Howdy from Terry!

Terry overview
Terry, the seat of Prairie County, has long been one of my favorite places in the Yellowstone Valley. Stuck between the much larger, and more famed, Yellowstone towns of Miles City (to the west) and Glendive (to the east), Terry has somehow developed and kept its own identity as a western place, and landscape, that still speaks strongly to the patterns that transformed the region over the last 150 years: railroads, homesteading, cattle, and town building.
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In 1984 I focused on the railroad imprint on the town, which began in the early 1880s as Northern Pacific officials understood the need for a railroad stop at place near the confluence between the Yellowstone and Powder rivers.
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In 2013, however, the depot was gone from the tracks but not the town. It had been moved to become part of the solid Prairie County Museum, a local institution that was still quite new when I first visited in 1984. Located in the town’s most prominent neoclassical bank building from the 1910s, the museum was a place where I held a public meeting about the preservation plan process and found a community totally engaged with its past.
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The museum highlights agriculture and ranching, and includes the Evelyn Cameron Gallery, which displays and celebrates the life and contributions of this important western photographer. One change I noted last year was the creation of the Evelyn Cameron Heritage Center, on Laudre Avenue just a few yards away from the museum, which is at the crossroads of Laudre and Logan Avenues.
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That crossroads was another pattern in Terry’s landscape that caught my eye. Most Northern Pacific towns, originally, were symmetrical plans, with a long line of commercial buildings flanking one side of the tracks and grain elevators and warehouses on the other side. Terry, however, had a classic T-town plan, with the tracks creating the top of the T and then a main commercial artery, in this case Logan Avenue, serving as the stem of the “T.”
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Why was Terry different? It is the impact of the Milwaukee Road as it built through the valley in 1906-1907. In 1984 there was still a second set of tracks, and a few scattered commercial buildings, to the north of the Northern Pacific mainline. Today two buildings remain along with the roadbed that marks this second period of Terry’s growth.
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Just west of the “downtown” you can find the one still thriving institution associated with the Milwaukee Road impact on Terry: the Prairie County Fairgrounds, which once faced the Milwaukee’s main line. (I have discussed the fairgrounds in an earlier post.)
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Another wave of change came to Terry in the 1920s as U.S. Highway 10 gave the town another transportation pattern. The highway’s crossroads with the original T-plan commercial artery is marked by a still extant somewhat Art Deco-styled brick gas station/ auto dealership.
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The most recognized roadside landmark is the Kempton Hotel, a true rarity now for this section of the Yellowstone Valley as those rambling montage of buildings that once constituted places of rest and relaxation along the nation’s highways have largely disappeared from the landscape.
Then, just yards away, is another rambling montage of historic buildings, the schools of Prairie County, ranging from the large stately multi-story brick buildings of the early 20th century to more restrained modern buildings of the second half of the century.
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At the edge of town are three different properties, all related to the need for highway transportation. The Dizzy Diner is a classic 1950s drive-in while the crumbling Terry drive-in also speaks to past patterns in popular culture. Then the Prairie County Grazing District Stockyards connects the present to the past traditions of stock raising in this region.
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Certainly the biggest change is Terry from 1984 and 2013 was the transformation of the county courthouse. In 1984 I was shocked that there was only an unadorned concrete block building for the courthouse, and I have shared images of that building across the country. Well the concrete block building on Logan Avenue is gone, replaced by a much larger, still unadorned building for local government.
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Terry’s population has dropped by a third since my first encounter with the town in the early 1980s. But new public investment, and a still commercially relevant “downtown” speaks volumes to the residents’ commitment and faith in this small yet significant Yellowstone valley town.

Toole County, 1984 and Now: to the east along U.S. Highway 2

As soon as you move east of the historic Shelby visitor center on U.S. 2, you encounter the landmarks that physically mark the region’s agricultural character.  On the north side of the highway, immediately adjacent to the tracks are complexes of grain elevators. Here at Shelby there is a tall concrete group of elevators run by CHS–the appearance of concrete elevators always mark a town that has experienced economic growth in the second half of the twentieth century.  Many of the smaller Hi-Line towns have the classic frame elevators of the homesteading era.  Grain elevators thus become a physical barometer of a place’s economic prosperity and development.

