One cannot travel any road in America or Canada without running into some sort of historical site, monument or building. That is part of the fun of a back road adventure. Our country of 2017 is defined in great part by the history of the country dating back to the 1600s (and earlier if you count the Native Americans).
Dotting the roads of America are historical markers that tell about events that occurred in that exact location or nearby. There are literally 1000s of these. In the eastern US many of them are about Civil War incidents while in the west many are related to Indian Wars, Lewis and Clark or pioneers. They are often interesting to stop and read. As a History/Geography major in college, I have found these to be a sort of “roadside wikipedia.”
When traveling through the heart of the country, one can come across a myriad of monuments and historical sites dedicated to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark…better known as just Lewis Clark. From May 1804 to September 1806, these two, accompanied by 29 or 30 others, in what was named by then President Thomas Jefferson as the “Corps of Discovery.” They left Camp Dubois (near St. Louis) and ventured westward to the Pacific Coast. In my travels I have come across dozens of monuments, plaques, museums and other places all dedicated to or referencing this amazing expedition. Their pioneer spirit has always amazed me.
Of course, after them went the pioneers. There were those who followed the Oregon Trail. Others, chiefly the Mormons, forged their own trail, now called the Mormon trail. In the south there was the famed Santa Fe Trail. Then, along the way there were other smaller, lesser known trails, such as the Oyate Trail in South Dakota, and others. Travel the roads that follow these trails and an abundance of unique history can be seen. As a member of the LDS Church (Mormon) I have been able to visit many church historical sites.
Across a good portion of the southeast and all the way into Ohio and Pennsylvania, one will come across a plethora of Civil War related monuments, historical sites and otherwise. Many sites have annual Civil War reenactments.
The big parks such as Vicksburg and Gettysburg are huge and have a ton of history. But there are smaller ones, such as Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky that are unique in their historic perspective.
In the far eastern parts of the United States one comes across places like the Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg. There are many others.
For fun, many cities have the “Birthplace of …” signs when you enter their small towns. These could be famous actors, historical figures or athletes. Typically there are monuments or statues. I have come across many of these. They are always a fun little side adventure.
I have come across many of these over the years. Its always fun to “discover” the birthplaces. (Ironically, Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, NY…not the same as Jamestown, VA which I posted above.) Some of the “birthplaces” are a bit on the corny side.
Then, of course, there are the historical buildings. Hundreds of unique courthouses and their fascinating architecture can be seen in diverse little towns and counties. There are old churches large and small. And many long forgotten dilapidated old buildings. All of them tell some sort of story about the place.
I have visited dozens of courthouses around the country. I love the old architecture. I have some favorites. Some are more interesting than others. I have added a few below.
Finally, there are the many “oddball” or “quirky” historical sites and objects. One never knows what they will run into in a small town. A quaint historical museum? An oddball monument? A unique cemetery?
I have had fun discovering historical sites, quirky museums and other fun stuff. Here are a few below.
Throughout my travels I drove over 10,000 miles and took over 3000 photos in 2014. I have numerous shots from the road of quirky places, offbeat sites and some nice looking places. If you missed my “nature photos”, some of which are from my travels, please check them out on my Sumoflam’s Singlewide Site. Following are my ten favorite travel shots from 2014 and the stories behind them (and a number of honorable mentions).
NUMBER 1 – OLD PRAIRIE SCHOOL HOUSE
I once saw a photo of this old school house and knew that I had to get to this relic of the past. So, on my way to Shelby, MT from Havre, I sought to track it down. Instructions from most are difficult to find, so I figured if I could find the place I could also document its location. I took color shots, but edited this one to be in black and white. Gives that old-timey feel.
NUMBER 2 – PAUL BUNYAN AND BABE
It had always been a dream of mine to get to this famed roadside attraction from 1937 located in Bemidji, MN. I first saw this in a LIFE Magazine Travel book in the 1960s. From that time my wanderlust kicked in and finally, in 2014, I was able to get there.
NUMBER 3 – CARHENGE
Car art at its best, my 2014 visit to this famed roadside attraction fulfilled my goal to hit the trifecta of car art sites (the other two being Cadillac Ranch, which I visited in 2013 and “Spindle”, the Cars on a Spike, which I visited in 2007)
NUMBER 4 – GIANT HIAWATHA
I went to Ironwood, MI to begin my journey west on US Highway 2, which I drove for over 1200 miles, eventually to Browning, Montana. This giant can be seen down the road as one enters the town of Ironwood from the south. It was one of many “giants” I would see in 2014.
NUMBER 5 – “I AM MO” MURAL
Sometimes the best sites are in your own backyard. This amazing mural was done in the summer of 2014 as part of the PRHBTN Arts program. A number of murals were added to Lexington. But this one is humongous!!
NUMBER 6 – GREETINGS FROM AUSTIN
One can’t visit Austin without visiting this famed mural. They continue to update it over the years, but it is well known.
NUMBER 7 – TEE PEE MOTEL
A throwback to the 50s and 60s, this motel was rebuilt in the 1980s but left with the vintage style buildings and furnishings. A few other similar ones can be found dotting the country.
