Glendive: Landmarks Old and New

img_7257In the early posts of this exploration of Montana’s historic landscape I spoke of the transformation that I encountered when I revisited Glendive, the seat of Dawson County, for the first time in about 25 years, of how local preservation efforts had kept most of the town’s railroad era landscapes alive while leading to the revitalization of its amazing number of historic residences from 1900 to 1950.

Dawson Co Glendive Merrill Ave NR district city hallLet’s now turn our attention to public landmarks, old and more recent, that also deserve notice, starting with the magnificent Classical Revival-styled City Hall, one of the anchors of the Merrill Avenue historic district, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1914, this all-in-one municipal building is an impressive architectural

Dawson Co Glendive Merrill Ave NR district city hallstatement by the second generation of Glendale’s leaders that the town would grow and prosper during the homesteading boom of the first two decades of the 20th century.  The architect was Brynjulf Rivenes of Miles City.  His firm had so many commissions coming from eastern Montana and Yellowstone Valley patrons that by this time Rivenes operated offices in both Glendive and Miles City.

img_7268Rivenes had earlier marked Glendive’s new emerging townscape with his Gothic design for the First Methodist Church, in 1909.  Fifteen years later, he added another landmark church design with the Romanesque styled Sacred Heart Catholic Church (1924-1925).

Dawson Co Glendive Sacred Heart Catholic NR

The grand circular entrance window depicted the story of the sacred heart of Jesus.  Bishop Mathias Lenihan dedicated the window in 1925. The tan brick of the building came from Hebron, North Dakota.

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Rivenes also designed various commercial buildings along Merrill Avenue and its prominent side streets as Glendive business boomed from 1900 to the era of the Great Depression.  During the New Deal, the federal government worked with local and state government to improve local infrastructure and irrigation.  It also sponsored the construction of the Colonial Revival-styled Glendive post office, by federal architect Louis A. Simon, in the mid-1930s.

img_7269With recovery and the arrival of more and more automobile traffic from the late 1930s to the 1950s, many of the older buildings received mid-century updates.  The remodels could

Dawson Co Glendive Merrill Ave NR district masonic hall

overwhelming, like the glass block windows and brick wall inserts at the Classical Revival styled Masonic Lodge, above, or they could be more effective blending of the early 20th past with the mid-century present as at the Kolstad Jewelry shop, below.

Dawson Co Glendive Kolstad Jewelry decoThe 1950s and 1960s brought many changes to Glendive.  Post World War Ii growth both in the town and the many surrounding ranches led to expansion and remodeling at the historic Glendive Milling Company in 1955.  When the historic districts for Glendive were designated in the late 1980s, preservationists questioned the inclusion of this important industrial/agricultural complex due to the changes of the 1950s.  Viewed today, however, the mill complex is clearly a very significant historic site.

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As passenger traffic on the Northern Pacific Railway slacked, automobile traffic on the Yellowstone Trail (U.S. Highway 10) became more important as the old motel above also attests.  Architectural signs like for the Gust Hauf located at 300 West Bell Street downtown don’t really make sense today but it did in 1965 when travelers were still using U.S. Highway 10 every day.

img_7218More contemporary styled church buildings were also dedicated in the mid-century, such as the classic “contemporary” styling of the Assembly of God building, with classrooms at

img_7292at the front rather than the rear, or the modified A-frame style of the First Congregational Church, which I shared in an earlier post on Glendive.

Dawson Co Glendive Congregational churchGlendive is very much a blending of different 20th century architectural styles, reaching back into the region’s deep, deep past, as at Makoshika State Park, where the visitor

img_7297center/museum is an excellent example of late 20th century modern style–clearly a building of the present but one that complements, not overwhelms, the beauty of the park itself.

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Transformations of Montana Avenue

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Billings c. 1882.  All historic images courtesy of Western Heritage Center.

At the time of my field work for the Montana state historic preservation plan in 1984, I had already gotten myself deep into one Montana place–Billings, the seat of Yellowstone County, and its early history.  I have to blame June Sampson, David Carroll, and Lynda Moss at the city’s Western Heritage Center for my initial immersion–they along with board members wanted a research report about both the town of Coulson, the short-lived precursor to Billings along the Yellowstone River, and the early history of Billings, the railroad town.

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Billings birdseye view, detail, 1904.

