Virgelle State Bank
Homesteaders, travelers, and railroad crews helped the tiny town of Virgelle thrive during the 1910s. Town founder Virgil Blankenbaker chartered the Virgelle State Bank in 1917 where he, his brother-in-law John G. Chancellor, C. J. McNamara, and prominent ranchers E. B. Newhall and Thomas Marlow served on the board of directors. Folks came to town to do their banking, pick up their mail, buy supplies, and catch up on local news. Drought and depression in the 1920s left few local homesteaders, but the bank was among six of nineteen in Chouteau County to remain viable during the hard times. Lack of business, however, forced liquidation and closure in 1927. Through the next decades neighbors rowed across the river, brought their wagons or drove their Model T’s to Saturday night card games, dances, and midnight suppers held in the empty one-room bank building. In winter, guests sometimes waited till dawn to cross the river, maneuvering around ice. The bank became the residence of railroad employee Leon Watson in 1941 when he tired of crossing the river to report to the depot for work. In 1985, the Burlington Northern, successor of the Great Northern Railway, abandoned its Virgelle line and today no trace of the railroad remains, but the bank survives intact as a symbol of Blankenbaker’s vision. High ceilings, wood floors, and the original vault convey its original use. The Neo-Classical style building eloquently represents the small town banks that once dotted homestead-era Montana and the greater forces that gave shape to the state’s rural communities.