Lower Rattlesnake Historic District

Missoula City, Missoula County, MT

Home | Whats New | Site Index | Contact


Homes on Monroe Street, Missoula

Photo: 700 Block of Monroe Street, Lower Rattlesnake Historic District, Missoula. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Photographed by User:Jon Roanhaus (own work), 2020, [cc-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed December, 2022.



The Lower Rattlesnake [†] residential neighborhood and Greenough Park are located in a geographically unique and a historically important part of Missoula in the Lower Rattlesnake Drainage. Rattlesnake Creek largely explains the location of Missoula and has played an important part in its early development and in defining its character.

The Salish Indians are reported to have named the stream "Kehi-oo-le," meaning Rattlesnake. Captain Meriwether Lewis noted it as "a stream about fifteen yards wide" on July 4,1806. The next recorded reference to the stream is that pertaining to William T. Hamilton, a Scottish/Indian and army scout, who camped in the Missoula area in 1858 on his way to eastern Montana to investigate rumors of an Indian uprising there. Hamilton, who noted the convergence of Indian trails in the Missoula area, saw it as a good place to establish a trading post, and did just that in the fall of 1858 at the mouth of Rattlesnake Creek. He built a two-room cabin just west of the mouth of the creek and used it as a home base while he was employed as an army scout. He engaged in what may have been the Lower Rattlesnake's first enterprise-selling liquor to workers digging the Missoula Mills ditch. Hamilton lived at the site until 1865, when he sold his property and moved to Fort Benton. The Mullan military road, constructed in 1860 to join the head of navigation on the Missouri with the Columbia River near Walla Walla, Washington, crossed Rattlesnake Creek about 150 feet north of its confluence with the Clark Fork River. The first bridge was constructed across Rattlesnake Creek in 1869.

Rattlesnake Creek was to have its major impact on the history of Missoula when, in 1864, Frank Worden and C.P. Higgins, who had built the Hellgate Trading Post about four miles west of Missoula's city center in 1860, joined David Pattee in a sawmill venture called Missoula Mills. The three men chose to locate their mill at the present location of Missoula to take advantage of the water supplied year-round by Rattlesnake Creek. The three partners had a ditch constructed to divert water from Rattlesnake Creek to the sawmill located on the north bank of the Clark Fork River near where the Higgins Avenue Bridge is now located. The location of the sawmill formed the nucleus of what was to be the city of Missoula. The ditch provided the main water supply to the town for several years. In 1871 or 1872, Worden and Company began construction of a water system that diverted water from Rattlesnake Creek about three and one-half miles north of town through a system of wooden pipes into a small reservoir on what later was called Water Works Hill. A second reservoir was constructed later and a diversion dam was constructed in 1902, which was replaced in 1924 by a concrete dam and settling pond.

Between 1864 and the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883, the city of Missoula grew modestly, and the growth was based almost entirely on locally generated capital and goods. Missoula had the strategic advantage of being located at he hub of major east-west and north-south trading routes. As noted, the Mullan Road linked Fort Benton with the eastern-most extension of the Columbia River. The main north-south trail, which crossed the Mullan Road just west of Missoula, provided access north to the Jocko Indian Agency, the Flathead Valley, and the Kootenai Mines in Canada, south to Fort Owen and the Big Hole Valley, and southwest to the mines of central Idaho. From the 1860s to the early 1880s, Missoula sustained itself as a trading and service center for farmers growing produce and stock to supply primarily placermining operations around Missoula. Later, in the 1880s, placer mining converted to large hardrock operations in Helena, Philipsburg, and Butte, which required not only food for the miners and town inhabitants, but also timbers for the mine tunnels, lumber for buildings, and cordwood for firing the smelters. In 1877, with the Nez Perce flight toward Missoula, Fort Missoula was constructed and provided an additional boost to the Missoula-area economy.