Starting in 1982, I began  to drive to Billings, explore the landscape, dig into archives and museums, and talk to people, which of course meant in 1982, when the city was a mere 100 years old, there were a few children of the founders still around for interviews.

McAdow store 2011

At first the competition between Coulson and Billings captivated me, particularly the efforts of regional merchant Perry W. McAdow to transfer his business dominance from Coulson to the new city of Billings by placing his store on Minnesota Avenue, on the south side of the Northern Pacific Railroad, rather than on Montana Avenue, on the north side of the tracks, where development was controlled by one of the west’s leading capitalists, Frederick Billings.

Perhaps it is symbolic, or even appropriate, that McAdow’s first store on Minnesota Avenue still stands–but its best days long ago passed away, leaving it today as a junk store in 2011, or in 2015 the Big Sky Blue Gallery.  While, on the other hand, a grand statue of Frederick Billings–who never lived here but did come to visit his son Parmly–stands on the north side of the tracks, and helps to mark Montana Avenue as the predominant commercial street in Billings.

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No doubt, Montana Avenue, and the north side of the tracks became the public face of Billings.  Not only did a range of two to three-story commercial blocks populate a long stretch of the street, here too was the grand Classical Revival styled passenger depot of the

Billings 2006 002 NPRR depot

Northern Pacific Railroad.  And when U.S. Highway 10 was designated through the city in the 1920s–first known as the Yellowstone Trail–it used Montana Avenue to pass through Billings.  The bright, shiny, and busy appearance of Montana Avenue in this second decade of the 21st century, however, is a fairly recent phenomenon.  When I did the bulk of my research in Billings from 1982 to 1992, there was not much going on, outside of the Rex Hotel.  The depot was boarded up, and falling apart.

Listing Montana Avenue as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places in the 1990s began to change the street’s fortunes, along with the development in that same decade of the Western Heritage Center as a real cultural anchor and heritage tourism lure, and then the investments by new entrepreneurs who convinced city officials to revisit sidewalks, add plantings, and make the street more pedestrian friendly.  It has been a bit amazing to see this transformation in the past decade as Montana Avenue became an “it” place–and shed its forgotten, tired past as a railroad corridor.

 

St. Regis River and the Milwaukee Road

Mineral Co St Regis Mullan statueAlong Interstate I-90 as you travel northwest into Idaho, St. Regis is the last town of any size in Montana, and, at that it only counts just over 300 residents. The town has a long significant history in transportation. Old U.S. Highway 10 follows part of the historic Mullan Road–the Mullan monument above marks that route in St. Regis. The town lies at the confluence of the Clark’s Fork River and the St. Regis River. It is also the point where

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Since my last visit in 1984, school officials had expanded the St. Regis school and added a new entrance but the historic facade still commands attention.

the Milwaukee Road left the Clark’s Fork corridor that it had followed from southwest Montana–the Northern Pacific kept on that route however–while and tackled a much more demanding path through the Rockies–that of the St. Regis River towards Taft.

 

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IMG_7387As the photos above show, one of the Milwaukee’s bridges over the Northern Pacific right-of-way has been cut while the interstate rises high above and dwarfs both earlier railroads along the Clark’s Fork River. From St. Regis to Taft, the Milwaukee Road route has new life. In the 21st century the U.S. Forest Service and local residents have worked diligently to preserve the corridor,  not to restore the tracks but to find a new recreational use for the abandoned railroad bed.

IMG_7398Note in the photograph above, how one of the distinctive electric power poles that carried electricity to the Milwaukee’s engines remains in place. In the central part of Montana, many of these poles are long gone from the corridor. The Milwaukee’s stretch of electrified track began in Harlowton and ended in Idaho–and the St. Regis to Idaho section has some of most intact features of this distinctive engineered landscape.

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IMG_7414The village of Haugan is also the location of the Savenac Nursery, which the U.S. Forest Service established here c. 1907, as the Milwaukee’s tracks were being constructed. Under the direction of Elers Koch of the forest service, Savenac’s became one of the largest seedling operations in the department of agriculture, yielding as many of 12 million seedlings in one year.

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Mineral Co Haugan Savenac Nursery CCC 14The historic nursery is open to the public, another example of the important work that the Forest Service has carried out for both preservation and public interpretation in the last 30 years.  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the property has a museum that operates in the tourist season.

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The nursery is also among the most important landscapes in the state associated with the Civilian Conservation Corps, which built most of the extant historic buildings in the 1930s.

