A coal-mining town established in 1905, Bearcreek developed quickly, and after just one year the town boasted telephones, city water, and electric streetlights. Bert Vaill, a cashier with the Carbon County Bank of Red Lodge, purchased this lot from the townsite company for $800, and in 1906 he hired John Russell to construct a one-story Romanesque style bank from native sandstone quarried just north of town. Symbolizing Vaill’s faith in Bearcreek’s future, the bank’s thick stone walls were also meant to assure customers that their money was safe from theft and bank failure, a tenuous assumption in the days before Federal Deposit Insurance. Part of a vibrant commercial district, the bank—owned for a time by Butte copper magnate William A. Clark—played a significant role in Bearcreek’s development through loans and investments. It also provided currency exchange for the community’s immigrant miners. When the International Coal Company defaulted on a $170,000 loan in 1921, the bank went into receivership. Former mine foreman Tom Frasure purchased the property and reopened the bank under the name Miner’s State Bank in 1922. In 1928 it, too, closed. The building then housed a restaurant until 1943. That year an explosion at the Smith Mine killed 74 miners. The disaster started an exodus from Bearcreek, causing the restaurant and many other businesses to close. Used for storage, the building was rehabilitated in 1967 for use as the Bearcreek City Hall, a function it has served ever since.

Images

Bearcreek Bank Facade Source: National Register of Historic Places nomination form, MT State Historic Preservation Office, Helena Creator: John and Lisa Axline Date: Feb 2004
Bearcreek Bank Streetview looking west Source: National Register of Historic Places nomination form, MT State Historic Preservation Office, Helena Creator: John and Lisa Axline Date: Feb 2004
Bearcreek Bank Facade Source: MT State Historic Preservation Office, Helena Creator: Kate Hampton Date: Jan 2016
Bearcreek Bank Facade Source: MT State Historic Preservation Office, Helena Creator: Kate Hampton Date: Jan 2016

Location

Main and 2nd Streets, Bearcreek, Montana | Public

Metadata

The Montana National Register Sign Program, “Bearcreek Bank,” Historic Montana, accessed November 28, 2022, https://historicmt.org/items/show/109.