The city of Missoula was platted in 1866 and its haphazard appearance reflected the early growth along the Mullan Road, itself a product of the alignment of the Clark Fork River. By 1872, there were from 50 to 70 buildings in the city, all, with the exception of the Worden & Company Store were wood frame buildings of a modest size. The only additions platted before 1880 were the Higgins and McCormick Additions, adjoining the original town site; both were platted in 1872. These additions extended Missoula from beyond the core of the Mullan Road (later Front StreeQ-Higgins Avenue axis, but growth was confined by the Clark Fork River to the south, Water Works Hill to the north, Orange Street to the west, and Rattlesnake Creek to the east.

The key commercial establishment was the Missoula Mercantile, established in 1866 by E. L. Bonner, D. J. Welch, and Richard Eddy, who were joined in 1876 by the city's most remarkable entrepreneur, A. B. Hammond. The company, which was incorporated in 1885, quickly secured the largest share of Missoula's wholesale and retail trade and was to play a major role in Missoula becoming the commercial center of a five-valley trading area. During this early period, Missoula also acquired its title of the "Garden City" from the McWhirk Gardens located at the east end of town and the widespread planting of Maple trees along city streets. The existence of the Rattlesnake and the establishment of and preservation of Greenough Park and its natural amenities bolstered this claim.

While the Upper Rattlesnake Valley was utilized as the main source of water for the city and for farmers and settlers in the upper valley, the Lower Rattlesnake remained largely undeveloped until the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883, apart from scattered cabins and commercial enterprises and a slum called Shacktown. Shacktown, which developed on the west side of lower Rattlesnake Creek, was largely occupied by Indians who sustained themselves by hunting, fishing, trading, and working at odd jobs, such as loading freight. When the construction of homes in the Lower Rattlesnake began in the 1880s, Shacktown was moved to Parker Island in the middle of the Clark Fork River.

In 1866, the town cemetery was located in the Lower Rattlesnake between what are now Poplar and Cherry Streets. When land was purchased in 1884 for the present cemetery west of Missoula, most of the bodies were moved from the old one. However, the Chinese who remained after the construction of the Northern Pacific Railway through Missoula in 1883, continued to use the old cemetery and, in 1886, contributed money to fix it up, including the construction of a fence. According to Chinese custom, the bones of the deceased were exhumed and sent to relatives in China. There were stories up to at least 1891 of the Chinese conducting funerals in the cemetery, accompanied by elaborate processions and bands. In 1888, the plat of the Woody Addition was filed, which showed Cherry Street crossing the cemetery. The city fathers inspected the cemetery in 1891 and apparently approved the plat and future development over the cemetery. In 1937, when WPA workmen were leveling Cherry Street, they dug up and removed a casket with silver handles containing a silk kimono, trousers, shoes, and a burial brick that said in Chinese, "Lee Foo Lim is buried here."

By 1871, stone was being quarried about one mile up the Rattlesnake for use in the construction of the Worden & Company Store on West Main at the corner of Higgins Avenue. It is not known exactly where the quarry was located. The lime used in the building, to which a brick facade was added, came from a kiln on the divide between Mount Jumbo and Marshall. There is evidence of lime being dug out of Mount Jumbo. Also in 1871, Frank Decker and Edward Wiles moved their steam sawmill from Frenchtown to the mouth of Rattlesnake Creek. They contracted with George Montgomery for logs, and Montgomery cut trees in the Upper Rattlesnake and floated them to the boom at the mouth of the creek. In 1873, the sawmill was moved about four mills up Rattlesnake Creek.

