Preservation Retrospective

Courtney Kramer

At the end of 2014, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the productivity and quiet successes of Bozeman’s historic preservation program over the last year. After years of work, a number of projects finally came to fruition which will have a positive lasting effect on the program. New partnerships have improved recognition of our historic places and given community members better exposure to our shared history. A handful of high-profile historic places have received reinvestment and the City is embarking on a much needed period of public policy evaluation to make such investment easier in the future.

On Christmas Eve 2013, the National Park Service listed the core of the Montana State University-Bozeman campus on the National Register of Historic Places. The recognition is the result of a year-long collaboration between MSU, the Montana State Historic Preservation Office and Jessie Nunn, an architectural historian who drafted a phenomenal history of the Bozeman campus. The historic district includes a wide range of architectural styles and includes buildings constructed between 1893 and 1967. The MSU District is Bozeman’s 10th National Register historic district and the first listing in 18 years. The nomination also provides a wealth of information about Bozeman’s history and the role MSU played in economic growth in the Gallatin Valley and throughout Montana.

In 2015, the City of Bozeman renewed our commitment to gathering information about cultural resources in Bozeman. The last major effort of this kind occurred in 1984 and resulted in bout 2,000 Montana Historical and Architectural Inventory forms. The Inventory generally disregarded the historic significance of properties constructed after 1945. With the perspective of another 30 years, we recognize that mid-20th century structures like the Academy of Cosmetology building on Mendenhall or the Bozeman Bowl on Babcock are worthy of evaluation as potentially historic due to their unique architecture and place in our community’s history.

In May 2014, the City partnered with the Downtown Bozeman Partnership to conduct a cultural resource survey of about 100 properties in downtown Bozeman, which should be complete in the first quarter of 2015. A team of professional architectural historians are hard at work creating new Montana Property Record Forms for each property. The new forms will provide accurate data about a property’s historic significance, from which owners, investors, City staff and elected officials will be able to make informed land use decisions.

In anticipation of future survey work, the City began a “reconnaissance survey” of Bozeman’s core in the fall of 2014. The goal of this work is to identify potential historic districts in our community as well as areas of our community that are unlikely to be recognized as historic. The reconnaissance survey will be used as a road map to prioritize more extensive research of unidentified historic places. Community members interested in nominating their property to the National Register will be able to use the reconnaissance survey to begin working on new historic district nominations.

The well attended public history events held in 2014 proved Bozemanites interested in our community’s history. Our local museums and history organizations partnered to host a number of events this year, many centered on the 150th anniversary of Bozeman’s founding in August 1864. The Museum of the Rockies began “Hops and History” in May, which paired lectures about the history of beer brewing in Montana with pints of beer offered by local breweries. The monthly event became a hit and grew to over 250 attendees and four kegs of beer by its last session in September.

The Extreme History Project partnered with the Gallatin History Museum to host walking tours of Bozeman’s historic places. The highly popular tours averaged 10 attendees per tour and covered the Main Street Historic District, the Southside residential district, Bozeman’s churches and the railroad- related resources in Bozeman’s north east neighborhood. Kudos to the Extreme History Project for resurrecting guided walking tours and engaging community members who wanted to know more about Bozeman’s historic places.

The Museum of the Rockies hosted lectures on behalf of the Gallatin History Museum, whose fall series included speakers discussing the history of Gallatin Field airport and the impact of railroads on local economic development. The Extreme History Project also continued their partnership with the Museum of the Rockies, where they hosted free monthly lectures covering topics like the history of marriage in Montana, the centennial of women’s suffrage and the cultural landscape available in Story Mill Park.

The biggest success may have been the October premier of the Extreme History Project’s interpretative play “Who Killed John Bozeman?” The play re-evaluated the legend of the town namesake’s 1867 death using new archival research and oral history interviews with members of the Crow tribe. Offered in a multi-media format, the play was a raucous success and sold out all 210 seats of the Hager Auditorium at the Museum of the Rockies for both shows. I overheard one attendee say, “That’s the most fun I’ve had all fall!”