Thus it is most appropriate that a monument to the CCC workers has been located on land between the interstate highway and the nursery grounds.The monument, dedicated in 2005, notes that agency’s work in Montana from 1933 to 1942, a decade of transformation in the state’s public landscape that millions have experienced since then.

IMG_7421Haugan is also home to one of the state’s modern pieces of roadside architecture along the interstate, Silver’s truck stop, restaurant, bar, and casino.

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Saltese lacks the formal monuments found at its neighbor, but this small Milwaukee Road town has an industrial landmark in the high iron trestle that cuts through its residential side.  There you can see one of the rectangular wooden catenary supports for the electric lines to the speeding trains.  The route itself is part of recreational trail that takes bikers and hikers to the National Register-listed tunnel and railroad yards ending at the St. Pass Pass Tunnel (1908) at Taft near the Idaho border.

IMG_7410Saltese’s contemporary styled school from c. 1960 remains but has closed.  Its historic motels and businesses, as well as an abandoned c. 1930 gas station on old U.S. Highway 10, welcome travelers from the west to Montana.

Mineral Co Saltese school

IMG_7405The railroad trail route from Taft provides access to some of most spectacular industrial ruins of the old Milwaukee route left in the west.

A first look at Mineral County’s Milwaukee Road corridor

IMG_7379The two railroads and the river that shaped Missoula also carved the landscape to the northwest.  Following the Clark’s Fork River to the northwest, the Milwaukee Road passes through Mineral County, adding to a transportation corridor that, earlier, included the Mullan Road, and then later U.S. Highway 10.  It is now the route of Interstate Highway I-90 as i heads west to Idaho and then Washington State.

When I carried out the survey for the state historic preservation plan in 1984-1985, Mineral County had one property listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The DeBorgia School, built in the wake of the Milwaukee Road’s construction through the mountains in 1908, somehow survived the horrific fire of 1910 that claimed most of the county’s earliest buildings.  As the railroad’s impact declined, and school consolidation took place, the building stopped being a local school in 1956.  It has now served as a community center for longer than it was a school.  A small town library has been constructed nearby since my last visit some 30 years ago.

But what was a solitary landmark in 1985 has become a county proud of its transportation history, especially the impact of the Milwaukee Road and the towns of Superior, Alberton, and St. Regis all have National Register properties that interpret railroads, transportation, and transformation in Montana’s northwest.

IMG_7380As the interstate crosses the Clark’s Fork River near Tarkio it bypasses the earlier transportation network.  A particular marvel is the Scenic Bridge, listed in the National Register in 2010, especially how the bridge of U.S. 10, built in 1928, was designed in dialogue with the earlier high-steel bridge of the Milwaukee Road.

IMG_7378 The Scenic Bridge has been closed to traffic but is safe to walk across, creating great views of both bridges and the Clark’s Fork River–travel here has always been challenging.

Alberton also has important transportation landmarks, especially its National Register-listed Milwaukee Road passenger depot.  The railroad was why the town was established–it is so appropriate that now the railroad headquarters has been converted into city hall and other public uses.

Mineral Co Alberton MR depot

IMG_7367Twenty years historic preservationists stepped up to add numerous properties to the National Register throughout the county.  In addition to the passenger depot, the Montana Valley Book Store, above, was listed.  This two-story false front building, with attached one-story building, was once the town’s commercial heart and known as Bestwick’s Market–it has been close to the heart of book lovers for years now.  Montana Valley Book Store was a relatively new business when I first visited in 1984 but now it is one of the region’s cultural institutions, especially when a visit is combined with a quick stop at the adjacent Trax Bar.

Mineral Co Alberton school

IMG_7369The historic three-story brick Alberton High School (now the Alberton School) operated from 1919 to 1960 as the only high school facility within miles of the railroad corridor.  It too is listed in the National Register and was one of the community landmarks I noted in the 1984-1985 state historic preservation plan work.

Mineral Co Alberton modern h.s.I gave no notice to the replacement school, the modern Alberton High School, c. 1960.  That was a mistake–this building too reflects school design ideas of its time–the Space Age of the late 1950s and 1960s, when open classrooms, circular designs, and a space-age aesthetic were all the rage.  Alberton High School is one of my favorite small-town examples of Montana modernism.

