Fort Benton carries with it all the history and charm that you’d expect from Montana’s birthplace. Established in 1864, an American Fur Company trading post at first, it became the hub for trade and travel throughout the northwestern United States and Canada. Fifty steamboats a season would dock along its levee, bringing fur traders, gold seekers and settlers to the land of their dreams. Freight destined for isolated settlements would be loaded onto wagons and pulled by thousands of oxen along the trails of the northern plains. In the summer of 1867, General Thomas Francis Meagher, the first territorial governor of Montana, fell overboard from the steamboat G. A. Thompson, into the rushing waters of the Missouri River never to be seen again.
In the 1880s the area on Front Street, between the cross streets of 15th and 16th Streets, was known as the Bloodiest Block in the West with more than a dozen saloons, dance halls, gambling parlors and whorehouses. Violence was often the order as anything went for 24 hours every day as these establishments stayed open all night. Poker was played with six-guns atop the table where females from the brothels were as tough as the men. In 1882, the Grand Union Hotel, the oldest operating hotel in Montana, opened on this street. It had the best view which overlooked all the action. Cowboys, ships’ crew and longshoremen all came together here.
You can relive the old history by partaking in Montana’s premiere small town festival, the Annual Fort Benton Summer Celebration June 23-25, 2023. From live performances, community picnics, arts and crafts vendors, sidewalk chalk art contests, and a parade during the day to street dances and fireworks at night, you will find many reasons to love small- town life for the weekend!
Fort Benton also has four museums, which walk visitors through the town’s timeline, from the dawn of the First Peoples to the homesteader era and beyond. The Missouri River, once the “World’s Innermost Port” and best route to Montana Territory, flows gently along Front Street. Today Fort Benton is a charming community defined by its historic structures and diversity of local businesses. A person could easily spend a day or weekend shopping, dining, and enjoying the scenery in Fort Benton.