The turnout for these events underscores our community’s interest in local history and recognition of our cultural resources. In June 2014, the new Heritage Consortium began monthly meetings with a representative from the Museum of the Rockies, Gallatin History Museum, American Computer Museum, Headwaters Museum, Bozeman Preservation Board and Gallatin County Historic Preservation Board, just to name a few. Getting everyone in the same room once a month is a positive move towards coordinating event scheduling, topic programming and stewarding scarce resources amongst the various history-related organizations.

Open communication will be important in 2015, as the Montana Historical Society brings the Montana History Conference to Bozeman September 23-26, 2015.  This will be the first time since the early 1980’s that the MHS Conference is in Bozeman and provides an incredible opportunity to showcase the historic significance of Bozeman and Southwest Montana.

Perhaps the most visible 2014 wins for historic preservation are the reinvestment in endangered historic places. The adaptive reuse of East Willson School has been approved by the City and is under way. The project will bring 17 new residential condominiums to downtown Bozeman and breathe new life into a building shuttered since the late 1990’s. Congratulations to owners Bridger Builders and designers Comma Q Architecture for putting the project together.

The development of Story Mill Park by the Trust for Public Land and the City of Bozeman in the spring of 2014 provides an amazing opportunity to talk about cultural resources in a landscape-sized way. The site is across the East Gallatin River from Story Mill, where Bozeman entrepreneur Nelson Story manipulated water resources from Lyman, Bridger, Rocky and Bozeman Creeks to harness water to power his grain milling operation. The mill ditch is still visible along the hillside above the mill. The railroad spur to Story’s mill provided an important transportation link to the main line of the Northern Pacific Railway’s tracks and is now a trail corridor. Interpretation of the area’s cultural resources will occur with the park’s development.

Reinvestment in another long-neglected historic structure on the north east side of town is planned for late 2014. Montana Rail Link has applied for a Building Permit to replace the roof of the Northern Pacific Railway passenger depot, at Front and Tamarack Streets, and plans to begin work after Thanksgiving. The existing shingle roof dates to 1958 and is extremely deteriorated. Leaking water is damaging the plaster ceilings inside the building.

Rail Link’s reinvestment comes as a direct result of a 2013 Structural Analysis of the structure, which was funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the North East Urban Renewal Board. The structural analysis, which is available on the City’s website or at the Bozeman Public Library, found that the depot is a fantastic candidate for adaptive reuse. The new roof will stop further deterioration and buy time to work with Rail Link to make the building available for adaptive reuse. A new community group has formed to focus their attention on the practical issues like parking, public safety and infrastructure needed to bring the depot back to life.

The continued investment in privately owned homes in Bozeman’s six residential historic districts and the sprawling Conservation Overlay District should not go without mention. The Department of Community Development processed over 100 Certificate of Appropriateness applications for private residences this year, which reinforces the commitment of private property owners to restoring, maintaining and repairing their historic homes.

In October 2014, the City received notification of award of Community Development Block Grant to evaluate the Conservation Overlay District. The $30,000 grant is the first of its kind for the City since the early 1980’s. The funding will be used to study the effects of the Conservation Overlay on historic preservation, affordability and affordable housing. The goal is to evaluate the 23 year old program and identify opportunities for improvement to better serve our community members.

The community did lose one structure of major historic significance in 2014. The Lehrkind Brewery wall, on North Wallace Avenue, was finally demolished at the insistence of the Chief Building Official after seven years in limbo. The ruin had become a public safety concern, as the temporary bracing installed in 2007 was never intended to last through many years of weather and wind. Loss of the building jeopardizes the Bozeman Brewery Historic District and brings recommitted attention to the prevention of demolition by neglect.

In this context, the City Commission upheld the Director of Community Development’s denial of a request to demolish a historic residence at 430 South Tracy Avenue in October 2014. The Commission found that the structure retained some economic life and was of historic significance in the National Register historic district. This signals increased commitment to making data-driven decisions about the circumstances necessary to approve demolition of a historic building in Bozeman.

Overall, 2014 was a year of quiet successes for historic preservation in Bozeman. Community interest in our history and the ongoing efforts to improve public policy for cultural resource management set the stage for a productive 2015.   

This was made by

Courtney Kramer

Courtney Kramer is a proud graduate of MSU’s History Department and serves as the City of Bozeman’s Historic Preservation Officer. She may be contacted at the City Planning Office, 406-582-2260 or via email at (at) bozeman [d0t] net,). More information about Bozeman’s historic districts is available at

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