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On the south side of the highway in Shelby is the second crucial agricultural institution, the county fairgrounds and rodeo arena.  Livestock is not only important to the economy but maybe even more important to the culture of the region.  The Marias 4 County Fair, held the third week of July, is a regional gathering of no equal.  Thousands attend, and they do so at a fairgrounds with an impressive collection of historic buildings.

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In 1984, I noted this east side of Shelby as I left the town, but my eyes and camera were focused on the small railroad towns that I would next encounter, along with two important historic sites I wanted to document.

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Whoop-Up Trail site, U.S. 2, 1984 

The first was the Whoop-Up Trail remnant, a site first documented by state archaeologists in 1968 and among the handful of historic properties then identified in Toole County (another section of the trail near Kevin is listed in the National Register).  In 1984 the location along the highway was well marked, with a series of stones marking the trail and encouraging visitors to go to the property edge and look into the Marias landscape where this historic route between Fort Benton and Fort Whoop-Up in Canada once passed.  

 Image In fact to the south of U.S. 2, a county road still crosses the Marias near the old trail crossing:  it was a somber, beautiful place in 1984. In 2013, the Whoop-Up Trail site is still maintained, put the line of stones to mark the path has either been taken up or covered by growth.  

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Across the highway remains another key landmark of the Hi-Line and Central Montana region:  a nuclear missile silo. These military bases are everywhere it seems, and sometimes in the most unlikely places.  By 1984 I had become somewhat accustomed to their presence–coming from the South I had no idea of the role Montana played in our nation’s defense.  

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But the missile silo was a surprise:  what I really was seeking was something on the Marias River–or Baker–Massacre, one of the most horrific events of Montana’s early territorial period.  The site is east of Shelby and south of U.S. 2 on private ranch land–and the family has been excellent stewards of this place.  No need for me to tred on such sacred ground, but there is a need to intepret that story, and to tell visitors and residents that here in this seemingly peaceful beautiful countryside a group of territorial citizens murdered Blackfeet women, children, and elderly in some sort of mindless bloody search for revenge.  That story wasn’t told in 1984 but a long text marker does so now. It strikes the right message: that the massacre “profoundly impacted the Blackfeet people and is very much alive in tribal memory.”  A small bouquet of flowers at the marker’s base in 2013 testifies to the truth of this simple memorial.

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Dunkirk, the first of a trio of Toole County railroad villages east of Shelby, was too close to Shelby itself to ever maintain its own identity for long.  Its Frontier Bar was long a worthy roadside stop for thirsty travelers.  Outside of the Westermark Grain Corporation elevators, the bar was the only reason to even give Dunkirk a glance.

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Devon is a plains country town on the Great Northern Railway that was the first “prairie ghost town” of the 1984 survey.  Numerous false-front frame buildings from the 1910s and 1920s existed in 1984:  30 years later several of these were gone. 

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Devon streetscape, 1984

 

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Devon, Montana, 1984

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Devon grain elevator, 1984

Yet I must admit that Devon now had more to it than what I recalled from 1984.  Certainly the old brick bank building had been abandoned, and the town community hall appeared shuttered, but the contemporary-styled Devon Lutheran Church spoke to persistence, even after decades of economic change. The grain elevators that were prominent in 1984 also had persisted, and stood as three sentinels on the plains.

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Galata, established in 1901, is another Great Northern Railway stop, with its corridor landscape speaking to its isolation and agricultural dependence.  It is a T-town plan town, where the main street forms the stem of the T while the railroad tracks form the top of the T.Image

 In the latter half of the 20th century, Galata had actually reached beyond its T-town plan and out to the highway.  Its Motel Galata is a classic piece of roadside architecture, and its huge highway sign of a Montana frontiersman with cowboy hat waving his car keys beckoning travelers to stop.

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Galata also has kept its post office–a classic 1960s standardized design.  But the real key is the strength of its community institutions, churches, American Legion lodge hall, and especially the

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school.  The school campus contains two eras:  the classic frame country school of the homesteading era, with additions, and then the more ranch-styled flat roof school building common in American suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s.

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As discussed earlier in this blog, Hi-Line residents also make their presence known by signs, even if they are a little worn or emblematic of the loss of other community buildings.  Galata is no exception.

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