Watkins Creek Ranch Historic District (Firehole Ranch)
Pioneer George S. Watkins arrived in Montana in 1864. The "cattle king of Madison County" ultimately acquired thousands of acres, including much of the Madison basin. Here he built a summer cow camp with two large cabins, a barn, and a smokehouse (all extant) as well as extensive corrals and other outbuildings. The hugely successful rancher sold horses, cattle, and hay in Virginia City and later to concessionaires in Yellowstone National Park. He reduced his holdings in 1898, when the Madison Dam flooded his ranch near Ennis. When Madison Power and Light Company announced its plan to build Hebgen Dam in 1904, a disheartened Watkins sold out. Not all of the Watkins Creek Ranch ended up under water, however, and between 1906 and 1922 the un-flooded parcels were opened to homesteading. In 1944, Utahans Clarence “Clix” and Leila Wright—who had long vacationed in the area—purchased the ranch from homesteader William F. Martzel. With their daughter Anne and son-in-law K. Smith, the Wrights decided to open a dude ranch, hiring Snedaker and MacDonald Architects of Salt Lake City to construct a main lodge. The Rustic style lodge mimicked the original ranch buildings and evoked the rugged, frontier West through the use of native materials. As the dude ranch expanded, the Wrights carefully maintained the ranch's western atmosphere while offering the modern comforts their clients expected. Ranch visitors—including the daughter of Nelson Rockefeller, who constructed her own cabin on the property—enjoyed fishing, boating, herding cattle, trail rides, and trips to Yellowstone. The Wrights maintained the business until 1967.