Hamilton Commercial Historic District

Hamilton was born of the Anaconda Company’s voracious appetite for lumber, nurtured on the Bitterroot apple boom, and sustained by medical research. Copper King Marcus Daly—whose Big Mill cut millions of board feet annually to feed his mines and smelter—created this timber town after coming to the area to raise race horses. Working as Daly’s front man, engineer James Hamilton quietly bought 160 acres from area farmers. He platted the townsite in 1890, with Main Street running between the Big Mill on the west and the railroad on the east. By 1893, over forty businesses had opened downtown, catering to the mill workers whose heavy boots resounded on the wooden boardwalks that lined Main Street. Fearful of fire, downtown merchants steadily replaced many of Hamilton’s earliest false-front wooden buildings with buildings constructed from locally manufactured brick or blue-gray stone quarried in nearby Corvallis. New money arrived in Hamilton after 1907 with the Bitterroot apple boom. Hamilton’s population burgeoned to three thousand, and its downtown gained several stylish architect-designed buildings, identifiable by their high-fire brick, metal mullion storefronts, and leaded glass transoms. In the 1920s and 1930s the Rocky Mountain Laboratory, founded to combat spotted fever, sustained Hamilton’s economy, and up-to-date business owners introduced a sleeker architectural style to downtown. Designed by Missoula architect H. E. Kirkemo, the Bower Building at South Second and West Main typifies the smooth lines fashionable in the 1930s, while the wood-frame false-front building at 411 West Main reflects the community’s earliest history.

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Hamiliton, Montana ~ private