History of Montana - Railroads


The railroads were the engine of settlement in the state. Major development occurred in the 1880s. The Northern Pacific Railroad was given land grants by the federal government so that it could borrow money to build its system, reaching Billings in 1882. The federal government kept every other section of land, and gave it away to homesteaders. At first the railroad sold much of its holdings at low prices to land speculators in order to realize quick cash profits, and also to eliminate sizable annual tax bills. The speculators in turn parceled out the land on credit to farmers and ranchers eager to develop operations near a railroad. By 1905 the company changed its land policies as it realize it had been a costly mistake to have sold so much land at wholesale prices. With better railroad service and improved methods of farming the Northern Pacific easily sold what had been heretofore "worthless" land directly to farmers at good prices. By 1910 the railroad's holdings in North Dakota had been greatly reduced. Meanwhile the Great Northern Railroad energetically promoted settlement along its lines in the northern part of the state. The Great Northern bought its lands from the federal government—it received no land grants—and resold them to farmers one by one. It operated agencies in Germany and Scandinavia that promoted its lands, and brought families over at low cost.

The village of Taft, located in western Montana near the Idaho border, was representative of numerous short lived railroad construction camps. In 1907-09 Taft served as a boisterous construction town for the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Railroad. The camp included many ethnic groups, numerous saloons and prostitutes, and substantial violence. When construction was finished, the camp was abandoned.

In 1882 the Northern Pacific platted Livingston, Montana, a major division point, repair and maintenance center, and gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Built in symmetrical fashion along both sides of the track, the city grew to 7,000 by 1914. Several structures built between 1883 and 1914 still exist and provide a physical record of the era and indicate the city's role as a rail and tourist center. The Northern Pacific depot reflects the desire to impress the tourists who disembarked here for Yellowstone Park, and the railroad's machine shops reveal the city's industrial history.

Read more about this topic:  History Of Montana

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Famous quotes containing the word railroads:

    Shall the railroads govern the country, or shall the people govern the railroads? Shall the interest of railroad kings be chiefly regarded, or shall the interest of the people be paramount?
    Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1822–1893)

    Indeed, I believe that in the future, when we shall have seized again, as we will seize if we are true to ourselves, our own fair part of commerce upon the sea, and when we shall have again our appropriate share of South American trade, that these railroads from St. Louis, touching deep harbors on the gulf, and communicating there with lines of steamships, shall touch the ports of South America and bring their tribute to you.
    Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901)

    Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York.
    Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)