There’s a stark – and wonderful – contrast between Montana’s open, expansive, wild landscape and the small towns that dot the countryside. The towns, founded to support hardworking miners, ranchers, farmers, loggers and railroaders, are gritty and rundown; they were built for a purpose, and in many cases that purpose has fled town. There’s been little money for paint or “pretty-fying” for quite a few years. Big box stores have no interest in these towns, and the endless mini-malls and suburban sprawl that’s plagued other parts of the country is simply not an issue. Town ends and the country begins. In much of Montana you either live in town or in the country – there’s no in-between.
There is one constant, however: there are always plenty of bars along any Main Street. The bars most likely need a coat or two or paint, but they’ve lasted through good times and bad.
Anaconda, Montana was founded when the Anaconda Copper Company needed a smelter for its mining operations in Butte. Like Butte, it was populated by Irish, Italian, Croatian, Slavic and Polish immigrants who were predominantly Catholic and who liked a drink after a long day at the smelter. Anaconda has limped along since the smelter shut down in 1980, but the town still has the gritty charm it always had.
The Club Moderne has got to be my favorite bar in Montana. This is one art deco beauty that’s in need of a few repairs, but it’s hanging in there.
And the J.F.K. Bar. The Catholics of Anaconda were proud of their president.
The smoking area for the J.F.K.:
More views of Anaconda. One of the advantages of rare updating is a plethora of ghost signs:
Deer Lodge, 31 miles down the road from Anaconda, was a railroad center until the railroad pulled out in 1980 – the same year the smelter closed in Anaconda. The town has seen hard times as well, but has managed to hang on as a ranching center, as well as being the site of the state prison.
Such a wonderful post. I love traveling through small towns and reading the stories of how they began, and I love seeing the vestiges of the past that have been left behind. Here in Dallas, much of our past has been torn down to make way for more modern buildings. Change happens, but I hate losing those beautiful pieces of the past.
It always seems to be a function of the economy, doesn’t it? If there’s money to renovate, we end up losing a sense of the past if we’re not careful. Helena lost a lot through Urban Renewal in the 70s, but luckily people now seem more aware of the importance of saving history. But I worry that the character many of these little towns will just disappear, because they’re not really architecturally “significant.” I think I’ll make it a goal to photograph as many as I can, now that I think of it!
I absolutely share your appreciation for small towns and often photograph them here in my home state of Minnesota to feature on my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog. It was a pleasure to walk with you, via your images, through these places in Montana. I love the old signage and buildings. Thank you for showcasing this history, which I hope will continue and be appreciated by those who live in and visit these small towns.
Thanks so much. I’m so pleased I found your blog – I can see we share similar interests!
I think my favourite part is the JFK’s smoking area. I don’t smoke myself but I love the no-nonsense approach 🙂
I like it too. I especially like the way they’ve labelled the chairs so that no one takes them.
That’s a noble tradition. It’s funny but the first thing it reminded me of is the way the stone (posh) seats at the Colosseum in Rome are carved with the names of the senators who owned those seats. Same principle! 🙂
Great post. Like all the photos. I’ll have to get up there and visit some of these towns. So much of the west to explore. It will take a lifetime.
But what a fun way to spend a lifetime! Thanks.
I’ve always been fascinated by small-town bars in Montana. Thanks for posting the wonderful photos and commentary.
The J.F.K actually stands for the Original owners name – John ‘Frank’ Kovacich – My Auntie and Uncle Kovacich where one the last decendents of the Kovacich’s who owned it…
Thanks for sharing that. Never safe to make assumptions!
Aunt Evelyn & Uncle John Kovacich…