Logan: A forgotten railroad junction in Gallatin County

Gallatin Co Logan Gallatin RiverLocated between the Gallatin River and Interstate I-90, Logan is a forgotten yet still historically significant railroad junction on the Northern Pacific Railroad.  Established c.

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1890 the place was first known as Canyon House, for early settlers, and then named Logan in honor of a family who owned land there.

Gallatin Co Logan store

The original Canyon House name has reappeared in Logan since my last visit in 1985 with the name given to this conversion of an old store/hotel to apartments

Logan became the place where Northern Pacific trains went one of two ways:  crossing the river and heading to the recently established state capitol of Helena or staying south of the river and heading to the copper mines at Butte.

In time the railroad company developed Logan as a mini-division point with a roundhouse, other railroad support buildings, and offices.  Today none of that remains–the roundhouse burned during the depression and was not replaced–but the tracks still dominate all views of the town.

One key community building that documents the early 20th century prominence of Logan is the two-story brick school.  It has been closed since my last visit in the 1980s but was converted into private use, and was for sale when I stopped in 1985.  Its size, brick construction, and classic progressive school architecture design speaks to the

 

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The school (far left) dominates the town’s built environment as you approach on old U.S. 10 from the west

promise that residents held for the town c. 1920. A historic church building also exists from the founding decades of Logan.  It too is now closed and faces an uncertain future.

As the various images of the railroad corridor indicates, Logan is still a busy place for train traffic but its population never rebounded after the depression decade.  Train traffic during World War II boosted local fortunes a bit–and the town’s large depot served hundreds of customers a day into the late 1940s. But once the Northern Pacific switched to diesel, coal stops like Logan was no longer necessary.  When I visited in 2015 I expected to find little to nothing but the tracks–or much more than I ever expected if the boom that had overwhelmed Belgrade and was consuming Manhattan had reached Logan.  A bit of whimsy instead has come into Logan, along with one of the best bar/steakhouses in this region:  the aptly named Land of Magic Dinner Club–the type of Montana oasis you cannot get enough of.

Railroad Corridors in western Gallatin County

Gallatin County is one of the oldest white settlement landscapes in Montana. The Bozeman Trail to the western gold fields introduced settlers from the 1860s to 1880 to the potentially rich land of the Gallatin Valley.  Then the Northern Pacific Railroad opened the heart of the valley to development as the tracks crossed the Bozeman Pass in the early 1880s.

Gallatin Co Manhattan 5Manhattan was not originally Manhattan, but named Moreland, as discussed in an earlier blog about the effort to build a barley empire in this part of Gallatin County at the turn of the century by the Manhattan Malting Company and its industrial works here and in Bozeman.  But the existing railroad corridor, along with the surviving one- and two-

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story commercial buildings facing the tracks (and old U.S. Highway 10), always made a drive through Manhattan a pleasant diversion as I crisscrossed Montana in 1984-1985. The town has a strong 1920s feel, in large part because of an earthquake that destroyed a good bit of the town’s original buildings in 1925.

Manhattan has changed significantly over 30 years–as the storefronts above suggest–just not to the degree of Belgrade.  But you wonder if its time is not coming.  From 1980 to 1990–the years which I visited the town the most–its population barely ticked up from 988 to 1032.  In the 25 years since the population has expanded to an estimated 1600.

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Gallatin Co Manhattan  garageThe historic auto garage from c. 1920 above is one of the most significant landmarks left upon old U.S. 10, and I am glad it is still used for its original function in the 21st century.

Community landmarks-fraternal lodges, the wonderful 1960s modernism of the Manhattan public school, and historic church buildings add character and a sense of stability to Manhattan.

Different variations on the Bungalow style characterize the town’s historic neighborhood. Buildings, like along old U.S. 10, have changed but still that sense of the early 20th century comes strongly across as you walk along Manhattan’s sidewalks.

At the same time, the new face of Manhattan is appearing in developments just south of the railroad corridor and in new construction facing the tracks.  Both buildings “fit” into the town but stylistically and in materials belong more to the 21st century American suburb, especially when compared to the remaining vernacular commercial buildings.

Is Manhattan at a crossroads between its long history as a minor symmetrical-plan town along the Northern Pacific Railroad and its new place as one of the surrounding rural suburbs of the Bozeman area?  Probably.

Gallatin Co Manhattan RR crossingBut it has many positives in place to keep its character yet change with the times.  Many residents are using historic buildings for their businesses and trades.  Others are clearly committed to the historic residential area–you can’t help but be impressed by the town’s well-kept historic homes and well-maintained yards and public areas.