Mineral Co Alberton modern h.s.The school is a modern marvel just as the high school football field and track are reminders of how central the schools are to rural community and identity in Montana. Alberton has held its own in population in the decades since the closing of the Milwaukee Road, largely due to its proximity to Missoula and the dramatic gorges created by the Clark’s Fork River.  Change is probably coming, and hopefully these landmarks will remain in service for years to come.

Mineral Co Alberton football field 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pintler Scenic Route at Drummond

Granite Co, Drummond Front StreetDrummond is the north entrance of the Pintler Scenic Route.  The first ranchers settled here in the 1870s but a proper town, designed in symmetrical fashion facing the railroad tracks, was not established until 1883-1884 as the Northern Pacific Railroad built through here following the Clark’s Fork River to Missoula.

Then Drummond experienced a second wave of railroad-induced growth in 1907-1908 as the Milwaukee Road also followed the Clark’s Fork River on its way from Butte to Missoula, an electrified track that many surviving wood poles mark today. Served by both lines, agricultural and ranching production expanded rapidly, especially when combined by the addition of U.S. Highway 10 through the middle of the town in the 1920s.

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Abandoned Milwaukee Road corridor in Drummond

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The Northern Pacific corridor is still active as part of the Montana Rail Link.

While transportation was readily available, Drummond was surrounded by larger towns so even at its height it rarely topped over 500 residents, meaning that today its historic buildings largely document a typical Montana rural railroad town of the mid-20th century.

Granite Co, Drummond gas station, Front St, meth mural, roadsideThere is a faintly classically influenced two-story brick commercial block, a Masonic Lodge made of concrete block, various bars and cafes, a railroad water tank, and a slightly Art Deco movie theater, which was open in the 1980s but is now closed.

Granite Co, Drummond Front st and sign

Granite Co, Drummond Rough Stock Bar, Front and Main St

IMG_2042Due to the federal highway and the later Interstate I-90 exit built at Drummond, the town even has a good bit of motel roadside architecture from c. 1970 to 1990.

Granite Co, Drummond Sky Motel off Front St roadside

Granite Co, Drummond Motel, Front St, roadsideBetween the Northern Pacific corridor and old U.S. 10 is the town’s most famous contemporary business, its “Used Cow” corrals, and now far away, on the other side of the

Granite Co, Drummond stock yards, Front Sttracks are rodeo grounds named in honor of Frank G. Ramberg and James A. Morse, maintained by the local American Legion chapter.

Granite Co, Drummond fairgrounds and memorial signs

Granite Co, Drummond fairgroundsThe rodeo grounds are not the only cultural properties in Drummond. The Mullan Road monument along the old highway is the oldest landmark.   The local heritage museum is at the New Chicago School (1874), an frame one-story school moved from the Flint River Valley to its location near the interstate and turned into a museum.

Ironically the town’s historic Milwaukee Road passenger depot is extant, but in the 1980s it was moved to the Fort Missoula museum complex in Missoula for its preservation.

HPIM0709.JPGAnother local museum emphasizes contemporary sculpture and painting by Bill Ohrmann.  A latter day “cowboy artist” Ohrmann grew up in the Flint River Valley but by the 12960s he was producing sculpture and painting on a regular basis.  The museum is also a gallery and his works are for sale, although the huge sculptures might not be going anywhere.

As befitting a Montana agricultural town, community life centers on the library and town hall, the historic Methodist and Catholic churches, and especially the Drummond schools, home to the Trojans.

Granite Co, 1st street, Drummond library and community center

When I visited Drummond this decade I was glad to learn that while the population almost bottomed out following the closing of the Milwaukee Road and the general economic gloom of the 1980s, it had started to grow, and now totaled approximately 330 people–still a 20% decline over 30 years. I hope this bounce back is not short lived–Drummond remains a favorite place and a good way to end this overview of the Pintler Scenic Route, Montana Highway 1.

 

The Pintler Scenic Route

 

Granite Co, Pintlar Scenic Route US 10AMontana Highway 1, designated the Pintler Scenic Route, has long been one of my favorite roads. It was the first Montana road to be paved in its entirety. During the state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985, I documented the route as U.S. 10A, but once government officials decided to decommission the U.S. 10 designation in 1986, the name U.S. 10A also went away.  t.  In its early decades the route had passed through Opportunity to Anonconda onto Phillipsburg and then Drummond, but for all of my time in Montana, the highway has gone from Interstate I-90, Anaconda/Opportunity exit to the west and then north to the Drummond exit on the same interstate. There is a new 21st century rest stop center at the Anaconda I-90 exit that has a Montana Department of Transportation marker about the mountain ranges and the Pintler route.

