Sunday, March 28, 2010

Welcome to Montana

Montana, Montana,
Glory of the West.
Of all the states from coast to coast
You're easily the best.
Montana, Montana,
Where skies are always blue.
Montana, I love you!
--The Montana State Song

In 1946, my parents, who had never been west of Columbus Ohio moved to western Montana, a place they immediately decided was "home." Three years later, I was born, in Billings Deaconess Hospital. I've lived most of my life in the Treasure State, a place I dearly love. In the late 1980s, I was traveling through Judith Basin County, in the central part of the state, and saw the county court house in Stanford. I was impressed that such a sparsely populated place could afford to build such a fine structure, and I began noticing other court houses as I traveled. All the court houses I found were impressive in their own way, and I began thinking of creating a coffee-table book of the fifty-six county court houses in Montana. My dream was to have this finished in time for the statehood centennial in 1989, but I had neither the time nor the money to pursue that dream. Now, twenty-one years later, I have completed my photographic survey of the state's court houses, and it is my great pleasure to share them with you.

Montana's State Capitol, Helena

Recently I read that there are 12,000 miles of highway within Montana's borders. I can't say that I've covered all 12,000, but were I a betting man, I'd wager that I've now seen more of Montana than most people--more than even most Montanans. There are four highways and one Amtrak line that cross the state from east to west. * I've seen the state from all five, and there are very few miles on any of them that I haven't traversed. The same is true of the five federal highways that cross the state north to south, and beyond these are the numerous state highways and secondary roads, and more than a few dirt roads. I feel like the guy in the song who sings "I've been everywhere, man!"

Montana is a large state, 4th in area after Alaska, Texas, and California. It is as far from the Idaho state line on I-90 to the North Dakota state line (on I-94) as it is from Washington DC to Chicago (695 miles across Montana, as opposed to 700 miles DC to Chicago). In the western part of the state, cities are roughly 100 miles apart. In the eastern part of the state, towns can be that distant. You see a lot of country side when you drive across Montana.

Bitterroot (Lewisia Rediviva), Montana's State Flower

As I worked on the court house project, I began to question our civic involvement. It becomes obvious, as we look at most of these buildings, that the people responsible for building them believed in government. They were proud of their local government, and wanted to show their pride in what has been called an "edifice complex." I wonder where and when we lost that civic pride? These days it seems that we hear over and over that government is the problem. I don't believe that the people who built these magnificent buildings felt that way, and I fear we have lost something crucial in our national psyche.

The Big Sky, Rosebud County

Finally, I came to feel that I wanted to do more than just showcase the buildings. What follows will be a photo essay on Montana's fifty-six counties. There will be one blog post/chapter per county, and I have arranged them using the Montana county numbering system. In 1934, Montana developed the system it still uses for license plates. Each county has its own number, and while you will hear that these numbers are based on the 1930 census, I don't believe that's fully accurate. For example, Lincoln County, which holds number 56 out of 56, was not the most recently created county and was never the smallest county in population. Today, in fact, if the numbers were redistributed according to current population, Lincoln County would be in 10th place. What I consider a more likely explanation is that the county number reflects the political influence a county had in the 1934 legislature.

Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park

When I was growing up, Montana school children memorized the county numbers, usually learning both the county name and the name of its seat. Adults carried business cards that had the county numbers printed on the back. When you saw a car on the highway with a number 1 license, you knew that car came from Butte, or at least from Silver Bow County. If it had a 49, it was from Livingston, or Park County. As I noted above, Montana still uses the county number system, but with the increasing popularity of vanity or affinity plates, neither of which shows a county number, I wonder if children still memorize them.

If you'd care to come along, you're welcome. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the view out the window. If you feel yourself getting carsick, feel free to take a break or even get off the bus entirely. It's your choice.

