It was, in essence, Missoula’s first chamber of commerce brochure – the first publication of the newly formed Missoula Board of Trade, aimed at enticing “the tourist or home seeker” to consider visiting or making Missoula home, and it did not honor any cautionary note about pontification.
“Ancient walled cities had their gates of bronze; Rome and other cities their magnificent public roads, built at great expense; but here is a work of bountiful nature … (t)he natural avenues of approach to Missoula on the south and west are among the grandest possessed by any city.”
The members of the Board of Trade proclaimed they wished “to promote, by all proper and legitimate means, the prosperity of Missoula, and protect the varied interests of the city from the ruthless grasp of unscrupulous corporations.”
The booklet contained an extensive number of photos and artists sketches of Missoula businesses and businessmen at the approach of the 20th century – a “publication (achieved) at the expense of hard work, of careful research and a heavy outlay of money.” It’s a remarkable read, accessible online by clicking here.
The natural beauty of western Montana and the Garden City were prominently featured. As the traveler passed through the Hellgate Canyon (“the walls that God built’), he “sees the tree-embowered homes. The air is fragrant with wild flowers mingling their sweetness with that of garden roses and blooming orchards.
“There rise the spires of churches; there the architectural piles of schools, of commerce, of charity, and of justice, but, more attractive than all else to the weary, homesick tourist, are the many cozy or costly homes, nestling among trees and vines, and for this reason it might well be called the ‘city of homes.’ ”
The booklet’s biographies featured names prominent then, and familiar even to newcomers today – names like Bickford, Rankin, Higgins and Hammond.
Walter Bickford, who represented Missoula in the “territorial council” and at the constitutional convention was glowingly described as being “an easy, clear, accurate and forcible speaker, and one of our leading real estate men, ever seeking to promote the prosperity of his city.” He was married to Miss Emma S. Woodford, another prominent Missoula name.
John Rankin was portrayed as a man “successful in all his undertakings,” which centered around carpentry and bridge building. He became “one of Missoula’s wealthiest citizens and is held in high esteem by all.”
Among the prominent buildings featured in the brochure was the Florence Hotel, originally built in 1888 and operated by Cheney & Stevens, proprietors. Once again, the publication’s author, H. H. Hooks, was understated in his description of the building.
“The erection of the Florence Hotel, by the Missoula real estate association, marked an epoch in the history of Missoula,” he wrote, “while its conception signalized that spirit, characteristic of Americans, which made the rise and growth of this city an industrial achievement unparalleled in commercial annals. This great structure, like Aladdin’s palace, sprang into being almost as if by magic.”
Hooks was no less excessive in his review of the city’s flora and floriculture. Missoula, he wrote, “might well be called “The land of Flowers,” for almost innumerable varieties grow wild; many that are cultivated in the older states here flourish spontaneously.
“Roses of the smaller kind are prolific; the bride-flower, of the large syringia bushes, abound along the margin of brooks and on the hill sides; sunflowers are indigenous; the hill slopes are carpeted with the modest but beautiful rock roses and a multitude of flowers. The lower hill sides and the valleys are gay with the rare beauty of the Bitter Boot flowers.”
The military at Fort Missoula, agriculture, timber, mining, education, churches, transportation, real estate and banking were all described in terms no less colorful.
It’s impossible to say how much growth and development may have directly resulted from the Board of Trade’s 1890 publication. But the decade encompassing the arrival of the railroad and the Board’s promotional booklet saw the largest population growth (by percentage) in Missoula’s history.
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.