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IMG_1285The town of Opportunity was not a priority for my travels in 1984-1985 but recent scholarship on how local residents have fought back against the decades of pollution from Anaconda’s Washoe Stack led me to give this small town of 500 a new look.  The book is Brad Tyer’s Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape (2014). Tyler details how the success of Anaconda also meant the sacrifice of thousands of surrounding acres to the pollution belching daily from the Washoe Stack until it closed in 1981.  He then reviews in detail how in the 21st century, EPA heaped a new disaster on the town by moving Milltown wastes from the Clark’s Fork River near Missoula to Opportunity, telling locals that the Milltown soil would be new top soil for Opportunity.  The environmental solution didn’t work, leaving the town in worse shape than before.

IMG_1288Opportunity residents got a small fraction of  SuperFund monies for the environmental cleanup in the form of Beaver Creek park.  But the centerpiece of the park, the Opportunity School built for residents in 1914 by the Anaconda Company, has been mothballed for now.  It operated from 1914 until the smelter ceased operations in 1981 and

IMG_1287served as the community’s focal point. Restoration of the school is problematic due to the prior use of asbestos, meaning the federally funded park is only partially finished since the SuperFund support is now gone.

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Beaver Dam Park, Opportunity

The park’s sharp landscaping, with well-manicured green space, walking/jogging track, playground and picnic shelter is in stark contrast to other places merely hanging on.  The town’s Community Hall remains in use but the local store has shuttered its doors.

Opportunity Community Hall

Opportunity Store

This blog has already looked at Stack and the town of Anaconda, so let’s continue north on the Pintler route to Georgetown Lake and surviving ghost towns.

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Georgetown Lake, from St. Timothy'sSitting at 6,425 feet in elevation Georgetown Lake covers over 3700 acres.  Today it is very much a recreational landscape but when it was created in 1885 its job was to generate electrical power for the nearby mines since it stood roughly equal distance between

Anaconda (14 miles away) and Phillipsburg (10 miles away).  Taverns, motel, and rustic-style log buildings, both old and new, mark the lakeside today.

IMG_1645As the state highway historical marker above documents, this high country area was another mining region.  With an vantage point above the lake, Southern Cross is a significant remnant of the mining activities from the early 20th century.  The mines here

southern cross ghost town 13began operation in the mid-1860s and production continued for until World War II.  The settlement was largely Finnish and Swedish in the early 20th century when most of the remaining buildings were constructed.

Existing foundations, rubble heaps, and other archaeological remnants help to document the historic community and its activities.These sites are not open to the public but they are fascinating to explore from the existing roads.  One place that welcomes the public is St. Timothy’s Catholic Chapel, a wonderful example of Montana Modernism that I discussed in an earlier post.

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With Southern Cross–over 7,000 feet in elevation, representing the end of the Deer Lodge County section of the Pintler Route, I will stop now, and in the next post begin the exploration into the Granite County portion of the highway.

Jefferson’s Jewels

Boulder Valley N from hot springs, MT 69 – Version 2Jefferson County, nestled as it is between the much larger population centers of Helena (Lewis and Clark County) and Butte (Silver Bow County), has often been neglected in any overview or study of Montana.  But within the county’s historical landscape are places and stories that convey so much about Montana history and the historic properties that reflect its culture and identity.

IMG_0464Let’s begin with the place so often in the news lately, the Montana Development Center, the location of the historic Montana Deaf and Dumb Asylum (1897-1898), a stately red brick Renaissance Revival-style building listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.  Since the building was being considered for listing, it was a top priority for the state historic preservation plan work in 1984.  It remains in need of a new future 30-plus

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A photo of the asylum from 2007

years later.  The architect was John C. Paulsen, who then served as the State Architect.  The building represents an early effort by the state to provide for its citizens, and the presence of the institution in Boulder shaped that town’s history for the next 120 years.

Boulder is a place of impressive public buildings.  The Jefferson County Courthouse (1888-89) is another piece of Victorian architecture, in the Dichardsonian Romanesque style, again by John K. Paulsen.  It was listed in the National Register in 1980.

