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.

A turn into the Yellowstone Valley

Note: sorry about the delayed posts–real life, and work, interfered in October.

In the 1984 survey of Montana’s landscapes for the state historic preservation office, when I turned southward at the Bainville depot, a Great Northern Railway landmark now sadly missing from the landscape, I understood that a new phase of the project, and of the state, was opening up before my eyes as a cold February turned into March.
IMG_4077
I first encountered Fairview, at the tip of the Lower Yellowstone Valley and a product too of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project, which I addressed in earlier posts this fall.

Historic Hotel Albert, a 3-story brick relic of the homesteading boom

Historic Hotel Albert, a 3-story brick relic of the homesteading boom


Fairview then and even more so now was a place of transition between the agriculture made possible through the engineering marvel of the federal irrigation project and the slowly creeping westward push of the oil boom associated with North Dakota’s Williston Basin.
Ft. Gilbert highway marker, north of Fairview: note oil well to the right

Ft. Gilbert highway marker, north of Fairview: note oil well to the right


As I drove south along MT Highway 16, I passed through the Lower Yellowstone Project towns of Crane, Savage, Sidney, and Intake–discussed in earlier posts–and then hit Interstate I-94: the first interstate I had seen in weeks. But instead of turning into Glendive, the major town in the region, I veered to the east to explore Wibaux County.
IMG_1683
I knew a bit about Wibaux through the standard narratives of Montana history because here stood the ranch house of Pierre Wibaux, one of the most famous early cattlemen in Montana. The house had long served as a heritage tourism stop, even as a state welcome center since Wibaux is positioned a few miles west of the Montana-North Dakota border on I-94. In 1984 I knew that I wanted to visit the ranch house, and see the monument erected to Wibaux to commemorate his life and achievements.
IMG_0494
I also found, however, the heavy imprint left in the wake of the Northern Pacific Railroad as it headed into Montana and aimed for the Yellowstone Valley. For the next several weeks I explored this connection between rail and river that so defines the valley still today.
Underpass separating MT 16 from the Northern Pacific mainline at Wibaux

Underpass separating MT 16 from the Northern Pacific mainline at Wibaux


Wibaux is a town of bars–the Shamrock became my favorite in 1984, but the Rainbow Bar, housed in a building with more than a nod to Northern Pacific iconography, and the Stockman Bar were always worth a stop. Among newcomers in 2013, the Firelite was friendly but the big hit with locals and visitors was the Beaver Creek Brewery, a microbrewery way out on the plains of Montana.
IMG_0384IMG_0385
IMG_0387
IMG_0381
IMG_0383
With old historic hotels, business blocks, and bank buildings–one transformed into the town library–still intact, here is a commercial historic district just waiting one day to be placed into the National Register of Historic Places.
IMG_0382
Besides the bars, however, I enjoy Wibaux for its sense of a western ranch town, even in the face of the expanding reach of the Williston oil boom. There is the 1950s contemporary-styled Wibaux County Courthouse; the county fairgrounds south of town; and a bit farther south on MT 16 the historic Nunberg Ranch, which is listed in the National Register.
IMG_0483
IMG_0480
IMG_0479
Also listed in the National Register is the striking St. Peter’s Catholic Church, certainly a Gothic Revival landmark when the congregation built it on a high point west of the business district but then made into a western landmark with the addition of river stone in 1938. Here was a statement in the depression era: we are here and we are proud.
IMG_0493
But if you turn to the north, however, on the other side of the tracks is the life of the community, the school. And this image of the high school football field is perhaps the best way to close a post about Wibaux. Yep, it is small, determined, and still here, even when many think it should have blown away decades ago.
IMG_0496

Toole county, 1984 and now: Day Two

ImageToole County, second day: As I ventured out from Shelby into Toole County in February 1984 I followed old US Hwy 91 route (surpassed then as now by I-15)  into an early 20th century  oil patch region–the Kevin-Sunburst field–that had been discovered in the 1920s during Montana’s initial oil boom, but had dried up until the 1950s, although limited production remains even today.  In 1984 everyone in Helena thought that I should give the region a look for early resources associated with the oil industry.

Oilmont school had closed already in 1984 but the hipped roof frame building remained as a symbol of the boom days.  Thirty years later, I was surprised to see, the school was still there, barely–the years had not been kind to it. Jerry Funk in his memoir, “Life is an Excellent Adventure,” recalled that “The school plant itself was an ungainly hodge-podge of after-thoughts and additions and mismatched free-standing structures.  Its construction was obviously undertaken, with boom-town gusto and elan, as and when new space was needed, without the constraints of dealing with architects and planners.  The result was perhaps not what one would call pretty, but it was quite serviceable, and certainly memorable.”

