Deer Lodge Central Business Historic District

Situated on a key gold rush trail, Deer Lodge grew into an important ranching and retail center during the 1860s. By 1869, the thriving village boasted grocery stores, harness and saddle shops, barber shops, photography galleries, blacksmiths, breweries, furniture and drug stores, a hospital, and even a bowling alley. An 1872 fire destroyed over twenty buildings in the commercial center. Today, only a few wooden false-front buildings, of the type that originally lined Main Street, still stand. Deer Lodge's economy received a boost with construction of the territorial prison in 1870, the opening of Montana's first college in 1878, and, particularly, the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883. The railroad made it easy to import large architectural elements, and soon flamboyant brick business blocks displaying pressed metal cornices, iron pilasters, decorative stone accents, and large plate glass windows lined Main Street. Deer Lodge boomed during the homesteading era, especially after 1908, when the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway made Deer Lodge a division point on its transcontinental line. Population increased by a third between 1910 and 1920. The downtown grew in kind with such important buildings as the Hotel Deer Lodge and the Larabie Brothers Bank. Despite an agricultural depression, new landmarks joined the streetscape in the 1920s, including the Beaux Arts Rialto Theater. Today the business district's architectural mosaic testifies to a long line of foresighted developers, committed to making Deer Lodge the "the prettiest and most healthful little city in the West."

304 Cottonwood

Only the jail, the county courthouse, the Episcopal Church, and a few Main Street businesses boasted two stories when this frame building joined their ranks, sometime before 1884. That year the false-front building served as a combination residence…

Hartley's Photo Studio

Minnesota-born Otho Hartley returned home from World War I and attended photography school in Illinois. He married in 1921 and the newlyweds moved to Deer Lodge to establish a photo shop. Hartley was the photographer and his wife Vera served as…

Larabie Bros. Bank

Wide cement pilasters, a gabled pediment above the entrance, large plate-glass windows, and a roofline balustrade distinguish the Larabie Bros. Bank. The building’s solid construction, dignified façade, and luxurious interior—finished in marble and…

Masonic Temple

The Ancient Free and Accepted Masons offered its members support, camaraderie, connections, and community. To the geographically mobile men of the Montana frontier, nothing was more valuable. In 1870, Deer Lodge became home to the fourteenth Masonic…

Mitchell Block

Deer Lodge flourished after its designation in 1908 as a division point for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Housing, dining, and entertainment were then at a premium. The Mitchell Block opened in 1913 to help fill these niches,…

National Bank Building

The December 1910 issue of Moody’s Magazine: The International Investors’ Monthly predicted a strong future for Deer Lodge’s new U.S. National Bank. The community only had one other bank, and the local economic forecast was bright, especially since…

Safeway

Before 1910, grocery store customers typically purchased food on credit. They relied on clerks to fill their orders and delivery boys to carry their packages home. By 1915, “groceterias” began experimenting with a new model that offered lower prices…

Thompson Photo Shop

Hiding behind its brick façade is one of the oldest standing buildings in the business district. Before the Northern Pacific arrived in 1883, Deer Lodge builders relied on locally available materials. They constructed walls from wood or rubble stone…

US Post Office

Banker S. E. Larabie financed the construction of this one-story brick post office in 1911. The Silver State pronounced it “the finest post office of any city of its size in Montana.” The interior featured finished oak, while protective wire…