IMG_0475Another public institution once found in numbers across Montana but now found only in a few places is the high school dormitory, for students who spent the week in town rather than attempting to travel the distances between home and the high school on a daily basis.  Boulder still has its high school dormitory from the 1920s, converted long ago into apartments.

Boulder schools dorm

Indeed the importance of schools to not only the state’s history of education but the mere survival of communities has been pinpointed by various state preservation groups and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Jefferson County still has many significant surviving school buildings from the early 20th century, none of which have been listed yet in the National Register.

Carter school, 1916, Montana City School

Carter School, 1916, Montana City

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Clancy School, now the Jefferson County Museum

Basin School, Jefferson Co

Basin school, still in use

Caldwell school

Caldwell school, one of the few buildings left in this old railroad town

Whitehall still has its impressive Gothic style gymnasium from the 1920s while the school itself shows how this part of the county has gained in population since 1985.

Whitehall school, Jefferson CoCommunity halls represent another theme found in the Montana landscape; Jefferson County has an excellent example in its 1911 community hall in Clancy, which now serves as the local library.  Likewise, fraternal lodges played a major role as community centers in early Montana history–the stone masonry of the two-story Boulder Basin Masonic Lodge makes an impressive Main Street statement.

Irrigation and sugar beet cultivation are key 20th century agricultural themes, typically associated with eastern and central Montana.  Jefferson County tells that story too, in a different way, at Whitehall.  The irrigation ditches are everywhere and the tall concrete stack of the sugar refinery plant still looms over the town.

In 1917 Amalgamated Sugar Company, based in Utah, formed the Jefferson Valley Sugar Company and began to construct but did not finish a refinery at Whitehall.  The venture did not begin well, and the works were later sold to the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company in 1920, which never finished the plant but left the stack standing.  Nearby is Sugar Beet

Sugar Beet Row houses, Whitehall

Row, where hipped roof duplex residences typical of c. 1920 company towns are still lined up, and in use, although their exteriors have changed over the decades.

Ting's Bar, Jefferson City

Through many posts in this blog, I have identified those informal yet very important community centers found in urban neighborhoods and rural outposts across the state–bars and taverns.  Jefferson County has plenty of famous classic watering holes, such as Ting’s Bar in Jefferson City, the Windsor Bar in Boulder, or the Two Bit Bar in Whitehall, not forgetting Roper Lanes and Lounge in Whitehall.

Whitehall bowling and bar

Speaking of recreation, Jefferson County also has one of my favorite hot springs in all of the west, the Boulder Hot Springs along Montana Highway 69.  Here is a classic oasis of the early 20th century, complete in Spanish Revival style, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its rough worn exterior only hints at the marvel of its pool and experience of this place.

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Mining always has been part of Jefferson County’s livelihood with still active mines near Whitehall and at Wickes.  The county also has significant early remnants of the state’s

 

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The coke ovens above are from Wickes (L) and Alhambra (R) while the image directly above is of 21st century mining continuing at Wickes.

mining era, with still extant (but still threatened as well) charcoal kilns at Wickes (1881) and at Alhambra.  Naturally with the mining came railroads early to Jefferson County.  As you travel Interstate I-15 between Butte and Helena, you are generally following the route of the Montana Central, which connected the mines in Butte to the smelter in Great Falls, and a part of the abandoned roadbed can still be followed.

IMG_1033Another good example of the early railroad development is at Corbin, where a major ore concentrator operated by the Helena Mining and Reduction Company was located in the 1880s.  The concentrator handled 125 tons of ore every day. The concentrator is long gone but the foundations, while crumbling steadily, remain to convey its size and location.  The tall steel train trestle overlooks the town, a powerful reminder of the connection between the rails and mines. It is part of the historic Montana Central line, first built as a wood trestle in 1888 and then replaced with the steel structure found today in 1902.

Corbin sign and trestle

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Corbin concentrater site, Jefferson Co (46-21)

Corbin concentrator site, 1984

Corbin train trestle

The Northern Pacific Railroad and the Milwaukee Road were both active in the southern end of the county.  Along one stretch of the Jefferson River, which is followed by Montana Highway 2 (old U.S. Highway 10), you are actually traversing an ancient transportation route, created by the river, the railroads, and the federal highway. The Northern Pacific tracks are immediately next to the highway between the road and the Jefferson River; the Milwaukee corridor is on the opposite side of the river.

