By Brad Reynolds
Legacies are all about history—successes built on the backs of our forefathers, cultural footprints, and emblems of generations gone by. You can look anywhere in Montana and discover windows to our past.
And quite often, you’ll find those windows on Main Street.
Most (if not all) Treasure State communities keep their history out in the open—in museums, in architecture, in stories shared at local restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. Certainly this can be said of Glasgow, a community with its past on proud display. Every time a student athlete hits the court, track, or field, their Scottie jersey reminds us of Glasgow’s cultural heritage. The steady whistle of the trains is a symbol of the railroad’s enduring importance to the Hi-Line. You can’t drive through town without passing a community mainstay or a century-old building. Glasgow is saturated with history, and it isn’t hard to find.
History is all around us, but harder to preserve than one might think. Objects decay. Stories fade. Details are lost to time. We rarely consider our present-day lives through the eyes of future generations; just because something seems ordinary or insignificant to us now doesn’t mean it won’t have meaning to someone hundreds of years later.
“I think it’s human nature, especially as we get older, to want to find out about our roots,” says Kitty Lou Rusher of the Valley County Pioneer Museum.
At least once a week, someone stops in trying to glean information about their ancestors from the museum archives, which consist of family histories, city records, and newspapers dating as far back as the 1890s.
Visitors might also find personal significance in the eclectic assortment of historical treasures, including pioneer artifacts, aviation displays, railroad memorabilia, a Fort Peck exhibit, and a 1915 replica of a Valley County street scene. An ornate Buffalo Bill Cody Bar is featured here (still sporting a bullet hole and lead slug from the Wild West), as is a mounted buffalo that was butchered for a celebration honoring President Roosevelt’s visit in 1934. The museum also has an impressive collection of Native American artifacts, with an authentic teepee as its centerpiece.
“Someone came in once and introduced himself as being from the Smithsonian,” Rusher says with delight. “He said, ‘Do you realize what you have here?’”
This statement sums up Glasgow as a whole. Twenty miles north of town is the partially preserved Glasgow Air Force Base, now St. Marie. Twenty miles southeast is the Fort Peck Dam, a New Deal-era project and the largest earth-fill dam of its day. At Glasgow’s heart is another New Deal era project that can be enjoyed today. The court house/Post Office is home to a sizable oil painting by Forest Hill—a mural titled Montana’s Progress.
Montana’s progress hasn’t halted in the decades since Hill’s painting in 1942, and it doesn’t seem to be any time soon. While there are many examples of Glasgow history being preserved for future generations, there are many others of historic structures being restored and repurposed for modern-day use.
In 2013, Rundle Suites stirred up excitement in the area, reopening the three-story historic hotel which once served as the community’s center of commerce and recreation. The mission-style structure housed apartments, offices, and forty hotel rooms, in addition to a billiards room, bowling alley, barber shop, and even a Turkish bath.
Today, the century-old building maintains its colorful, detailed terra cotta tile work, raised brick arches, and coped, shaped parapet walls. Some interior features have been restored, while others have been adapted to meet the needs of modern-day clientele. One aspect of a Rundle stay that hasn’t changed: everything is within walking distance. Shopping, food, and entertainment are all nearby.
The site of Glasgow’s first hotel, the Waldo House (which burned in 1885 and was rebuilt as Stan’s Saloon) is preparing to serve the community again, this time as a mercantile, featuring a bakery, coffee shop, barber shop, antique store, and wine bar. Owner Mary Helland, President of the Glasgow Historical Society, plans to welcome customers summer 2019, and already she’s hosted several events within the multi-use facility.
“It’s really evolved into something elegant,” she explains.
The business, Mary’s Mercantile, retains its original tin ceiling and wood flooring. Siding that had been on the walls for decades was removed to reveal original cathedral-style leaded glass windows beneath. The sleek, Art deco-style bar remains a focal point.
“When President Roosevelt came up in 1934, the town wanted to put its best foot forward, so they put a lot of these modernistic bars out,” Helland explains.
In addition to the history already on premise, a lot of historic items have been donated for use as décor. Architectural salvage from four train cars has been offered up, including brass luggage racks and a chandelier.
“I didn’t set out to have a train theme, but train history is important to the Hi-Line,” Helland laughs. “Once you start restoring a historic building, people bring you stuff.”
Sharing in the American Dream
Success rarely comes without collaboration. We are all inspired by people, places, and even our past to see our ambitions through.
When Glasgow’s Ben Boreson was ready to retire from his radiator repair shop, he thought hard about where he was going and where he’d been. He didn’t hand down his business. He didn’t sell it. In fact, he didn’t even leave. Instead, Boreson converted his greasy repair shop into a sleek, industrial brewery.
“I was tired of busting my knuckles,” he says, which is where the name Busted Knuckle Brewery comes from.
Although Boreson no longer works on car parts, he is surrounded by them on a daily basis. There are tables made from radiators and mufflers, the handles on the pour spouts are wrenches, and the beer menu is written on a hanging car hood. In every direction, the brewery’s décor offers a constant reminder of its origins. Boreson and his wife, Connie, developed the Busted Knuckle’s distinct interior design, and local artists helped bring their vision to life, creating a slick-looking mom and pop brewery that everyone can be proud of.
Two blocks west is another community triumph, one that was established 120 years ago—the Montana Bar.
“There are older bars in the state, but as far as I know, this is the oldest bar that’s still open 365 days a year,” explains co-owner Lana Monson.
In the 1920s, the Montana Bar survived Prohibition, subsisting on sales of tobacco, juice, and soda. During the Depression, there were farmers that lost everything here over a bad hand of cards. Better times came in the late 1930s, when the Fort Peck Dam’s construction brought new jobs to the area, drumming up more business for the tavern. By the early Sixties, it was the biggest keg beer account in the state, tapping 150 kegs a month—an average of five per day! And in September 1999, crowds flooded the Montana Bar, spilling onto the sidewalk and alley in celebration of the beloved tavern’s centennial.
“This bar has been a gathering place for all the locals on a day to day basis,” says Monson. “The patrons have all become extended family.”
Similarly, Glasgow’s landmark pizzeria, Eugene’s Pizza, attributes its success to dough-slingers past and present, along with generations of family, friends, and loyal customers. Started by Eugene E. Barger in 1962, it was sold to Arlie and MarySue Knodel in 1967. The couple bought it after just two days of consideration and started their first day with $40 in the cash register. With great food and honest business practices, their leap of faith has developed into a multi-generational success story.
“There are a lot of memories here,” says Sam Knodel, who carries on the family legacy with his brother, Jeff.
In addition to running the beloved pizzeria, the brothers bottle Sam & Jeff’s “Sweet” Montana BBQ Sauce (a recipe that Eugene’s has made in-house since 1962), and in 2018, they reopened Sam’s Supper Club as a cozy neighborhood lounge called Sam & Jeff’s.
“We’re very community-oriented,” says Jeff Knodel, noting that there’s a lot of pride in Glasgow.
It’s a town of dreamers and doers—always has been, always will be.