Hardin Commercial Historic District

Long before fur trappers entered the Bighorn Valley, Crows, Sioux, and Cheyennes vied for the area’s abundant game. In 1876, Sioux and Cheyenne warriors defeated the U.S. Army at the Battle of the Little Bighorn; the following year, the Army established Fort Custer just across the river. After the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad laid its tracks into the Crow Indian Reservation in 1894, the tribe faced enormous pressure to open the reservation to homesteaders. In its last and smallest land cession, the Crows relinquished territory south of the Yellowstone River in 1904. To serve the anticipated flood of settlers, the Lincoln Land Company platted Hardin in 1907. Owned by the same men who owned the railroad, the land company founded some three hundred towns across the West. It gave Hardin a variation of its T-town plat, with Center Street forming a T with the tracks. Forty men arrived from Billings to place bids the morning town lots were sold. Edwin Spencer bought the first lot for $900, where he built a general store and post office. In the 1910s architectural fashion dictated restrained, symmetrical buildings, and solid brick business blocks, some designed by Billings architects, came to dominate Hardin’s commercial district. After World War I, low commodity prices slowed the growth of this agricultural shipping point. However, Hardin continued to serve as Big Horn county seat, a role represented by its 1937 Moderne style courthouse.

Big Horn County Courthouse

In the midst of the Great Depression, the federal Works Progress Administration created jobs across the country in an effort to jumpstart the economy. From 1935 to 1937, the WPA spent $24.6 million in Montana alone, which was matched by $3.4 million…

Big Horn County Library

Hardin women began raising money for a library in 1909. Numerous fundraisers followed, and in 1912 a hundred-book library opened in the home of Walter and Ella Fearis. After the city passed a mill levy in 1914, Walter Fearis wrote library benefactor…

Burlington Northern Depot, Hardin

Hardin’s first railroad depot was moved from Fort Custer after being cut into small sections and transported by train over the Big Horn Bridge. That depot was expanded in 1909, but was deemed inadequate after the homestead boom dramatically…

Hotel Becker

German immigrant Anton Becker had great faith in Hardin’s future. Becker bought this lot on May 30, 1907, the day town lots went on sale. He soon constructed a two-story brick building, in front of which he installed Hardin’s first cement…

Kendrick House

Elizabeth and John Kendrick arrived in Hardin in 1914 and soon opened a boarding house downtown. The following year, Elizabeth purchased this lot, hiring Billings architect Charles Bloedel and contractor Ernest Adler to design and build a new…

Lee Building

Montana created twenty-six counties during its 1910 county-splitting craze. Among them was Big Horn County, carved from portions of Yellowstone and Rosebud Counties in 1913. Private entrepreneurs constructed the new county’s first courthouses. In…

James Reid's Pool Hall

The elaborate corbelling on the front façade and the parapet above the transom evoke the glory days of this building, which long provided recreation for Hardin residents. German immigrant Anton Becker, owner of the hotel next door, constructed the…

Schneider Harness and Confectionery

Charles and Rushann Schneider built this two-story brick business block in 1910. Anticipating the arrival of electricity by four years, the Schneiders had their building wired during its construction. The exterior's relative simplicity reflects…

T.E. Gay Building

On May 4, 1917, Hardin celebrated the “formal opening of the Gay block . . . with a grand ball in the south store room of this magnificent structure.” The storage area’s hardwood floor was perfect for dancing, and construction of the two-story…