Montana Factoids

Population (2008) - 967,440
Size - 145,556 sq mi.
Capital - Helena
Largest City - Billings
Highest Elevation - 12,850 ft
Lowest Elevation - 1,800 ft
Annual Rainfall - 14.89 in.
State Flower - Bitter Root
State Bird - Western Meadow Lark
State Song - "Montana"
Entered Union November 8, 1889, the 41st State

Montana's County Numbers with County Seat
and number if based on 2008 population estimates

  1. Silver Bow County, Butte, 8
  2. Cascade County, Great Falls, 5
  3. Yellowstone County, Billings, 1
  4. Missoula County, Missoula, 2
  5. Lewis & Clark County, Helena, 6
  6. Gallatin County, Bozeman, 3
  7. Flathead County, Kalispell, 4
  8. Fergus County, Lewistown, 16
  9. Power River County, Broadus, 47
  10. Carbon County, Red Lodge, 20
  11. Phillips County, Malta, 37
  12. Hill County, Havre, 11
  13. Ravalli County, Hamilton, 7
  14. Custer County, Miles City, 17
  15. Lake County, Polson, 9
  16. Dawson County, Glendive, 26
  17. Roosevelt County, Wolf Point, 19
  18. Beaverhead County, Dillon, 23
  19. Chouteau County, Fort Benton, 33
  20. Valley County, Glasgow, 29
  21. Toole County, Shelby, 34
  22. Big Horn County, Hardin, 14
  23. Musselshell County, Roundup, 36
  24. Blaine County, Chinook, 30
  25. Madison County, Virginia City, 27
  26. Pondera County, Conrad, 32
  27. Richland County, Sidney, 21
  28. Powell County, Deer Lodge, 28
  29. Rosebud County, Forsyth, 22
  30. Deer Lodge County, Anaconda, 24
  31. Teton County, Choteau, 31
  32. Stillwater County, Columbus, 25
  33. Treasure County, Hysham, 55
  34. Sheridan County, Plentywood, 40
  35. Sanders County, Thompson Falls, 18
  36. Judith Basin County, Stanford, 43
  37. Daniels County, Scobey, 49
  38. Glacier County, Cut Bank, 13
  39. Fallon County, Baker, 42
  40. Sweet Grass County, Big Timber, 39
  41. McCone County, Circle, 48
  42. Carter County, Ekalaka, 50
  43. Broadwater County, Townsend, 35
  44. Wheatland County, Harlowtown, 44
  45. Prairie County, Terry, 53
  46. Granite County, Philipsburg, 41
  47. Meagher County, White Sulphur Springs, 45
  48. Liberty County, Chester, 46
  49. Park County, Livingston, 12
  50. Garfield County, Jordan, 51
  51. Jefferson County, Boulder, 15
  52. Wibaux County, Wibaux, 54
  53. Golden Valley County, Ryegate, 52
  54. Mineral County, Superior, 38
  55. Petroleum County, Winnett, 6
  56. Lincoln County, Libby, 10
*The east/west highways that cross the state from the southern most to the northern line: US 10 (now replaced by Interstates 90 and 94); US 12; Montana State 200; US 2. Amtrak follows US 2 for most of the way across the state.

The north/south highways starting in the west: US 93, US 91 (now replaced by Interstate 15), US 89--the Montana Centennial Highway which connects Yellowstone National Park in the south and Glacier National Park in the north; US 87, Montana State 3, Montana State 59.

Photo Information

Welcome to Montana Sign: Taken 3/28/2010, Lolo Pass, Montana, Nikon D80 DSLR, Nikkor 16-85 mm wide angle/tele/zoom lens set at 35 mm. ISO 800, f /16.0, 1/180 second.

Montana Capitol Building: Taken 9/8/2007, Helena, Montana, Nikon D80 DSLR, Sigma 18-50 mm tele/zoom lens set at 33 mm. ISO 125, f /6.7, 1/250 second.

Bitterroot Photo: Taken 6/22/2007, Missoula, Montana, Nikon D80 DSLR, Sigma 18-50 mm tele/zoom lens set at 38mm, ISO 200, f /8.0, 1/400 second, 8:11 am

Prairie Photo: Taken 9/10/2007 in Rosebud County, Montana. Nikon D80 DSLR, Sigma 18-50 mm tele/zoom lens set at 50 mm. ISO 125, f /6.7, 1/500 second.

St. Mary Lake: Taken 8/30/2009 in Glacier National Park, Montana. Nikon D80 DSLR, Sigma 18-50 mm tele/zoom lens set at 18 mm. ISO 125, f/5.6. HDR Composite Image processed in Photoshop CS4.

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