Fort Benton Historic District

Founded in 1846 as the fur trade transitioned from furs to buffalo robes, Fort Benton was both a trading post and a center for distribution of Indian annuities. In the early 1860s, Montana’s gold rush and the initiation of steamboat traffic made the town a freighting and transportation hub, the toughest town in the Northwest, and a military post. Hopeful miners and adventurers came up the Missouri River through the wonders of the White Cliffs area and disembarked on Fort Benton’s levee. Busted or flush, they returned in the fall headed for “the states,” as did most who served or preyed upon them. Millions of dollars of gold accompanied the lucky few aboard steamboats and mackinaws. When the placers played out, Fort Benton merchants found new markets north along the Whoop-Up Trail. The first trade goods included whiskey to the Indians; later, more respectable merchandise reached settlers and the Northwest Mounted Police. Entrepreneurs I. G. Baker, T. C. Power, W. S. Wetzel, and Charles and William Conrad developed the territory’s largest banking and mercantile operations. Wagons rolled in all directions from Fort Benton, the self-proclaimed “Chicago of the Plains.” The world’s innermost port flourished until railroads reached the region. In 1887, the steamboat trade’s glory days ended. The economy shifted toward the sheep and cattle industry, with area ranches shipping large herds to markets in Chicago. In the early 1900s, thousands of homesteaders flocked to the region, and Fort Benton prospered as the center of trade for the fertile "Golden Triangle."

Murphy-Neel & Co.

Prominent Montana merchant and cattleman John T. Murphy, who also ran a major freighting outfit between Fort Benton and the mining camps, went into partnership with Samuel Neel to build this commercial structure in 1880 at a cost of $15,000. The…

Gans and Klein

When Frank Coombs teamed up with architect Thomas Tweedy for the construction of the Grand Union Hotel across the street, they and J. R. Wilton also built this rather unpretentious commercial building. Begun in June and completed in September of…

Bank of Northern Montana

The bank was established June 1, 1880, by T. E. Collins, Charles Duer and L. H. Hershfield and Brother. It was first located in the Benton Record Building, then moved to this location in October 1881. The bank remained here until the large two-story…

Stockmen's National Bank

Originally built to house the Stockmen’s National Bank, this solid structure represents typical pre-1900s commercial architecture. Its 1890 construction is significant as one of the few buildings erected after Fort Benton’s heyday and before…

Grand Union Hotel

This grandiose, three-story Italianate style hotel welcomed weary river travelers to the Gateway of the Northwest, offering guests a luxurious refuge before setting out for less civilized destinations. Its opening in 1882 came at the end of the…

Davidson and Moffitt Harness Shop

Fort Benton’s building boom of 1887-1894 saw the construction of many commercial buildings made of locally produced soft brick. This fine example was built in 1881 as a saddlery by Davidson and Moffitt of Helena. The River Press Company, publisher of…

Masonic Lodge #25, Fort Benton

Members of Masonic Lodge #25 built this brick structure in 1882, housing their temple on the second floor. Grocer W. H. Burgess rented first floor space. Economic decline in the late 1880s caused the Masons to lose title, and Burgess, too, went…

Fort Benton Engine House

The Fort Benton Engine House, built in 1883, and the Grand Union Hotel are two of only a few structures remaining to remind us of the rapid expansion here during the flourishing steamboat days. When Fort Benton incorporated in 1883, a volunteer fire…

Fort Benton Bridge

When railroads replaced steamboats, Fort Benton’s importance as a trade center declined. In response, Fort Benton businessmen formed the Benton Bridge Company to construct a bridge across the Missouri River to capture the trade of the rapidly…

Pacific Hotel (Centennial Hotel)

In 1864, Mills and Douglas operated a restaurant and hotel on this corner. Mills and Robert S. Culbertson went into partnership in 1877, opening a new establishment called the Centennial Hotel in celebration of the United States' 100th birthday.…

Cummings Building

Originally this site was occupied by a wooden frame building that housed Mose Solomon’s Medicine Lodge. This legendary saloon was open twenty-four hours a day from spring thaw to first snow. When the building burned, prominent lawyer, customs…

McGraw's Saloon

After the turn of the twentieth century homesteaders poured into Montana, and by 1910 the area’s land office at Great Falls processed between a thousand and fifteen hundred homestead filings per month. The peaceful little river town of Fort Benton…

Choteau House

I.  G. Baker and T. C. Power built the original Twing House in 1868. Under the watchful eye of Mrs. Twing, this “downtown” hotel competed with the Overland. The hotel closed in 1870 and was rented as military officers’ quarters. It reopened as the…

I. G. Baker Home

From the 1850s to 1887, Fort Benton was the trade center for this region of the American and Canadian West. Like others who chose to stay when the fur trade declined, I. G. Baker (the last American Fur Company factor at the fort) turned to new…

T.C. Power Dry Goods Store

T. C. Power and Bro. was founded in 1868 at approximately this location. Initially housed in a wooden building, the store was moved in 1879 to a large brick structure across the street. When the firm expanded, a hardware store was built next door and…

H.J. Wackerlin Hardware Company

This building opened in 1882 during Fort Benton’s “glory days” as Montana’s largest hardware store. T. C. Power and Hans Wackerlin operated the business. Wackerlin, a tinsmith, had come to Fort Benton in 1867 aboard the steam boat Richmond, which had…

C.E. Conrad House

Financial ruin in the wake of the Civil War brought brothers Charles E. and William G. Conrad from Virginia to Fort Benton in 1867. Both quickly rose from clerks with I. G. Baker’s mercantile to full company partners in Baker’s vast western empire,…

Church of the Immaculate Conception

When fire destroyed the original Church of the Immaculate Conception in 1905, this beautiful Tudor style structure of rough cut stone and ornamental half-timbered gables replaced it in 1907. Salvaged from the blaze was a bell christened in 1880 for…

T.C. Power Building

In 1867, merchant T. C. Power, destined to become one of the state’s wealthiest and most influential men, brought his first wagonload of goods to Fort Benton, where he set up shop in a borrowed tent. Still in business in 1916, Power constructed a new…

St. Paul's Episcopal Church Fort Benton

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fort Benton’s oldest church, is the oldest Episcopal Church in Montana. In continuous service since August 11, 1881, it appears today almost as it did upon opening. Architecturally, this Gothic style building is a fine…

Chouteau County Courthouse

Minneapolis architects Kees and Fisk drew the plans for this magnificent Queen Anne style courthouse, which opened in 1884. As the seat of one of Montana’s nine original counties, its grand appearance represents the early affluence of this “Chicago…