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.

Arriving in Montana, 1981

It is difficult to believe that it has been 39 years since I first arrived in the Big Sky Country. I came with my newlywed wife’s job. She had been born in Billings; her dad was an oil geologist. She had lived everywhere but was eager to start her new position with the Montana Historical Society.

You could say I was being taken for a ride: exactly the sentiments of my family and friends in Tennessee. But what a ride it turned out to be. I was eager to see this land that I had read about—not studied; I was not then a “western” historian. That tag only came as I learned from the people, communities and landscape of Montana.

The Big Sky floored me as did the sense of true ruralness. My family never cared one whit my comment, hey Tennessee doesn’t have rural spaces compared to Montana. (They got it once they visited.)

Wildlife dominated here, back in 1981, adding to the sense of the wild, the untamed. And I knew that history was here. Like every other white schoolboy I had heard of and read about George Armstrong Custer. The first place I stopped in Montana was then known as the Custer Battlefield National Monument. Like hundreds of thousands before, I took my first image of a Montana historic site—the last stand hill.

Soon thereafter we arrived in Helena, moving into a second floor apartment in a historic brownstone, the Chessman Flats from the late nineteenth century. The vernacular Victorian style of the building was my second Montana historic site. Little did I know that the vernacular, the commonplace of western history, rather than the well worn stories of old, would capture my eye, and chart a course I never had imagined possible.

Castle City in 1985

Castle City is another compelling historic ghost town in Meagher County. The landowners have been gracious stewards and you can see several buildings from it’s heyday as a silver mining boom town in the late 19th century, when the population for a few months reached well over a thousand.

These images are from 1985, made during my study of the Montana landscape for the state historic preservation plan. I will use a couple as part of my opening presentation about central Montana, then and now, before the field study trips I’d the Montana Preservation Alliance Roadshow, scheduled for White Sulphur Springs in June 10-12, 2020.

I hope to visit Castle, if only for a few moments in the summer of 2020 to see what remains of this forgotten landmark.

Glendive in 1988: historic homes

I was always impressed with the range of late nineteenth century to mid-20th century homes in Glendive. During my 1988 visit I took several photos of the historic district as a small town example of American domestic architecture.

Bungalows of all types: note the rustic stone work at 607 N. Meade (above)

Or the Tudor-style stick work detail of 808 N. Meade (above) and at 802 N. Meade (below) and 907 N. Kendrick (second below) and 822 N.Kendrick (third below).

I really like the Craftsman style of the bungalow at 710 N. Meade (below) and then the classical entrance to the bungalow at 615 N. Meade (second below).

Classic style is found at several other Glendive homes such as 621 N. Meade (below) and at 503 N. Kendrick (second below).

The earlier homes in the district are mostly Victorian in style and form, like the dwellings at 707 N. Meade (below) and 709 N. Kendrick (second below), the most Queen Anne style dwelling that I recorded in 1988 in Glendive.

But not everything is what you would expect in historic Glendive. At 817 N. Kendrick is an understated Spanish Colonial Revival house and then just a few houses away is a quirky but delightful mid-century modern design at 802 N. Kendrick (second below), my fav house of all I visited in 1988.

Eastern Montana County Seats: Scobey

Daniels Co Scobey signs

For whatever reason, readers of Montana’s Historic Landscapes have been very interested in Daniels County, way up in the northeast corner of the state.  In previous posts I have discussed the Daniels County Courthouse–one of my favorites–the county’s historic rural schools and Flaxville, one of the most interesting tiny towns left from the homesteading era in all of eastern Montana.

Daniels Co Scobey 5

Today I want to look back at Scobey, the seat of Daniels County, which was established in 1920 at the end of the homesteading era.  Sometimes it is referred to as the most isolated county seat in America.  But whatever its isolation may be, I found Scobey a relaxing, interesting place, and actually took many images.  But outside of the courthouse, schools, the fairgrounds, and wonderful Pioneer Museum, I did not share much with the readers.  This post changes that.

