Harmon’s Histories: Happy 100th birthday, Lake County!
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
Happy 100th birthday, Lake County, Montana!
While the formal celebration won’t happen for another two months or so (Saturday, August 19), the groundwork was laid for the creation of the new county between 1911 and 1923.
“Prospects Good For New County,” read the February 24, 1911 headline in the Flathead Courier newspaper, published in Polson.
“The business men and politicians at Kalispell who were at first so opposed to the creation of a new county have decided that division might as well come now as later and are pulling for the bill.”
It took just over a decade, though, for the matter to be put to a vote.
On Monday, April 30, 1923, the more populated towns of Ronan, Polson and Pablo carried the day - all voted overwhelmingly for the proposal, while folks in Arlee, St. Ignatius and Moiese voted no.
The final tally was 2,756 “for” creating Lake County and 797 “against.”
The Flathead Courier newspaper reported that most everyone expected the proposal to pass, but “the landslide for county division was a surprise, Lake County winning by almost a four to one vote.”
On the separate issue of which town should be the county seat, the vote was much closer – with Polson picking up 2,113 votes to Ronan’s 1,451.
The voters also selected three county commissioners: Clyde C. Waythman, Arthur Schmidt and George T. Farrell, who was named chairman.
Nothing would be “official” until 90 days after the county clerk and the commissioners of Flathead County completed the canvass of the vote and filed their certificate of election (therefore, the August celebration planned this year).
But establishment of the board of county commissioners went ahead immediately.
On Saturday, May 19, 1923, the commissioners “held their first formal session in the south room of the Great Western Land Company office, which the commissioners will occupy until a temporary courthouse is secured.”
The first order of business was to find “suitable quarters for the county offices.” Proposals were solicited with a very short deadline: one week.
“The matter is being hurried,” reported the Flathead Courier newspaper, “in order that the building selected may be altered, if necessary, and made ready for occupancy by August 9th, when the new county will begin to function.”
Newly selected County Attorney Mark H. Derr of Ronan was already on the job to help the commissioners with any legal questions that might arise while organizing the county.
By the following week, five proposals were submitted for buildings to rent for county offices.
The “stone building at “E” and Fourth Street was offered at $30 a month.” The Dunbar building on Third Street was proposed at $90 per month.
G.W. Thompson had a “two-story building, formerly a hospital, he would rent for $400 a year.”
And both the The Odd Fellows lodge and a Mr. F.P. Browne suggested properties they owned at rates of $1,500 a year.
The First National Bank, meantime, proposed constructing a brand new courthouse which would house all county offices.
A month later, the commissioners decided to go with the bid from the First National Bank for a new building on the site of the current bank and two other businesses, “Hardie’s drug store and Emory’s store.”
A big celebration was planned for June 20, 1923, to the mark the establishment of the new county. Montana Governor Joseph M. Dixon would be the keynote speaker. There would be a big parade, a basket dinner, with baseball contests in the afternoon, lake trips on the steamer Klondike, and dancing in the evening.
Now, 100 years later, plan to attend the big celebration Saturday, August 19, 2023 at 106 Fourth Ave. East, Polson. There’ll be a parade, food, history walks and more!
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.