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Missoula Travel Guide
History of the Milwaukee Road Depot in Missoula
This information was kindly provided by the Boone and Crockett Club, which bought and restored the old Milwaukee Road Depot in Missoula.
Old Milwaukee Depot
In 1905, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad decided to expand west to Puget Sound. The “Lines West” were built between 1906 and 1909, from South Dakota to Seattle/Tacoma, and originally ran steam-powered locomotives. It wasn’t long before the railroad found that steam operation in the mountains was difficult for several reasons, one being temperatures that could go as low as 40 degrees below zero.
The railroad realized that water-power for generating electricity was abundant in the Northwest, and that large supplies of copper for electric wire were available at Anaconda, Montana, so work began in 1914 on 440 miles of electrification between Harlowton, Montana, and Avery, Idaho.
The lines were never successful, and were a major contributor to the bankruptcy in 1925. In the darkest days of the Depression, the Milwaukee made one of its best-known steps — introduction of the famous 100-mile-an-hour Hiawatha trains.
In 1973, the company announced it was phasing out the electrics, which were replaced by diesel locomotives. Then in 1977, once more in financial trouble, it reorganized and shed two-thirds of its trackage. It was acquired by the Soo Line Corp. in the 1980s and the sun soon set on the locomotives along the Milwaukee tracks.
The Milwaukee Depot in Missoula, Montana was built in 1910. The architect that designed the building was J.A. Lindstrand. The building was used as a passenger terminal through 1960 and then freight department offices until it closed permanently in the late 1970’s. In 1981 a connector was built between the passenger terminal and the baggage building and it became the Clark Fork Station restaurant and then the Milwaukee Station restaurant. The supper clubs were not open for long and soon the building stood virtually empty until the Boone and Crockett Club purchased it in 1992.
In September 1992, the Boone and Crockett Club moved to Missoula, Montana, after 105 years in the East. Theodore Roosevelt formed the Club in 1887. His appreciation of the decline of western wildlife and wanton destruction of its natural resources came from observations he developed during his years of traveling, living, and ranching in the West, from 1883 to 1887. From its inception, the Boone and Crockett Club followed Theodore Roosevelt’s westward vision.
When Roosevelt organized the Boone and Crockett Club, its members were eastern gentlemen, primarily from New York and Washington, D.C. Its activities were focused in Washington to promote initiatives through Congressional legislation and Executive Prerogative (order). This was the Club’s necessary battlefield where its influential members could best achieve their goals and objectives because they were primarily federal in character. Accordingly, the Club’s executive offices were in New York and Washington. Later in the 20th century they relocated to Pittsburgh briefly, then back to Washington, D.C. and later its northern Virginia suburbs.
The Club’s headquarters were moved to Missoula, Montana, in September 1992, for three essential reasons. First, its membership of men and women was now diversely scattered across the 50 states and Canada. Second, the Club recognized the major national resource issues of the country continued to evolve in the West. And third, the solution to these western challenges was no longer in Washington at the federal level, but rather had devolved to the local level where the wildlife and watersheds existed. The Club’s decision to move west in 1992 and reinforce TR’s western-looking vision has been affirmed by its renewal and new strength.
Upon purchasing the Depot, the Boone and Crockett Club assessed the architectural potential of the facility and considered how it could be restored to its original, grand condition. The plan included three phases. Phase One was completed in 1993, and involved basic remodeling of the first floor to make it suitable for use as office and conference space. The Second Phase provided for the remodeling of the second floor of the Passenger Building to accommodate the Club’s tenant, the University of Montana — Center for the Rocky Mountain West. This phase was completed in 1998. The Third Phase was the most extensive. This phase included the restoration of the Depot to its 1910 architectural design and was completed in May 2004.
There were three main components to this final phase: 1) Restoration of the Baggage Building to repair the years of modifications that had been made; 2) restoration and creation of office space for the Club’s staff in the Passenger Building; and 3) demolition of the connector and creation of a Visitors’ Gallery that is open to the public.
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