NUMBER 8 – THE GREAT TEXAS SUPPER
The Great Texas Supper at LSA Burger in Denton, Texas
This mural is play on the Last Supper but features famed Texas musicians enjoying a meal with Jesus. It was painted by Icon Studios in Dallas. I got the opportunity to visit LSA Burgers for a special visit before they opened for the day (back in June 2014). They were kind enough to give me a nice tour thanks to Denton’s famed ghost tour lady Shelly Cumbie Tucker. L-R in the painting: George Jones, Selena, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Scott Joplin, Janis Joplin, Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Freddy Fender, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Holly and T-Bone Walker.
NUMBER 9 – MAMMY’S CUPBOARD
Mammy’s Cupboard is a great place to eat and an awfully unique roadside attraction. I found out about it as I researched my trip to Galveston. I had to not only grab a photo, but had to stop for a bit to eat just so I could say I have eaten in this historical roadside attraction.
NUMBER 10 – THE BIG FISH
This Big Fish is, in my opinion, one of the “Big Three” roadside attractions in Minnesota (though there are dozens of other good ones – the other two are Paul Bunyan in Bemidji, above, and the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth). I got a number of angles, but I loved this one where it looks as if the giant fish is about to devour the little house.
My trip along Route 2 continued from Glasgow, Montana westward along what is known as the Montana Hi-Line (See my May 2013 post about a previous drive on a portion of the Hi-Line). Back in May last year I drove through to Glasgow and then south. On this trip I tried to spend a little more time in some of the smaller towns on the road and capture the essence of what I feel is a dieing breed hanging on. In fact, to proclaim their existence, many of the towns have a big sign on the highway to proclaim “Hey, we’re here!”
Ultimately, I would drive Route 2 to where it intersects with US Route 89 on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park. That would be the end of my 1165 mile jaunt on US Route 2. (According to Google Maps, it is 1165 miles from downtown Ironwood, MI to the US 2/US 89 Intersection near Browning, MT.)
After spending the night in an old 1970s style motel in Glasgow, Montana, it was back on the road. My last trip through Glasgow was fleeting so I couldn’t capture some of the essence of this nice little town on the eastern edge of Northern Montana. The population of just over 3200 is friendly and accommodating.
Downtown Glasgow offers some old motel signs, ghost signs and some other unique sites.
A drive back to the east part of town leads to the bar with an airplane in the building.
This bar is unique….a real small plane stuck in the building and a dinosaur out front guarding the place.
As one proceeds west on US Hwy 2 out of Glasgow, you will see dinosaurs up on the hillside. These and the other animals and sculptures (as well as the dino at the Hangar) are all creations of artist Buck Samuelson, who offers them for sale.
US Highway 2 has a number of historical signs along the way. The first one west of Glasgow is all about Buffalo Country.
The first town west of Glasgow is the Hinsdale, Montana. Not much here, but they have a unique church building where the steeple is planted in the ground in FRONT of the church and not on top it.
The next little town on the way is Saco, Montana. This town would have faded away long ago if not for its unique place in history as one of the homes of news anchor Chet Huntley, whose father worked for the railroad. There is one room schoolhouse in Saco that he attended. As well, Saco had two years of bragging rights as the Guinness World Record holder for making the world’s largest hamburger, building the 6,040-pound burger from the beef of 17 cattle in 1999.
Just west of town is the “Sleeping Buffalo Rock” which is actually listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
From Saco US Hwy 2 heads southwest as it circles around Lake Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge. From there the road passes through Malta, Montana along nice grazing lands for cattle and horses.
Malta, Montana is a nice small town on the Milk River. It has its share of old signs and old dinosaur bones.
Malta is also home to the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station, which is part of the Montana Dinosaur Trail. The Dinosaur Trail includes 14 different museums around Montana that feature remains and history pertaining to dinosaurs. There are eight locations on the Hi-Line from Glasgow to Rudyard. There are a couple more on US 89 south of Glacier National Park.
The next stop on the road is the small town of Dodson, Montana. They have a new post office, but the old post office sign still remains as a reminder of the past.
From Fort Belknap, US Route 2 heads northwest into the small town of Harlem, Montana. This town is about 50% white and 43% Native American. Like the other towns, it has a metal welcome sign.
Not too far west of Harlem is the small dot of a town called Zurich (pronounced Zoo-rich by the locals). Like many small stations on the railroad, Zurich receives its name from an older, far more impressive city. Legend has it that to name many of their stations, railroad executives would open an atlas at random and point to a city. Although it may seem incongruous that a town on the plains be named after a noted European mountain city, from Zurich, westward bound visitors could catch their first glimpse of the Bear Paw Mountains. It is now basically a place for picnics along the Milk River.
The next stop on the Hi-Line heading west is Chinook, Montana. This small town of about 1500 has some character. It used to be the home of a large sugarbeet factory. They do have one of the more unique high school sports mascots in the country — the Sugarbeeters.
There are still many evidences of the past in Chinook. For instance, the Bear Paw Credit Union uses a remodeled old fashioned gas station that still has the old pumps out front.