Daniels Co Scobey 5 libraryThe county library, above, is small but busy, a reminder of how important these public buildings can be.  About 5 years ago, the time of my last visit, Scobey still had its own medical center, below, as well as a distinctive post office, different from many in the region due to its modernist style.

Daniels Co Scobey hospital

Daniels Co Scobey post office

Much of its past remains, and remains in use.  The railroad corridor had changed–the passenger depot was gone, but historic grain elevators still mark how Scobey was a major grain shipping point for much of the 20th century.

Daniels Co Scobey elevators 2

Historic churches have left deep roots in Scobey.  Below are the Scobey United Methodist Church, the Scobey Lutheran Church (which has a wonderful Gothic altar), and St. Bonitus Catholic Church, another example of mid-century modern in the Catholic church buildings of Eastern Montana.

Daniels Co Scobey Methodist

Daniels Co Scobey Lutheran

Daniels Co Scobey St Philip Bonitus

The residential area has plenty of vernacular-styled 20th century homes, most from the first half of the century.  I particularly liked the next two bungalows on Timmons Street.

Daniels Co Scobey Timmons St

Daniels Co Scobey timmons street

Five years ago the business district had clearly weathered the 2007-2008 recession and lots of stores and bars were open, anchored by Independence Bank, another example of 1960s-1970s modern commercial style in Scobey.

Businesses from the first decade of settlement also were part of the “downtown” fabric, such as this historic two-story Masonic Hall and the Pioneer Hotel, which once served as a first stop for homesteaders upon their arrival in Scobey.

Daniels Co Scobey 22

Daniels Co Scobey Pioneer Hotel

There is a persistence in Scobey that is admirable.  The Daniel County Leader, the local newspaper, also has weathered the storm of media change in the 21st century and stands in the heart of town, still undoubtedly serving as a community communication center.

Daniels Co Scobey 9

How I missed these properties in my initial post–well I can’t explain that.  I am sure I had a good reason 5 years ago. But what is really inexplicable to me is why I did not share more of my photos from the Scobey School–especially its football and track field below–

Daniels Co Scobey 1 football

along with more interior images from the Daniels County Courthouse, the one building in Scobey that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Here you see the courthouse’s long hallway (with its National Register sign in the corner), the records vault, the courtroom’s jury box, and the jury room.  Just walking into this place takes me to the beginning years of Daniels County.

Daniels Co Scobey courthouse interior

Daniels Co Scobey courthouse interior 1

Daniels Co Scobey courthouse interior 4

Daniels Co Scobey courthouse interior jury room

One property type many people ask about are cemeteries.  Unfortunately I did not have the time to record every tombstone in these places–another time, perhaps.  But I can add to the blog additional images from the Daniels County Cemetery, which lies outside of Scobey.  These images hardly cover everything but they do document what a special place this tiny county seat is, for residents and for visitors willing to go exploring.

Daniels Co Scobey Cemetery

Daniels Co Scobey cemetery 6

Daniels Co Scobey cemetery 4

Daniels Co Scobey Cemetery 3

Daniels Co Scobey cemetery 1

 

An end of the century trip to Central Montana

The vast majority of my effort to document and think about the historic landscapes of Montana lie with two time periods, 1984-85 and 2012-16. But in between those two focused periods, other projects at the Western Heritage Center in Billings brought me back to the Big Sky Country. Almost always I found a way to carve out a couple of additional days to get away from the museum and study the many layers of history, and change, in the landscape by taking black and white images as I had in 1984-85. One such trip came in 1999, at the end of the 20th century.

In Billings itself I marveled at the changes that historic preservation was bringing to the Minnesota Avenue district. The creation of an “Internet cafe” (remember those?) in the McCormick Block was a guaranteed stop.

But my real goal was to jet up highways 191 and 80 to end up in Fort Benton. Along the way I had to stop at Moore, one of my favorite Central Montana railroad towns, and home to a evocative set of grain elevators.

Then a stop for lunch at the Geraldine bar and the recently restored Geraldine depot, along a historic spur of the Milwaukee Road. I have always loved a stop in this plains country town and this day was especially memorable as residents showed off what they had accomplished in the restoration. Another historic preservation plus!

