next several posts exploring key resources in Cascade County that could serve as the foundation for a larger regional story.

Sand Coulee Coal Mine, Cascade Co (32-34)

Abandoned coal mine at Sand Coulee from the 1984 preservation survey.

Let’s begin with the coal deposits to the east of Great Falls, often forgotten places today but the exploitation of the easily accessible belts of coal not only provided the railroads crisscrossing the region with necessary coal but also left in their wake classic mining communities such as Belt, just off of US 87/Montana 200.

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Situated along a creek nestled within coulees of coal, Belt is a classic mining town, where all of the historic buildings are situated along the main road into town.  When I visited in 1984, Belt like most central Montana towns was no where near its population height of over 1100 residents during the homesteading boom, but its 800 plus residents in 1980 was a marked increase from recent decades and many of the town’s historic buildings were in use.

Belt, Cascade Co (32-23)

The Farmers and Miners State Bank said so much to me in 1984, and beyond its classical facade so in keeping with the Classical Revival style favored by state banks throughout the state.  It was the name:  farmers and miners–both walked the street and helped to make the town.

IMG_8860Thirty years later, Belt’s population had bottomed out, declining to under 600 by the time of the 2010 census.  But both times I have stopped by, in 2013 and 2015, the town has a sense of life about it, and hope.  The town’s two historic taverns, the Harvest Moon Tavern  and the Belt Creek Brew Pub, as well as the Black Diamond Bar and Supper Club attract visitors from nearby Great Falls and elsewhere, giving the place a sense of life at evenings and weekends.

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IMG_8868When planners talk about heritage areas, they often focus on the contributions of local entrepreneurs who take historic buildings, like the Pioneer above, and breathe new life into them.  Throughout small town Montana and urban commercial districts, new breweries and distilleries are creating such opportunities.

Cascade Co Belt Hardware 1896 Belt historic district NR  - Version 2

IMG_8859IMG_8862Belt has a range of historic buildings, mostly of vernacular two-part commercial style that speak strongly to the boom of 1900 to 1920.  The Victorian-styled cornice of the Belt Hardware Store (1896) speaks to the town’s origins.  The Knights of Pythias Lodge of 1916 has been restored as a community theater, another reason for visitors to stop and explore.IMG_9850.jpgThe result is a living cultural experience, since nothing in Belt is over-restored or phony feeling.  It is still a gritty, no frills place. That feel is complemented by the Belt museum, which is housed in a historic jail on road down into town and within sight on a railroad trestle, a reminder of what literally drove the town’s development, coal for the railroads.

IMG_8865During the 1984 survey, I gave the jail a good bit of attention since this stone building spoke to the craftsmanship of the era, the centrality of local government as the town developed, and the reality that this building was the only thing in Belt listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But in 2004 the state historic preservation office approved the Belt commercial historic district, and that designation has done much to drive the town’s recent revival.  Belt is just the first place that speaks to the promise of the Great Falls heritage area concept.