Settlers used the homestead act and other forms of land entry to settle the valley to the north of the historic district area. Government surveys were conducted in 1884 and 1901, but farmers and others began to settle the Upper Rattlesnake before these were completed. Farmers tended to settle that area between the survey area and the present entrance to the Rattlesnake Wilderness, and squatters settled in the Rattlesnakes drainage within what is now the wilderness area. During the mkd-1870s, August G. Pelkey (also Pettier) homesteaded land on the west and east side of Rattlesnake Creek just north of Greenough Creek, including the park's northern tip (W1/2NW1/4 and W1/2SW1/4 of section 14, T13N, R13W). Pelkey sold the land to Frank Worden in 1885. Henry Wylds started farming in the SE1/4 of section 11, T13N, R19W. Charles E. Williams bought Wyld's land in 1881 for $500. Williams raised horses and dug an irrigation ditch named after him and harvested the first crop of oats in the Rattlesnake Valley. In 1881, Jeannie Williams also bought land in section 11. In 1880, James M. Woods homesteaded land in the NE1/4 of section 2 and filed a water right on a stream east of Rattlesnake. He had developed a fine garden there by 1882. In 1882, Henry C. Hollenbeck, a mechanic who worked at odds jobs, bought land east of Pelkey's. In 1888 Hollenbeck sold 40 acres to Missoula County for a poor farm for $1,200. In 1891, he sold the remaining 120 acres to Gilbert, Raymond, and Wylie for $12,000. They, in turn, created Park Addition out of this land.

By the early 1880s, increasing demands were placed on the Rattlesnake water system. The demand increased after the arrival of the NP in 1883, resulted in the creek drying up by the fall of 1885. In response, Rattlesnake farmers filed water rights on the High Falls Tributary of Rattlesnake Creek arid set about finding other lakes they could tap to sustain flows during the summer and fall. Clarence Prescott and John Higgins found several lakes for this purpose and named seven of them. Ditches were dug from some of the lakes to convey water to Rattlesnake Creek, increasing the annual amount from 3,000 to 17,000 inches.

The Upper and Lower Rattlesnake drainage also was the site of considerable logging activity that accompanied the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Thomas L. Greenough, a local businessman, contracted with the Northern Pacific Railroad to furnish ties for construction of the rail bed 40 miles east and west from Missoula. He logged from unsurveyed public lands and unclaimed lands up Rattlesnake Creek. His crews cleared out log jams and other obstructions along the banks and floated the ties or logs down the creek. Tie hackers used broad axes to square the logs so they could be laid in the rail bed. Wood that was not suitable for ties was cut into cordwood, which, during the winter, was hauled by sleigh to the stream bank for floating in the spring. Greenough had log booms installed about where Interstate 90 now crosses the creek. The cordwood was stacked in a wood yard where the Greenough Mansion was later located (See below). Crews cut timber for four to five years until sometime between 1885 and 1887. During this time, Greenough cut an estimated 20,000 ties and large amounts of cordwood. In 1884 alone, he floated about 2,500 cords of firewood down the creek.

The early 1880s defined a new era in the history of Missoula and the Lower Rattlesnake. The arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad ensured the survival a city that had been in the economic doldrums since the area's placers had played out, precipitated the platting of the Lower Rattlesnake and its settlement as a residential area. The arrival of the Northern Pacific in 1883 and of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad in 1908, provided Missoula with ready access to the west coast and points east and made possible the implementation of capitalistic methods necessary for the exploitation of western Montana's considerable natural resources-minerals, timber, and fertile agricultural lands. The city's location on level ground about hallway between the Cascade Mountains and the main ridge of the Rocky Mountains made it a logical choice for the railroad's division headquarters and its associated shops. Also, the construction of branch lines in the Bitterroot Valley from 1885 to 1887, the Flint Creek Valley in 1887, the Coeur d'Alene region in 1891, and the Flathead Valley in 1917 strengthened Missoula's position as the center of a five-valley trading area and made it the dominant regional trading center within a radius of 75 miles.

One significant, long-term impetus to the growth of Missoula was the establishment of Hammond, Eddy and Company in 1881 to provide the railroad with supplies, including timber, clothing, and small sawmills for the construction of the main line. In 1883, Washington Dunn joined the company, then known as the Montana Improvement Company, and reincorporated later as the Big Blackfoot Milling and Manufacturing Company. The company constructed a large sawmill seven miles east of Missoula at Bonner. The Bonner Mill under various ownerships and rebuilt over the years has been a mainstay of the Missoula economy since its construction. Many Lower Rattlesnake residents have worked there over the years. The Garden City Brewery constructed at the base of Water Works Hill, later the Sicks Missoula Brewing Company and, by 1949, the Missoula Brewing Company, also provided a place of employment for Lower Rattlesnake residents. The brewery was demolished in the mid 1960s to make way for the construction of Interstate 90 through Missoula.