Then it was Fort Benton, a National jewel seemingly only appreciated by locals, who faced an often overwhelming task for preserving and finding sustainable new uses for the riverfront buildings.

It was exciting to see the recent goal that the community eagerly discussed in 1984–rebuilding the historic fort.

A new era for public interpretation of the northern fur trade would soon open in the new century: what a change from 1984.

I beat a quick retreat back to the south, following the old Manitoba Road route along the Missouri and US Highway 87 and back via highway 89 to the Yellowstone Valley. I had to pay a quick tribute to Big Timber, and grab a brew at the Big Timber

Bar. The long Main Street in Big Timber was obviously changing–new residents and new businesses. Little did I know how much change would come in the new century.

One last detour came on the drive to see if the absolutely spectacular stone craftsmanship of the Absarokee school remained in place–it did, and still does.

My work in Tennessee had really focused in the late 1990s on historic schools: few matched the distinctive design of Absarokee. I had to see it again.

Like most trips in the 1990s to Billings I ended up in Laurel–I always felt this railroad town had a bigger part in the history of Yellowstone County than

generally accepted. The photos I took in 1999 are now striking– had any place in the valley changed more than Laurel in the 21st century?

Roundup Montana: A town with a plan and on the move

One of the most exciting results of my recent work on the historic landscape of Montana is how many residents contact me with developments–both good and bad but mostly good–as they use their past and historic built environments to build new futures for their families and community.  Such an update just arrived last week from Roundup, the seat of Musselshell County.

roundup schoolA resident reported on the towns decision to join the Main Street program and how a community partnership effort had been formed to guide the process, assuring me that the wonderful historic Roundup school would find a new future as a multi-purpose and use facility.  That update has spurred me to share more images from this distinctive Montana town that I have enjoyed visiting for over 30 years.

Roundup stem of TAs I discussed in my earlier large posting on Roundup, it is both a railroad town on the historic mainline of the Milwaukee Road and a highway town, with a four-lane Main Street defining the commercial district. It is less than a hour’s drive north of Billings, Montana’s largest urban area.  But nestled at the junction of U.S. 12 and U.S. 87, Roundup is a totally different world from booming Billings.

Roundup lodgeRoundup store  You see the difference if how false frame stores and lodge buildings from the first years of the town’s beginnings still stand, and how the commercial district is pockmarked with more stately early 20th century brick commercial blocks, whether two stories high or a mere one-story. Yet the architectural details tell you the community had ambitions.  It

roundup 119 Main

was just that hard times came in the 1920s and stayed awhile, despite the best efforts of New Deal reformers who helped to fund the county’s magnificent Art Deco-inspired Musselshell County Courthouse at the end of the depression decade,

roundup courthouse

The bankruptcy of the Milwaukee Road in the early 1980s did not help recovery, and it was soon after that I found myself in Roundup for the first time in 1984.

roundup elevatorI found a place then, and still today, that was proud of its past and of its community.  I visited and spoke at the county museum, which was housed in the old Catholic school and included one of county’s first homestead cabins moved to the school grounds. The nearby town park and fairgrounds (covered in an earlier post) helped to highlight just how beautiful the Musselshell River valley was at Roundup.

Roundup museum

Roundup river

Community pride was evident in the well-kept homes of the downtown neighborhood, and I have already posted on the architecturally important modernist Catholic church.

roundup jailThen the public buildings–the school, the courthouse, and even the classically tinged county jail shown above–added to the town’s impressive heritage assets. Of course some buildings I ignored in the 1980s but find compelling today–like in the riverstone lined posts of the modernist Wells Fargo Bank, and the effective and efficient look of city hall.

roundup bank

 

roundup City Hall

Yes when you take a close look at Roundup–the possibilities are there, as the new community partnership effort proves.  I can’t help but encourage this grassroots effort.  Good job Roundup, and I will be there soon enough to grab a float at the A&W and explore how a community moves forward with their impressive past as a foundation.

roundup A&W drive in