Like at Belgrade, historic preservation needs to have a greater focus here.  Nothing in the town is listed in the National Register but as these photos suggest, certainly there is National Register potential in this town.

 

 

 

 

The Sweet Grass of the Yellowstone Valley

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Sweet Grass County has one of the most spectacular landscapes of the entire state of Montana.  Located in the middle of the Yellowstone Valley, the county has long been a significant crossroads, from the prehistoric era to today.  At the county seat of Big Timber, Interstate Highway 90 (along with the historic route of old U.S. Highway 10) parallels the Yellowstone River.  The town is also the southern point of origin for U.S. Highway 191,

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The Lazy J, near the intersection of U.S. 191 and old U.S. 10, is a classic bit of mid-20th century roadside architecture.

which strikes northward cutting across Central Montana and continuing until the highway ends at the Canadian border, north of Malta.

IMG_6331Established by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1882-1883, Big Timber has the classic T-Plan town plat found on so many Northern Pacific towns.  But one reason I have long liked this place is the quirkiness of its town plan.  The depot and the elevators are where they

IMG_6329should be, forming the top of the “T,” but the beautiful early 20th century stone masonry Sweet Grass County Courthouse is neither on McLeod Street (the stem of the T) nor at the end of the T, dividing the town’s commercial area from its residential neighborhood.  No, it IMG_6333is a block west of the intersection of McLeod Street and old U.S. Highway 10–an uncommon arrangement of public space in northern plains railroad towns.  A public park

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effectively marks the end of the historic town.  When I first surveyed the town in 1984, I found that an old 1946 highway marker for the Lewis and Clark Expedition had been moved to the park a year prior to my visit, and the interpretive sign told me that the town had a sense of its place in history.  In the decades since, residents have added a monument to the town’s early wool industry along with a bronze sculpture, titled “Free Spirit” by Dave Hodges, linking the place to the open spaces and cowboy culture of the valley.  Coming soon will be the new headquarters for the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, an institution that searched high and long for a home until finding Big Timber.

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IMG_6271Public interpretation through art is another change I encountered in Big Timber.  The most striking dates to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial at the start of this century.  On the walls of the local grocery store are three panels telling the story of the expedition in Sweet Grass County as the men encountered the confluence of the Boulder and Yellowstone rivers.  IMG_6296On another commercial building near the intersection of U.S. 191 and old U.S. 10 was an unexpected surprise:  a mural recreating–or is it reinterpreting–the famed Milwaukee Road promotional poster from the turn of the 20th century that encouraged homesteaders

IMG_6267to head to Montana. Oddly the reproduction mural gives the Northern Pacific corporate emblem but the route shown is the Milwaukee’s route, admittedly also showing where the two lines ran side by side in parts of the Yellowstone Valley.

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Public interpretation has not extended into an intensive involvement with the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1984, only one property–a segment of the Bozeman Trail where it crossed the Yellowstone–in the county was listed, and that stood on Sweet Grass’s far western border to Park County.  Then, right after I had finished the project, the iconic western hotel, The Grand, was listed in the National Register.  In the 30 years, a handful of Big Timber landmarks also have been designated on the National Register:  the Classical Revival-styled Carnegie Library, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and the Big

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Sweetgrass Co Big Timber 6 - Version 2 IMG_6306Timber City Hall.  Little doubt these landmarks are cherished–when more library space was necessary this century the expansion of the historic building was done appropriately, keeping this landmark in service for decades.

IMG_6308But when you consider just how intact the town’s historic environment from the 1880s to the 1950s is today, you think a National Register historic district nomination in order, or at least one for the historic commercial district, which has a wonderful array of building types, designs, and, luckily for Big Timber, open businesses, including one of my favorite bars in all of the state–at least favorite bar signs–the Timber Bar.

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IMG_6275IMG_6284The next post will look deeper in the historic buildings of Big Timber, and then stretch north to a real jewel, the Melville Lutheran Church.

Circling Back to Rosebud, Montana

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Rosebud, Montana, is a small Northern Pacific era railroad town in Rosebud County.  A recent commentator on the blog asked for more about this town, admitting that a real loss had been a fire that destroyed its historic school from the turn of the 20th century.  But Rosebud has rebuilt a modern school and like any credible Montana town, students maintain a “R” for the school on a bluff outside of town, and when the football season starts this month, this tiny field will be full of spectators, family, and players.

