Livingston: the river side of town

Park Co Livingston catholic school 1Livingston’s town plan from 1882 was all about the railroad, with the adjacent Yellowstone River an afterthought, at best an impediment since it defined the south end of town.  So far from the tracks to be of little worth to anyone, few paid it any attention.  100 years later when I am considering the town for the state historic preservation, I too was all about the railroad and the metropolitan corridor of which it was part.  I paid no attention to the river.  The town’s schools were on this end, but they were “modern” so did not capture my attention.

Park Co Livingston L&C at Yellowstone 3Consequently I missed a bit part of the town’s story, the effort to reform the landscape and create public space during the New Deal era.  The Works Progress Administration (WPA) transformed this part of town from 1935 to 1938 expanding an earlier public park into today’s Sacajawea Park.

The agency built a diversion dam on the river to create the lagoon for Sacajawea Lake, and added a lovely rustic-styled stone bridge.  Later improvements came in 1981.

Park Co Livingston Sacajawea Park New Deal pool

As in many other communities across the nation, the agency also added a modern outdoor swimming pool, and bathhouse.  Plus it built a public amphitheater–several of these still exist in Montana.

Park Co Livingston Sacajawea Park New Deal 6The major addition, however, was the large combination Civic Center and National Guard Armory, an Art Deco-styled building that cost an estimated $100,000 in 1938.  It too survives and is in active use by the community.

Park Co Livingston Sacajawea Park New Deal 1Tourists now come to this area more often than in the past due to additions made during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial in the early 21st century.  The park is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

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Local sources funded the additional of an interpretive memorial and statue in honor of the July 1806 stop at this place by Sacajawea and her baby Pomp. Mary Michael is the sculptor. The result is a reinvigorated

public space, not only due to the history markers about Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea, and Pomp, but also the obvious community pride in this connection between town, river, and mountains.

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Eastern Park County and the Yellowstone River

Park Co US 89 Horse Thief Trail bridgeTraveling south of Clyde Park on U.S. 89, you pass by the turn-off for Horse Thief Trail, where a historic steel bridge still allows for one-lane traffic over the Shields River; this bridge and snippet of road is part of the original route of U.S 89.  That means you are nearing the confluence of the Yellowstone and Shields rivers, and where U.S. Highway 89 crosses the Yellowstone River and takes you into the heart of Park County. Paralleling the modern concrete bridge is a c. 1897 steel Pratt through truss bridge, to serve the Northern Pacific Railroad spur that runs north to Clyde Park then Wilsall.  The Northern Pacific called this the Third Crossing of the Yellowstone bridge; the Phoenix Bridge Company constructed it.

Park Co US 89 Yellowstone River NPRR bridge  Before jogging slightly to the west to head to Livingston, the county seat, two places east of the Shields River confluence are worth a look.  First is the site of Fort Parker, established as the first Crow Agency in 1869 or the first federal facility in the valley.  It operated from this location until 1875.

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Interstate I-90 traffic passes directly by the fort site, which was on a low bluff overlooking the Yellowstone

In conducting the 1983-1984 survey for the state historic preservation plan, the location of Fort Parker was understood, but not explored and certainly not interpreted.  Here was a very important story of how the Crow Indians initially interacted with federal agents within 4 years of the end of the Civil War and 7 years before the battle of Little Big Horn. Nothing was marked; it was in danger of becoming a forgotten place.

MT 2007 Park County Ft ParkerGladly all of that changed in the 21st century.  As a result of another innovative state partnership with land owners, there is an interpretive center for the Fort Parker story, easily accessible from the interstate, which also does not intrude into the potentially rich archaeological remains of the fort.  The story told by the historical markers is accurate and comprehensive, from the agency’s beginnings to the land today.

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I really like how the metal tipi poles not only make the site easy to locate but it gives it a Native American centeredness, a presence, that otherwise is missing when all that the visitor finds is an interpretive marker. After all the story of Fort Parker is very much the story of the Crow Indians, and how they resisted, accommodated, and came to terms with the increasing white presence in the Yellowstone Valley in the 1870s.

MT 2007 Park County Ft Parker 1Few remnants of that early white settlement remain today; you can find some just north of Springdale, at Park County’s eastern border, on the north side of the Yellowstone River.  Hunter’s Hot Springs was the first attraction, established by Andrew Jackson Hunter in the 1870s, and receiving its last update in the early years of automobile tourism in the 1920s, as shown below in this postcard from my collection.  Today, as the Google image below also shows, there are just scattered stones and fences from what had been a showplace for the valley.

The disappearance of Hunter’s Hot Springs from the valley landscape is also reflected in marked decline at Springdale, the railroad town south of the river that provided access to the resort, over the last 30 years.  One of the Yellowstone’s famous early 20th century highway bridges once crossed here; remnants are all that remain now.

Park Co Springdale Yellowstone River bridgeCommercial businesses once lined the town side of the Northern Pacific tracks.  Nothing is open today although trains rumbled down this historic main line every day.  What does survive is impressive and worthy of

 

landmark status in my opinion:  the Springdale school.  Once nestled on the edge of town (what was then the least valuable land since everything was focused on the tracks) but now easily found from the interstate exit, this school may be the most accessible rural school in the state.  Built in 1918, it is still the town’s focus almost 100 years later.

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Park Co Springdale school

 

Reedpoint, Stillwater County, Montana

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Reedpoint, a tiny Yellowstone Valley town located between Columbus to the east and Big Timber to the west, typically never makes the news, except when a forest fire sweeps near the town boundary, as was the case a few years ago, or when it is Labor Day Weekend and the state’s big newspapers arrive, along with thousands of others, for the tongue-in-cheek “Great Sheep Drive” through the town’s main street.

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But the Great Sheep Drive, which has now been around for a generation, is more than what keeps Reedpoint on the map, and surviving.  The Reedpoint Community Club, established in 1979, keeps the community together and looks for opportunity.  Historic buildings such as the ones above and below have been remodeled or renovated for new uses, reflecting the railroad’s town greatest prosperity in the early 20th century.

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The local dive bar comes alive on weekend, when anglers come in greater numbers to fish along the Yellowstone.  Its ramshackle appearance is new “Old West” at its best.

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The Reedpoint School–a photo of the older historic building is featured here–remains a key to the town’s survival and its future.  With somewhere south of 200 residents, good schools are a must or the sinews of the place come apart.

IMG_1217So too are community institutions important.  The local library is small but still there, a place of valued interaction between young and old.

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I worry about the historic Occidental grain elevator.  For 30 plus years I have roared past this place going to and from Billings, but the elevator was a landmark.  Not only did it link

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the homesteaders of 100 years ago to the railroad, it also linked whatever grains from this part of the valley to that worldwide market accessed by the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railway.  Some years ago the old depot was moved off

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the tracks and found a new life in town.  That conversion is not so easy with an elevator.  When this tall landmark goes so too does a key part of Reedpoint’s history, and yet another link to its origins as a Northern Pacific railroad town.