Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Hall

On May 8, 1882, the first train rumbled through Forsyth, and the growing town soon became home to many Northern Pacific Railway workers. Among them were locomotive engineers, whose skills were in high demand, particularly in the West during the heady days of railroad expansion. The Forsyth engineers operated their steam-powered locomotives to the crew change point of Billings (and later Laurel). By September 1882, enough engineers had moved to Forsyth to form Division 195 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE), the United States’ first railroad union. Founded in Detroit in 1863, the BLE generally avoided strikes in favor of negotiations; it became a pioneer in collective bargaining and a strong lobby for railroad safety. BLE Division 195 built this meeting hall in 1886 with labor and funds donated by its members. Constructed of logs, the hall was later sided and eventually stuccoed. The building contains a small vestibule, a closet, and a single meeting room that still boasts its original wood floor, baseboards, and chair rails. From 1886 to 1899, the engineers leased the land on which the hall stands from the Northern Pacific Railway; in 1899 they purchased the lot when the railroad sold the land to a townsite company, creating Forsyth’s NP Addition. Many organizations used the BLE Hall for meetings, dances, and family gatherings, and one early Forsyth congregation worshipped here until it could build its own church. One of the best surviving examples of Forsyth’s early architecture, it is still occasionally used by the BLE.

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262 Seventh Avenue, Forsyth, Montana ~ Private