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One reason I liked Rosebud back in 1984-1985 was the town bar, which had great food.  I didn’t remember it as the Longhorn Bar, but that’s the name today and the place still is friendly and worth a stop along old U.S. Highway 10. Another blog reader reminded me that it has always been known as the Longhorn Bar–so that shows you what you can forget in 30 years plus of Montana field study.  Note also in this photo–at the far right in the background is the football field goal posts, a visual of how small the place is.

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Rosebud was never a major railroad town in this part of the Yellowstone Valley but it has kept its school, a handful of businesses, and its post office, which had been updated since my last visit here. It’s still an important part of the valley’s historic landscape. And an important intact 1920s section of the Yellowstone Trail–the initial transcontinental highway that followed the Milwaukee Road’s tracks into eastern Montana.

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The Yellowstone’s Treasure County: Small Place, Big History

IMG_6911Treasure County dates to 1919, one of the last counties created in the Yellowstone Valley.  Among the smallest counties in size, it has just over 700 residents, a drop of over 200 since my visit in 1984.  But the county has some of the most evocative buildings in the state, starting with the Yucca Theatre, built in 1931 by brothers David and Jim Manning, who wanted to give their community a spark, a glimmer of hope in the increasing hard times of the depression.  David Manning had liked the Spanish Mission style when he had traveled in the Southwest, and he thought, why not for Hysham, since the town was near the spot on the Yellowstone River where Manuel Lisa had established one of the valley’s earliest trading posts.

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Despite the brothers’ best intentions, the theatre struggled as the town and county dwindled in population, but David was devoted to it and transformed it into his home, a convenient landmark, it would turn out, for his political career.  Manning was elected to the Montana legislature in 1932, and he was still serving in the House when I worked at the State Capitol from 1982-1983.  He told me about his theatre, and urged me to go and enjoy his town, and stay at the house, if needed.

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The Yucca Theatre was the first building listed in the National Register in Treasure County and it serves once again as a theatre but also a historic site. Local sculptor Bob Schulze has added statues of Lewis and Clark, along with Sacajawea and Pomp, and a saber-tooth tiger, wooly mammoth and a white buffalo to boot.  Across the street, in an old storefront, is the county museum, another addition to Hysham’s heritage tourism offerings since my 1984 visit.

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Rep. Manning also recommended a stop at the Brunswick Bar, and I am glad he did–this is a great place with great Montana bar food.  The bar has been in business since the 1950s, at least, and the building stands at the location of the original county courthouse.

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And speaking of the courthouse, it is a sparkling “contemporary style” building of the 1950s, an important contribution to Montana modernism.  Many have commented on unique treatment of the exterior, with a map of the county serving as the primary design motif.  The building, as you might expect, has changed little since its opening in 1955.

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But there’s another Hysham contribution to Montana modernism:  the Treasure County High School Gym–an Art Moderne styled building from the New Deal era right on old U.S. 10 as it passed through town.

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But this is not the National Register-listed New Deal gym in Treasure County, that is at the hamlet of Sanders, where the WPA built the Sanders School Gymnasium and Community Hall in 1940.  This is not Montana Modernism but Montana Rustic, a design from the Billings architectural firm of J.G. Link. It is one of my favorite New Deal buildings in all of

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New Dealers believed that children needed recreation, and built hundreds of gyms and sports field across the state.  They also believed that devastated, declining rural communities needed spaces–like this community hall–where they could gather for local sports, social events, funerals, and elections.  But the Rustic style in this part of the Yellowstone Valley–not really fitting, the style would have made much more sense in the mountainous western half of Montana.

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At Sanders, the public school has been gone for decades.  But in the northern part of Treasure County, far, really from everywhere is the Rancher School, perhaps the oldest pubic building in the county since its 1910 construction date means that the school predates the actual creation of Treasure County.  Here is a classic early 20th century school–protected still by barb wire and used periodically for community events.  When the National Trust of Historic Preservation placed Montana’s rural schools on its endangered list, everyone had buildings just like the Rancher School in mind.

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Kudos to everyone who has contributed to keeping this building standing as a symbol of communities long gone but not forgotten, not as long as rural landmarks like all of the historic buildings in Treasure County continue to serve owners and residents.

Miles City’s first steps in preservation, 1984

When I next returned to Miles City in March 1984, I found a town much interested in the promise of historic preservation.  At that time, the town and Custer County as a whole only had three properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places:  Fort Keogh, a steam laundry building (since demolished), and the city waterworks along the Yellowstone river.