I had a lot of other photos of Chinook from a previous trip I took along the Hi-Line in March 2013. You can see that post HERE.
Chinook lies along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail which goes from Wallowa Lake in northeast Oregon (near Joseph, OR — I visited there in 2007), then crosses Idaho and goes south along the border of Idaho and Montana, through Yellowstone then heads north though Billings, MT and finally ends at the Bear Paw Battlefield, which is about 15 miles south of town. The Battlefield Park commemorates the final battle of the Nez Perce War of 1877 where the Nez Perce ceased fighting on October 5th, 1877.
It was at Bear Paw that Chief Joseph gave his famous speech in which he said, “Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” The Nez Perce Trail, like the Oyate Trail of South Dakota and the Trail of Tears in the Southeast US, among others, are integral parts of American history that help us to better understand the plight of the Native Americans. I am grateful to continue to learn about these great people who lived on this land long before the Europeans found their way here.
From Chinook I zipped through Havre, having visited it extensively in 2013. But, I did stop briefly for a good shot with the large bison that had been made by Cory Holmes, who used three miles of old telegraph wire to create this nine-foot long, six-foot tall 2000 pound bison.
Just west of Havre there is a road called Smith Frisno Road which crosses over the railroad tracks heading north. It eventually leads to a large ranch, but along the way many a visitor has stopped for a photo of an old abandoned schoolhouse that sits out in the prairie. I visited there last year, but wanted to grab a couple more shots as this is one of those iconic places that begs to be photographed.
The next town west of Havre is Kremlin, Montana. Yes, an unusual name for a town. But, as the story goes, the town had some Russian immigrants that were working on the Great Northern Railway who looked off in the distance at the mountains and were reminded of the Kremlin back home. The name apparently stuck.
After Kremlin there are a couple of other small towns before reaching the small historic town of Rudyard, Montana, which actually has three small museums – the Depot Museum, the Dinosaur Museum (part of the Dinosaur Trail) and a Vintage Auto Museum. Using the old railroad depot, the historical society renovated it for a museum in which to house both the written and physical history of the Hi-Line towns of Joplin, Inverness, Rudyard, Hingham, Gildford, and Kremlin.
Then there is my penchant for “collecting” scrap metal art. I came across a place in Rudyard that had three pieces of scrap metal animals in the yard, including a bison, a deer and an elk. I spoke to a guy there and he said “someone in town made them, but I am not sure who.” Surprising to me that in a town of just under 600 people that they don’t all know who does this kind of thing….
Then there is the semi-famous dinosaur skeleton sculpture just west of town on US Highway 2, probably advertising the Dinosaur Museum in Rudyard. I was able to contact the Rudyard Museum and found out that this old guy was made by a farmer named Bryon Wolery, owner of Wolery Farms. He apparently made two of them and one is on his farm.
The road west passes through the small town of Inverness, MT and then past Joplin.
From Joplin it is another 20 miles to the next town, which is Chester. It is much bigger than most of the towns between Havre and Shelby and functions as the county seat for Liberty County. Chester began as a watering and coal loading station for the Great Northern Railroad steam engines around 1891. The name “Chester” was apparently chosen by the first telegraph operator in the town and named in honor of his hometown in Pennsylvania.
North of Chester the Sweet Grass Hills can be seen in the distance. They are actually in the northern part of Liberty County and are actually mountains. They are unique in that they are the highest isolated peaks in the United States. Rising to nearly 7,000 feet, these mountains are volcanic in origin and believed to be millions of years old.
Between Chester and Shelby there is not much, but there is an old neon sign advertising the Galata Campground. So 1960s…. The town itself is practically a ghost town.
Shelby, Montana is another 25 miles down US Route 2 and is by far the largest town along the Hi-Line after Havre. I have written extensively about Shelby on a couple of occasions, so here is the token photo of this large railroad town.
After driving through Shelby, US Route 2 gains altitude and the huge Glacier Wind Farm can be seen. This is actually quite unique for at night all of the turbines blink bright red all along the hills west of Shelby.
From the top of these hills the snow covered peaks of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains can be seen in the distance. But one must pass through Cut Bank, Montana along the way. Named after the creek that cuts its banks along the white clay, the town got its start in the 1890s. The Cut Bank Creek Trestle that crosses the 150 foot deep gorge was built in 1900 but is still in use by the Burlington Santa Fe as well as Amtrak. Today, the town is still vibrant with the railroad and Glacier National Park tourism. It is also the eastern border of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Cut Bank is also home to the “world’s largest penguin” with claims to be the “coldest spot in the nation,” though most sites with “Coldest Spots” lists don’t include it. (See Site 1 and Site 2)
After entering the reservation and not too far west of Cut Bank, there is an historic sign commemorating Camp Disappointment (see my 2013 post on this monument and more). This was the northernmost campsite for the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
As I closed in on Browning, Montana, US Highway 2 intersects with US Highway 89, one of the more spectacular N/S Highways in the United States. This is the end of the approximately 1,169 mile long trek along US Highway 2 from Ironwood, MI.
My next post will cover the trip south on US 89 from Browning all the way to Yellowstone National Park.