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History » From the Beginning » A New Century (1898-1920)
A New Century (1898-1920)
As Missoula entered the new century, it boasted a population of 4,356, an increase of one-third during the 1890s. While West Front Street was still the “badlands,” with twenty-five saloons, numerous gambling establishments and houses of prostitution lining the two blocks west of Ryman Street, the city also offered dozens of restaurants, theaters, opera houses and of course, churches, schools and fraternal organizations. The Missoula Mercantile remained at the top of the retail food chain and the lumber industry began to consolidate into larger operations. An increased demand for lumber from the burgeoning copper mines of Butte assisted in reviving the timber industry from its previous doldrums. With his timber holdings, A.B. Hammond enjoyed the accumulation of a seemingly ever-increasing source of wealth.  
During the first decade of the new century and into the teens, Missoula boomed again, primarily as the result of railroad expansion by the Northern Pacific, a nationwide increase in the demand for lumber products and improved agricultural methods and machinery. Lots on the North Side and in the Lower Rattlesnake area became building sites for homes needed by the new railroad workers who were hired for the westward expansion of the Northern Pacific lines. Part of that increased investment can be attributed to the expected competition from the rival Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad that reached Missoula in 1908. The construction of a beautiful new brick depot for the Northern Pacific at the northern end of Higgins Avenue in 1901 attracted more businesses to that area of the downtown. It also led to the construction of almost a dozen hotels within a five-block radius of the depot. An equally impressive Milwaukee depot was built just south of the Clark Fork River and became an anchor for both commercial and residential development on the immediate South Side.
The opportunities for investment that Missoula offered in the late 1890s and the years immediately following attracted the attention of Butte Copper magnate William A. Clark. Always looking for a way to compete with Marcus Daly, who had Missoula holdings, Clark first concentrated on lumber and mining to the west of Missoula in the Nine Mile area. However, he soon acquired the lumber mill at Bonner and in 1906 directed a 150-man work crew to build a dam at the confluence of the Clark Fork and the Blackfoot River. Completed in 1908, just in time to face a ferocious June flood that damaged the structure, Clark’s dam was repaired and in use again by the following year. In 1910 Clark incorporated the Missoula Street Railway Company, which began operating two years later with streetcars that ran throughout the city and into outlying areas. The system remained in place until the 1930s, when buses replaced the streetcars.
Missoula saw many of its most impressive downtown buildings constructed during the period of 1908 to 1912. This coincided with the expansion of the Northern Pacific and the establishment of passenger service by the Milwaukee Railroad. In 1908 A.J. Gibson designed the classically elegant Missoula County Courthouse. Taking three years to complete, the majestic sandstone structure rivaled any courthouse in the state and was considered by most people to be Gibson’s crowning achievement. Five years prior to his courthouse project, Gibson had designed the Carnegie Library on the corner of East Pine and Pattee Street. Gibson-designed-buildings began to appear throughout the downtown after the Carnegie, and he continued as Missoula’s premier architect during the period. While other out of town architects such as Link and Haire left their mark with large ornate fraternal buildings including the Masonic Lodge and the Elks Lodge, it was Gibson that was most prolific and revered by Missoulians during this boom period.
With the development of the fruit growing industry in the Bitterroot Valley in the late 1890s, Missoula became a shipping center for produce. As a result, produce-related businesses grew along Woody and Railroad Streets because of that area’s close proximity to the railroad. Large warehouses were built just north of the tracks from the Woody and Railroad corner, and to the west along the Bitterroot spur line of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Orchard Homes subdivision, platted on the city’s western edge consisted of five-acre parcels and boasted of sixteen thousand fruit trees, which supplied much of the fruit for local consumption. 

The timber industry remained an important player in the Missoula economy and national policy toward the public forests directly affected the city. The creation of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 led to the designation of the Hellgate, Missoula and Lolo Forests. In 1908 Missoula became the district headquarters for Forest Service Operations in the Idaho-Montana District and later became regional headquarters for the Rocky Mountain District. From that point on, Missoula benefited from the substantial payroll and regional recognition that went along with that designation. An impressive sandstone headquarters building was constructed for the Forest Service on the corner of Pattee and East Pine Street in 1936 and still serves in that capacity.

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