Miles City Water Treatment Plant, c. 1911

Miles City Water Treatment Plant, c. 1911

This local landmark, which had been converted into the Custer County Arts and Heritage Center, came out of Miles City’s golden decade of the 1910s when the town boomed following the arrival of the Milwaukee Road, the railroad’s decision to turn the town into a division point, and the potential of new business brought about by the arrival of thousands of homesteaders either on the Milwaukee line or the earlier Northern Pacific Railroad, which had done so much to establish and develop the town from 1882 forward.

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The Pumping Station park at the waterworks dates to 1939, another public project of the New Deal which did so much to transform the town and county.

The public meeting for the preservation plan took place at the waterworks, organized by the director of the Custer County Arts and Heritage Center (now known as Waterworks Art Museum).  It was a lively and interested crowd, like me concerned about the fate of Fort Keogh and its rapidly disappearing historic buildings and what still remained in town of its railroad era of 1882 to 1932.

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The fort property had been accidentally preserved for decades, ever since its conversion into an agricultural experiment station in the 1920s.  But preserving what had been left was not a priority of the agricultural reformers (who, to be fair, were never awash in funding).

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The tall metal flag pole marks the old parade grounds at Fort Keogh.

In 1984, one officer quarters still remained on the property, in poor repair.  It has been moved a few miles down the highway and restored at the Range Riders Museum.

Photo taken from Range Riders Museum website

Photo taken from Range Riders Museum website

One historic c. 1920 mess hall, from the fort’s remount era, also remains, and is the post’s most noticeable landmark.  But one brick water wagon shed from 1883 still exists (it was converted into a truck garage in the 1930s) as well as another New Deal building, a massive horse barn from 1934.

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The mess hall, c. 1920, at Fort Keogh

The group that night at the waterworks emphasized that they knew more needed to be done, and over the next generation, town residents have done impressive work, especially considering that the town’s population has been in decline, from about 9600 in 1980 to 8400 in 2010.  The arts center no doubt showed significant leadership:  how a historic building could be converted into new community uses.  But one ringleader also introduced himself to me that evening–Dave Rivenes.  Dave and Ella Rivenes were community institutions as owners/operators of the local television station, representing the smallest television market in the entire United States.

Miles City Dave and Ella Rivenes

As soon as the meeting was over, Dave convinced me to come to his house, and go on the air, discussing for the local audience what had happened that night.  He and Ella then put me on the morning show.  Not having any experience before with live television, I hope that I sounded somewhat with it–it was a surreal experience.  But the pride in the town and the appreciation for the past that I gained from Dave and Ella Rivenes left a lasting mark.  I came to understand that when residents embrace their past, and you help them in that quest, good things for history and preservation can happen.  That is apparent in what Miles City has accomplished in historic preservation over the last 30 years–the subject of my next several posts.

Miles City: The Yellowstone’s Forgotten Jewel

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When I first visited Miles City more than 30 years ago I came to find out more about this first white settlement place in the Yellowstone Valley, where the U.S. Army established its Tongue River Cantonment in 1876 and then, after the battles at Rosebud and the Little Bighorn that same year, it established Fort Keogh, named in honor of Myles Keogh, one of the soldiers who died at Little Bighorn.  I had a small travel grant from the American Association of state and Local History to support this research–the beginnings of the eventual Capitalism on the Frontier book of 1993, so I spent time in the local library–part of which was a classical-styled Carnegie Library, with a rather garish yet functional extension from the 1970s covering up the original building’s facade.

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I spent time that evening at another landmark, the Montana Bar, part of an early 1900s building that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  The bar was not only full of friendly, helpful types.  It also had one of the most amazing intact tavern interiors I had yet encountered in Montana.

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Here, in these dark-stained wood booths, the decorative pressed tin ceiling, the magnificent back bar, and all of the stuffed animal heads seemed to be the real West that was being forgotten and covered over in the more urban, more populated western half of Montana where I lived.

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Miles City especially seemed a throw-back when, across the street, was the biggest, most splashy bar sign I had yet seen in Montana: that of the Ranger Rider Bar.

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That evening I never considered meander through the streets out to the chain motels out by the interstate highway.  I just walked across the street to the Olive Hotel, a historic downtown hotel from the railroad era; the build just stood a few blocks away from the Northern Pacific Railroad depot and faced Main Street, what was for many decades u.S. Highway 10, the primary east-west link in Montana.

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For many visitors no doubt, a day and night in Miles City would be more than enough–that was certainly the reaction back in Helena.  But that early 1983 visit would be just one of many over the years since as I have carefully explored the city’s many layers, ones far deeper and more significant than the real West image the town still carries proudly.  Next comes my real introduction to Miles City during the preservation plan travel of 1984, and my meeting with the Rivenes family.