Blue Front Rooming House

The Northern Pacific Railroad was the lifeblood of many small Montana towns like Forsyth, which was founded in 1882 to serve as an operations base for rail crews. Since unmarried men filled most railroad positions, towns like Forsyth had need of inexpensive, basic housing facilities. Originally the railroad provided housing for its Forsyth workers, but when the “section house” burned in 1902, the railroad did not replace it. Gustaf “Gus” Swanland built this rooming house in 1912 to fill a need for housing. He lived here himself along with his single tenants, many of whom were Northern Pacific employees. Although advertised as the Swanland Hotel, the building was commonly known as the “Blue Front” because of its bright blue paint. Boarding houses were usually residential in appearance but Swanland’s narrow lot and location in the business district dictated a more commercial look. A 1905 city ordinance required fire-resistant brick construction, and, like its neighbors, the vernacular Italianate style façade was enhanced with a layer of light-colored brick veneer. A bracketed wooden cornice and pediment soften the rather austere, utilitarian image. The Blue Front’s interior, which survives almost intact, provides a fascinating glimpse into turn-of-the-twentieth-century accommodations. Both stories reflect typical boardinghouse living arrangements with small, wall-papered rooms opening onto a central hallway. The Spartan sleeping room had little space, not even closets, but the Blue Front’s common kitchen, parlor, and dining room offered a more homelike atmosphere.

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1187 Main Street, Forsyth, Montana ~ Private