ImageBetter stories in 2013 awaited me in Kevin, to the west. Here the historic Kevin depot, which is listed in the National Register, had been moved off the tracks, but it had been converted to a community center and senior citizens center, a very appropriate and successful adaptive reuse.  The town numbers under 200 residents and their commitment to keeping this connection to the town’s railroad roots along this spur line alive and well is commendable.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Also in Kevin in 1984 a circa 1930 service station caught my eye, with especially the period “Firestone” signs. ImageRather amazingly the building still stands at the town’s prominent corner, although the roof is sagging and its original function is more difficult to discern today.

Image

Another favorite building in 1984 was the Derrick Bar, a friendly place where the very name spoke to what was happening in Kevin in the mid-20th century. Its miniature derrick sign, on the top of the building, was a beacon; unlike anything else I would see in Montana.

Image Image

The bar is still there–still friendly too–but the derrick had come off of the top–although it too was preserved on the side of the building.

Kevin-Oilmont was a section of Toole County that had promised untold wealth in the 1920s and 1930s–and the boom at the Kevin-Sunburst field helps to explain the strong imprint of 1930s modernism in Shelby.

The most important Jazz Age building in Shelby is the visitor center, from 1923.  Listed in the National Register, the building served as the local headquarters for the city’s ambitious attempt to host a world’s heavyweight fight between legendary boxer Jack Dempsey and Tommy Gibbons.  Flush with oil money, town boosters thought the fight would put Shelby on the map, but the projected tens of thousands of spectators never materialized–only 7,000 made it to Shelby–and the event bankrupted the town.

Image

At the western end of the historic downtown is another National Register landmark, the Rainbow Service Station.  The development of U.S. 2 as the region’s key east-west automobile/truck corridor happened at the same time as the oil boom, and as auto travel to Glacier National Park also was growing in numbers.

.Image

In between these two landmarks grew an impressive collection of commercial buildings, along with some of the best roadside neon in the state. Modernism isn’t confined to the commercial strip.  There are impressive residential designs of International Style and Art Deco from the 1930s.

Image Image

And both the New Deal Art Deco high school (now middle school) and the contemporary-styled St. William Catholic School make their own statements of mid-century modern architecture.

Image Image

Shelby might be a modern urban oasis on the Hi-Line but as soon as I started to move east of the visitor center along U.S. 2 I discovered that I was entering a very rural, agricultural landscape: more on that later.

The 1984 Survey 30 Years Later: Toole County

My exploration of Montana’s historic landscape–an experience that has shaped my career and teaching philosophy so deeply–began in earnest 30 years ago this month.  I had been working with the Montana State Historic Preservation Office for several weeks, organizing information already known about the state but also realizing that much was unknown.  That is why the MT SHPO Marcella Sherfy wanted to send someone out of the road–to look, listen, and find what was missing.  In February 1984, the fieldwork began, with the initial focus on the Hi-Line and the first stop, Toole County and the county seat of Shelby.

Image

View of Shelby, looking north, taken from county courthouse, 2013

 The first stop was Shelby, where I also launched my effort to talk about historic places and the preservation planning process with local communities.  We met at the local library/museum which stood next to the courthouse.

Image

Toole County Library, Shelby, MT

I learned two things that February 1984 night in Shelby that shaped my work for the next 3 months:  do the community meetings first–Montanans were intensely engaged with their history and made information and primary sources to share.  Just as important, I learned of their pride in the county courthouse–an architectural statement of Art Deco modernism in the guise of local materials and stone that might not be “technically eligible” for the National Register (at that time it was not yet 50 years old) but that everyone considered the landmark of the city.

Image

 

Image Image

 

This 1934 building, one of the many Federal Emergency Relief Administration projects that shaped small towns and agricultural landscapes across the state during the Great Depression, looms high over the time, with the overall setting enhanced by the period landscaping and stone veneer steps from the parking area to the front door.

Image

 

The new courthouse gave the town a new focus, away from the railroad corridor created by the Great Northern Railway, and then the flashy commercial strip of stores and taverns along the adjacent highway corridor of U.S. Highway 2, a route also improved during the New Deal years.

 Image

Image

 

Image

 

In Shelby, at the first of the 1984 work, I learned of the imprint of the successive waves of the railroad, then highways, and then the New Deal on Montana’s Hi-Line towns.  Those patterns of development would be constants throughout the fieldwork.  But after the stop to Shelby, I was then ready to explore the surrounding rural landscape.  And that will be the next story.

 

 

Women’s Club Buildings in Montana

Montana celebrates the sesquicentennial of Montana Territory in 2014.  This week the Montana Historical Society announced that one of its key themes would be women’s history and then pinpointed key individuals and places, including the East Glacier Women’s Club.  I could not agree more that new attention needs to be given to community institutions, established by and operated for women.  In my 1984-85 work on the Montana historic preservation plan, I did not ignore women’s clubs–the Deer Lodge club house, an attractive Bungalow from 1904 was included in the survey–but I did not systematically look for these buildings and think about what they meant to local women and to the community at large.

Image 

Woman’s Club in Deer Lodge, 1904

The General Federation of Women’s Clubs in Montana organized that same year, 1904, and the federation’s magazine, The Montana Woman, is a great way to trace the creation and expansion of clubs across the state, from the major cities to places as small as Sula in the southwest corner of Montana.  Once you make a commitment to locate extant historic club buildings, you find a range of building types.

