Montana Mainstreets: A Guide To Historic Bozeman

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9780972152235: Montana Mainstreets: A Guide To Historic Bozeman
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Founded in the 1860s on an important emigrant route to the territory's gold camps, Bozeman, Montana, grew rapidly from frontier farming settlement into a bustling center of commerce. The arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883 and the establishment of the Montana State College twenty years later secured the town's bright future. As the Bozeman prospered, substantial buildings of brick and stone grew up along its Main Street and in its newly platted neighborhoods. Today, the town's historic center, substantial public buildings, and charming homes remain a vibrant part of the community.



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About the Author:

Jim Jenks is a historian with the Montana Preservation Alliance. He is currently at work on a multi-media project to document the traditional and ranching landscapes of Montana's Tongue River Valley.

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Bozeman grew up during the American Gilded Age, when the late 19th century witnessed the birth of modern America. Between 1865 and the 1890s, Americans settled 430 million acres in the Far West―more land than was homesteaded during the preceding 250 years of Euro-American history on the continent. The Gilded Age coincided with the Victorian Era, and was rooted in the heavy industrialization of the United States, which included the construction of railroads as well as the perceived “closing” of the American frontier. Men like Marcus Daly and Nelson Story personified the ambitions of the great barons of the era, and the construction of the United States' first transconitental railroad seems a fitting symbol of the era―advances in technology, new wealth (often produced through corrupt means, such as “Crédit Mobilier of America” scandal), and the uniting of a once widely dispersed territory.

Locals were quite aware of the potential wealth and access to new markets that a railroad would bring. Bozeman, though growing, believed a rail line would be that lasting connection between town and nation, and would guarantee economic security. Local booster and banker Peter Koch recounted the importance of the railroad for local prosperity in his Historical Sketch of Bozeman, Gallatin Valley and Bozeman Pass, and recounted hopes both generated and dashed in 1871 when the

"Northern Pacific surveying parties ran lines across Bozeman Pass...and we all believed that time had come when our front door was to be swung wide open. But again we were doomed to disappointment."[i]

For many local citizens, the railroad was the difference between a thriving township ripe for expansion, or a ghost town like many others all over the West. By early 1882, the financially recovered Northern Pacific Railroad had not reached Bozeman, yet local discussion of the rail line's possible routes was a hot topic. The Northern Pacific was busily surveying two possible routes to Yellowstone National Park. The first proposed route followed the Yellowstone River south to Mammoth Hot Springs. The other option, trumpeted by Gallatin County's leading citizens and surveyed by none other than Peter Koch for the Northern Pacific, passed through Bozeman.

The Avant-Courier confidently predicted the adoption of the Bozeman route, and not only for the huge quantities of available timber which would aid construction. As the Avant-Courier pointed out,

"Finally, by it's [the Bozeman route's] adoption, the company virtually corrals the entire Clarks Fork mining district [located along the northern Montana/Idaho border]."

Such incentive would indeed prove too much for the Northern Pacific to pass up, and undoubtedly it was hoped that some of this wealth would trickle into Bozeman pockets.

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