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The most famous remnant of Montana’s mining era is the ghost town at Elkhorn.  Of course the phrase ghost town is a brand name, not reality.  People still live in Elkhorn–indeed more now than when I last visited 25 years ago.  Another change is that the two primary landmarks of the town, Fraternity Hall and Gilliam Hall, have become a pocket state park, and are in better preservation shape than in the past.

IMG_0410Fraternity Hall was famous at the time of the state historic preservation plan survey as one of the best architectural examples of false front, Italianate style-influenced commercial buildings in the northern Rockies.  The two photos below, one from 1985 and the other from 2013, show how its preservation has been enhanced under state guardianship. Its projecting bay and balcony are outstanding examples of the craftsmanship found in the vernacular architecture of the boom towns.

The adjacent Gillian Hall is also an important building, not as architecturally ornate as Fraternity Hall, but typical of mining town entertainment houses with bars and food on the first floor, and a dance hall on the second floor.

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While the state park properties dominate what remains at Elkhorn, it is the general unplanned, ramshackle appearance and arrangement of the town that conveys a bit of what these bustling places were like over 130 years ago–residences and businesses alike thrown up quickly because everyone wanted to make their pile and then move on.

Elkhorn is not the only place of compelling vernacular architecture.  Visible along Interstate I-15 is a remarkable set of log ranch buildings near Elk Park, once a major dairy center serving Butte during the 1st half of the twentieth century. John and Rudy Parini constructed the gambrel-roof log barn, to expand production available from an earlier log barn by their father, in c. 1929.  The Parini ranch ever since has been a landmark for travelers between Butte and Helena.

Nearby is another frame dairy barn from the 1920s, constructed and operated by brothers George and William Francine.  The barns are powerful artifacts of the interplay between urban development and agricultural innovation in Jefferson County in the 20th century.

IMG_1042The historic barn at the Jefferson Valley Museum is the Brooke Barn from 1914, another example of the dairy production then taking place in this part of Montana as the same time that the mines were booming in nearby Butte.Jefferson Valley museum, WhitehallThe adjacent rodeo grounds at Whitehall host in late July the Whitehall Bucking Horse Futurity competition and fair.

Whitehall rodeo groundsThe bucking horse competition is not the only major summer event in the county.  Along the old federal highway and the Jefferson River at Cardwell, music promoters took a historic highway truss bridge, converted it into a stage, and have been hosting the Headwaters Country Jam, the state’s biggest country music festival–a bit of Nashville every June in Montana:  I have to love it.

IMG_0348 Here is adaptive reuse at perhaps its ingenious best, and successful adaptive reuse projects are another constant theme found across Montana.  Whitehall itself has a second example in the conversion of a 1920s Craftsman-style building on Legion Avenue (old U.S. Highway 10).  Indeed, although travelers do not use the older federal highway much since the construction of the interstate, Whitehall has several good examples of roadside architecture–yes, another blog theme–along Legion Avenue, such as a Art Moderne-styled automobile dealership and a classic 1950s motel, complete with flashing neon sign.

West of Whitehall is another 20th century roadside attraction, Lewis and Clark Caverns, a property with one of the most interesting conservation histories in the nation.  It began as a privately developed site and then between 1908 and 1911 it became the Lewis and Clark Cavern National Monument during the administration of President William Howard Taft.  Federal authorities believed that the caverns had a direct connection to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  The Corps of Discovery camped nearby on July 31, 1805, but had no direct association with the caverns.  A portion of their route is within the park’s boundaries.

Lewis and Clark caverns visitor center, MT 2During the mid-1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps developed the park with new trails in the caverns; state and local authorities wanted more site development since the park stood along U.S. Highway 10, with potential tourism growth.  In 1937-38, the federal government transferred the national monument to state control and in 1938 state officials launched Lewis and Clark Caverns as Montana’s first state park.  Since my work 30 years ago, the state has re-energized the park with a new visitor center and interpretive exhibits that better convey the caverns’ significance, especially to Native Americans who had used the place centuries before Lewis and Clark passed nearby.

Faith, and the persistence of early churches across rural Montana, is perhaps the most appropriate last theme to explore in Jefferson County.  St. John the Evangelist (1880-1881) dominates the landscape of the Boulder Valley, along Montana Highway 69, like few other buildings.  This straightforward statement of faith in a frame Gothic styled building, complete with a historic cemetery at the back, is a reminder of the early Catholic settlers of the valley, and how diversity is yet another reality of the Montana experience.