Image

 

The Moore Woman’s Club and Community Center in Fergus County dates to 1915, and so many existing rural club buildings belong to that decade of the homesteading boom of the early 20th century. In 2012 I spent two days is Wisdom, where the old woman’s club building of the 1910s has been converted into a lodge, one of the best examples I have encountered in rural America of finding a new, effective use for a community building.

Image

 

The Wisdom club house is a small frame building, seemingly too small to be a community building but when placed into the overall context of the emerging built environment of the homesteading landscape, it was a substantial building–compared to the typical homesteading tar-paper shack. 

Image

Women’s organizations also proved adept at adapting older buildings for their use. The Coalwood Ladies Aid Society, established 1915 in Powder River County north of Broadus, meets at the Coalwood School, built c. 1945.  A small rural population does not deter 21st century Montana club women from keeping the institution alive, witness the earlier post on the Wise River Women’s Club, dated to 1958, but with a recent expansion of the club house/community building.

Image

One of my favorite club buildings in eastern Montana is a striking Rustic-styled clubhouse in Malta, Phillips County. Image  Image

 

The Malta Woman’s Club organized in 1903 but the clubhouse dates to the New Deal era of 1937. Construction of the building was part of a $40,000 Works Progress Administration project in Malta that included the construction of a new city hall, a resettlement administration building, and a “ladies community center.”  (Phillips County News, January 24, 2001). As in other Montana towns, the clubhouse served as a town’s de facto library, using books donated by club members, and the club undertook such community improvement projects as erecting a fence around the Malta cemetery and supporting the town’s first blood mobile.  

There’s more to come in this discussion of women’s club and Montana’s landscape, but this initial post certainly agrees with the MHS announcement that there’s a big, significant women’s history story to be found in the Treasure State–club buildings are a good place to start.

 

 

 

 

Wise River Club, then and now

Image

 In my 1984 travels in northern Beaverhead County, I found few local dives more evocative than the Wise River Club, which stands along Montana Highway 43 near the confluence of the Big Hole and Wise rivers.  I have used this image in the decades since multiple times to illustrate the vernacular of the Montana roadside.  At the Wise River Club, the food, company, and adult beverages were great then, as they were in the spring of 2012, when I repeated my visit.

Image

 The club was still there, and the food remained excellent but certainly the exterior had evolved over the past thirty years.  A new stone veneer–like something out of the mid-20th century–had replaced the rustic log look of 1984.  A portico was there too.  But what you really missed were the racks, wagon wheels, and totem pole of the earlier exterior.  Until you ventured inside.

Image

 

The racks had moved into the ceiling, throughout the tavern area.  Quiet when I first arrived and everyone stepped back to accommodate the photo.  Residents could still tolerate visitors at the Wise River Club.

Wise River is a village, and like the club, little had changed there in 30 years.  I did document one building that I had unwisely ignored in 1984:  the Wise River Women’s Club, established in 1958. (Once again the so-called “50 year rule” clouded my vision).  The impact of women on community institutions can be found in any diary or book about rural Montana in the 19th and 20th centuries.  But we do not often look for the buildings that embody in a physical sense that impact.  This unadorned frame building is just one of many across the state that deserve much more than a quick look.

Image 

Image

 

 

Backdrops to Montana History: The Irrigation Ditch

Coming to Montana in 1981 from the wet, humid South, I thought little of irrigation as a moving force in history.  To my mind, irrigation was about sprinklers keeping suburban lawns nice and green in the summer.  I cared little for that, and thought no more about it.

Image

 

Milk River system, Tampico, Valley County

Realizing that irrigation had shaped the history of the United States was another of those primary contributions living and working in Montana brought to my understanding of history.  In the 1984-85 historic preservation survey of the state, I noted a few key systems and thought about their significance.  But in the time since, I came to understand irrigation as one of the key components of an engineered landscape, that literally reshaped the state and made towns, cities, and ranches possible in the early 20th century.

Image

 

Big Hole Valley

Early Montana settlers, especially the pioneering irrigator I.D. O’Donnell of Billings,  understood by the turn of the century that there would never be enough water to make Montana an agricultural paradise.  Men could not conquer nature–but they could build a machine that could harness it, even replace it.

Image

 

This irrigation effort in Valier took advantage of the 1894 Carey Act.

So with the financial assistance of the federal government, first with the Carey Act of 1894 and then the vastly more important Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902, the transformation of Montana through irrigation took place in the first third of the 20th century. 

Image

 

The U.S. Reclamation Service Office at Ballatine, Yellowstone County.  Championed by I.D. O’Donnell, the Huntley project was the second USRS project in the nation.

The engineered landscape represented by irrigation is everywhere in Montana.  I will pick up this theme in later postings but end today with another image that evokes the impact, even beauty, of the man-made streams that crisscross the state.

Image

 

Madison County, along Montana Highway 249