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Fort Peck's buildings are lasting treasures

The buildings that remain from those early days of Fort Peck are replete with rustic memories that almost emanate from the rough-hewn timbers in the Fort Peck Hotel, or sing out from the stage at the Fort Peck Theater, or echo in the hallways of the Administration Building. These sturdy structural survivors, along with others, such as the Recreation Hall and permanent houses on "Big Shots Row," are links to another era, rich in mystery and wonder. In addition, they are both a symbol and a source of the residents' keen sense of history and their fierce pride in community as well. The Fort Peck Theater was once a hot spot, with the time's most popular plays and shows running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, the theater is still operational, although most of its 1600 seats remain empty for the live drama productions, ballets and dance troupes which play there each summer. The Fort Peck Hotel, with 70 rooms and a popular restaurant, is not covered with latex paints or wallpapers of today. Its look of rough timber, stained wood and carpeting from yesteryear stand out in the memory of those intrigued by the good old days, and never mind that there are no TV's in the rooms. The Recreation Hall, with a well kept basketball court indoors and busy tennis courts outdoors, is still a popular place. Volleyball and basketball leagues, as well as new facilities for racquetball and a rec program also draw crowds throughout the year. The Rec Hall and the hotel were both nominated for a place on the Register of Historical Buildings. Just as significant as the buildings which remain, in terms of judging human and "architectural" character, are some of those buildings which didn't survive. These included the bunkhouses, mess halls, lean-tos, tar-paper shacks and 8-by-16 one room "houses" pounded together with lumber which cost roughly three to four weeks' pay. A city to house the dam workers was built in the summer of 1934, with most of the housing being of the temporary bunkhouse or dormitory variety. Some 260 temporary homes came in seven sizes and in any one of 36 floor plans. Unfortunately, a problem cropped up when the corps assumed most dam workers would be single. Thus, only 300 family residences were built. Considering that Montana state law gave hiring preference to married men with dependents, it was quite a goof up. In that first year, about three-fourths of the work force consisted of family men. So, with no room in the town and workers making 50 cents an hour, many families threw together dwellings which were neither sanitary, safe nor spacious. Thus were born the "shanty towns," 18 of which sprang up in the vicinity of the damsite. Residents lived without electricity and took their water from raunchy wells which were often contaminated. Save for old buildings here and there which evoke visions of the past-like Wheeler's Buckhorn Bar, or Park Grove, which still exists-the old buildings, shacks and beer parlors live only in photographs and memories.


updated: 2005-02-16

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