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Hardin City

Big Horn County, Montana

Hardin City Hall is located at 406 North Cheyenne Avenue, Hardin, MT 59034.
Phone: 406‑665‑9292.

Beginnings [1]

The City of Hardin is located on the floodplain of the Big Horn River Valley, about a mile and a half from the mouth of the Little Big Horn River and about 45 miles east of Billings, Montana. Hardin is about two miles north of the Crow Indian Reservation and about 15 miles northwest of the Custer Battlefield National Monument. The surrounding countryside is primarily bottomland, much of it planted in wheat and sugar beets, and rolling hills used for grazing and dry-land farming. Hardin is situated along the Burlington Northern mainline which runs from Sheridan, Wyoming, to Billings. The tracks run in a northeast to southwest direction and form the south edge of town. The town itself is laid out on a rectangular grid oriented to the cardinal points on the compass. Hardin's main street, called Center, runs north-south and approximates being perpendicular to the tracks in a pattern called a "T-town" and typical of many western railroad towns. The Original Townsite is on the east side of town. It contains the historic central business district and some residences. Residential neighborhoods border the Original Townsite on the north and especially the west. A newer "strip" commercial district has developed along the northwest corner in response to Interstate 90 which bypasses the community.

Hardin's Original Townsite and the immediately surrounding blocks are still largely comprised of structures built during the early periods of Hardin's development (1907-1937). Furthermore, many of these early structures have been altered very little over the years. Others, however, have lost integrity due to modifications in storefronts, siding, window configuration, or signage. Nevertheless, they still convey associations pertinent to Hardin's historical significance due to their use, massing, set-backs, and building density. Several structures or more recent construction are interspersed throughout the older parts of town. Nevertheless, Hardin still conveys the visual impression of an early 20th century Montana railroad town, important aspects of which are: the concentration of commercial structures along and adjacent to a main street which has a definite relation to the railroad tracks; commercial structures are one and two story fronting directly on the sidewalk and fully occupying narrow lots; residences surround the commercial district and are situated in the midst of more spacious lots along tree-lined streets.

Under continued pressure from whites who wanted to settle reservation land, the Crow agreed to cede all their land between the present northern boundary of the reservation and the Yellowstone River in 1904. Anticipating new settlement along the decade-old C.B.&Q. line in Montana, the Lincoln Land Company moved to acquire the land on which Hardin now sits. Carl Rankin, who lived at the Crow Agency, several miles to the south, was hired as agent for the company and began surveying the townsite in May of 1907. The town was laid out in a variation of the "Town" in which the main commercial street is perpendicular to the tracks (this was the scheme employed in most Lincoln Land Company towns). The plat was filed immediately at the Yellowstone County Clerk and Recorder's Office at Billings and the first sale of lots was held on May 30, 1907. People immediately began moving to Hardin and during the summer of 1907, the first permanent businesses and residences were built.

The C.B. & Q. immediately established a freight depot and section house at Hardin. The first businesses in Hardin were Edwin Spencer's general store, the Bank of Hardin, Robert Anderson's Hardin Hotel, and Anton Becker's Montana Saloon. By the end of 1907, C. C. Hutton, Carl Rankin, E. A. Howell, and W. E. Reno had completed construction of their houses. On January 10, 1908, E. H. Rathbone published the first issue of the Hardin Tribune in which the following businesses advertised: Spencer's general store, Button's grocery store, Smith's hardware, Bank of Hardin, Boylan's coal dealership, Hill and Coulter, blacksmiths, Reno and McDonald, livery and feed, Mouat's meat market, the H. M. Allen lumber company, a doctor named Richardson, Andersen's Hardin Hotel and Bar, the Big Horn Saloon, and the Little Horn Saloon.

In 1910, Hardin Township (which included the townsite plus some of the surrounding farms) had a population of 505. Hardin was incorporated in 1911 and the first city offices were housed at the rear of the Bank of Hardin (in 1912, the City built a wood frame fire hall and council chambers which it occupied until the new masonry City Hall, housing the Fire and Water departments as well, was built in 1920). In 1911, Hardin took on the appearance of an agricultural town with the construction of its first grain elevator by the Denio Elevator Company. In 1913, Big Horn County was created with Hardin as its county seat. Space for the county courthouse was rented in the Sullian Building which was built for that purpose in 1913 (the county continued to rent space in privately owned buildings until the County Courthouse was built as a WPA project in 1937). Hardin and Big Horn County continued to grow, reaching populations in 1920 of 1,312 and 7,015, respectively. Contrary to the trend in most of the rest of Montana, Big Horn County even experienced modest growth during the 1920's, reaching 8,543 by 1930.

  1. Frederic L. Quivik, Architectural Historian, Renewable Technologies, Inc. for the Big Horn County Historical Society, Historic Resources of Hardin, Montana, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.