The emergence of the west as a timber resource for eastern markets in the early twentieth century encouraged the Milwaukee Railroad to construct a line through Missoula to the West Coast in 1908. The increased lumber production, the opening of the Flathead Indian Reservation to settlement by Euroamericans, and the influx of homesteaders encouraged by the railroads and their land companies stimulated agricultural production. Most of it was marketed locally and regionally, with the exception of a few products such as cattle and wool. The establishment of the University of Montana in Missoula in 1893 and of what was to become the U.S. Forest Service Region One Office in 1906 inserted the presence of the state and federal governments, which provided economic diversity and stability to the Missoula area.

Lower Rattlesnake Development

With the arrival of the railroad in 1883, the city embarked on a sustained period of growth, extending south across the river and east and north of the tracks. This growth also greatly affected the Lower Rattlesnake. The Town Company Addition was platted in 1883 and the Woody Addition in 1888. Examination of the BLM Master Title Plat shows land in the Lower Rattlesnake in these locations leaving the public domain at about the same time (1883 and 1891) indicating that the two events occurred almost simultaneously. The Town Company Addition is bounded by Rattlesnake Creek to the West, Harrison Street to the east, Beech Street to the south, and Elm Street to the north. The Woody Addition is bounded by Harrison Street to the west, Mount Jumbo to the east, the alley between Cherry and Locust Streets to the north and Beech Street to the south. Settlement in the Town Company Addition occurred soon after the plat was filed. The 1891 perspective map of Missoula shows scattered residences along Vine Street, with concentrations on the north and south skies of Vine Street between Monroe and Jackson Streets and on the northeast corner of Vine and Harrison Streets, and other residences on the north side of Poplar Street between Jackson and Van Buren Streets. The perspective map also shows a bridge across Rattlesnake Creek on Vine Street, trees along Beech Street just south of the Greenough property, poplars along Poplar Street between Jackson and Van Buren streets, and a grove of trees between Vine Street and Beech Street east of Harrison. There also is a farm located between the railroad tracks and the river. Greenough Park is pictured with numerous trees and full vegetation.

The 1890 Missoula City Directory shows residents along Monroe and Vine Streets and numerous others in the Lower Rattlesnake, but without addresses. About 70 residences are listed with a basically working class population of general laborers, carpenters, teamsters, machinists, a liveryman, a millwright, a painter, gardeners, and a brickmaker. A student, a bartender, and a dog fancier also are listed. Northern Pacific Railroad employees such as a conductor, brakeman and fireman also are represented, indicative of proximity of the Lower Rattlesnake to the Northern Pacific station, shops, and yard. The new additions offered a convenient place of residence for the many new employees of the railroad now living in Missoula.

In 1891, the Lower Rattlesnake was served by a school constructed by Charles Owen, operating out of a two-story, false front, frame building at the corner of Harrison and Vine Streets, constructed by Charles Owen as a store; he rented the downstairs of the building to School District 3 as the East Side School, a purpose it served until 1896, when the East Side School constructed at the northeast comer of Harrison and Elm Streets opened. While the East Side School was in session in the Owen's store, it occupied the first floor and Owens' and his family the second floor. After 1896, the building served its original purpose as a grocery store. The site is located one block east of the exit ramp for Interstate 90 at Van Buren Street. School District 1 purchased land from the Missoula Real Estate Association in 1893 for $600 for the construction of a new East Side School. The first phase of the school was constructed for $4,000. School commenced in 1896, although the second floor was still under construction during the 1896-1897 school year. The school had an 1896 year enrollment of 40 students in two rooms heated by a wood stove. Trees were planted in 1901 and a fence was constructed around the school. In 1902, the East Side School was renamed the Prescott School. A1911 addition to Prescott School was designed by A. J. Gibson and constructed by David W. Emerson for $10,960. The old Prescott School was demolished for the construction of the new Prescott School, which was completed in 1951.

The Missoula City Directory for 1901 and turn-of-the-century photographs show a Lower Rattlesnake area that has developed considerably but one that still was marked by considerable open space. Two major events occurring in the Rattlesnake during this time had lasting effect on further defining the character of the neighborhood and explaining the nature of its development—the construction the Greenough Mansion at 631 Vine in 1897 and the donation of Greenough Park by Thomas and Tennie Greenough to the city in 1902. Turn-of-the century photographs show about 25 residences along Vine Street, the 1901 Directory lists about 38 residences along the same stretch, and about 64 residences in the survey area. The 1902 Sanborn Maps show 34 residences along Vine Street and 70 residences in the historic district, which represents about one-third of the present number.

It was at this chronological juncture that Thomas Greenough & his wife, Tennie, commissioned the construction of a mansion and shortly thereafter donated 20 acres of wooded land along Rattlesnake Creek to the city. The Greenoughs were by far the most prominent residents in the Lower Rattlesnake. The construction of the mansion and donation of the parkland contributed significantly to the increasing middle-class element that began to seek residence in an area that was close to town but was still somewhat separate by virtue of the creek and the park. Both served as a buffer and offered scenic and recreation amenities to the city and to the residents of the Lower Rattlesnake, in particular.

Thomas L. Greenough was born in Iowa in 1851 and was raised and educated in Kansas and Missouri. He was engaged in railroad work as a young man, as a stone mason, and later developed interests in mining in Silver City, Mexico. He pursued contract mining work, sinking shafts and running tunnels in New Mexico, Colorado, and the Black Hills in South Dakota, where he married Tennie L. Epperson of Tennessee in 1876. He arrived in Missoula in 1882 and contracted with the Northern Pacific Railroad to furnish ties and also provided cords of wood to the Butte area. He formed partnerships with T. F. Wren, with whom he engaged in railroad construction work, and with Peter Larson with whom he went into the mining business. He acquired ownership of the Morning Mine in Mullan, Idaho, and later sold it for $3 million. He also purchased the Snowstorm Mine Company in the Coeur d'Alene Mining District and held an interested in numerous mining ventures in Butte, Anaconda, Missoula, and Wallace, Idaho. He also was heavily invested in numerous banks in Montana, Washington, and Montana and served on several bank boards. He was vice president of the Missoula Trust and Savings Bank. Greenough also served two terms in the state legislature.

Greenough first built a modest residence at 631 Vine Street near where he had earlier stacked wood. In either 1897 or 1902, he built the Greenough Mansion on the same spot for his wife. The 2 1/2-story Queen house was designed by A. J. Gibson, Mtssoula's preeminent architect of the time. The 18-room house's first floor featured a Louis XV style reception room, a room with Chinese designs, a music room, a dining room finished with an oak and gold leaf mural, and a bedroom, bath and pantry. The second floor had seven bedrooms and three baths, and the third had two bedrooms and a bath for servants. A disciple of William Morris, a well-known English interior decorator, decorated the interior of the house with such notable features as hand painted wallpaper, inlaid wood floors, a rug woven to specifications in Scotland, and a large, hand painted window in the landing. Most of the woodwork in the house was chosen from upper Rattlesnake tamarack. The grounds covered about one and one-half residential blocks and included a large barn and several outbuildings, along with numerous trees. The residence was moved from the site in the mid 1960s when Interstate 90 was constructed through Missoula and relocated to Ben Hogan Drive in the South Hills, where it was the Mansion Restaurant until 1992, when it burned down.

† Allan Mathews, Missoula Historic Preservation Officer, Missoula Historic Preservation Office, Lower Rattlesnale Historic District, nomination document, 1998, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Cherry Street • Filmore Street • Harrison Street • Jackson Street • Locust Street • Monroe Street • Pol Street • Poplar Street • Taylor Street • Van Buren Street • Vine Street


Home | Whats New | Site Index | Contact
Privacy | Disclaimer

Copyright © 1997-2024, The Gombach Group