Montana Sights & Landmarks February 08, 2022
The Charming Town Of Fort Benton, Montana Is A National Historic Landmark
Montanans take great pride in preserving the local history, which is why we have 28 national historic landmarks and over 1,100 historic places. But nothing quite tops the charm of our beloved Fort Benton, which dates all the way back to 1864. Not only is this entire city recognized as a National Historic Landmark, but you’ll find all sorts of other historic sites and monuments around town that tell the story of this area’s past.
Fort Benton, which is commonly known as the "Birthplace of Montana," got its start as an American Fur Company trading post.
It soon became the hub for trade and travel throughout the entire northwestern United States and parts of Canada. Back then, you could see up to 50 steamboats every season bringing fur traders, settlers, and gold-seekers.
The former steamboat levee is peaceful now, but it was once known as the "bloodiest block in the west."
Situated on the banks of the river adjacent to the Fort, Front Street was full of dance halls, saloons, gambling establishments, and brothels. This was meant to entice the fur traders and travelers to stay awhile. Unfortunately, the rowdy behavior associated with it led to some gun fights in the streets and violent confrontations.
These days, Fort Benton is (thankfully) much calmer—and visiting feels like getting the history lesson you never knew you always wanted.
You may notice the old bridge in town that seems to lead to nowhere, known as the Old Fort Benton Bridge.
The Old Fort Benton Bridge was the first bridge to ever span the Missouri River in Montana.
This made it possible for ranchers and farmers to ship their livestock and grain from the Fort Benton railhead. The bridge hasn't been in use in quite some time, and vehicles haven't been allowed on it since 1962. Still, you're allowed to walk over it, and many Montanans do.
Pay homage to the Shep Memorial, built to honor the world's most loyal sheepdog.
Back in 1936, a sheepherder fell ill while tending his flock and was brought to the St. Clare Hospital in Fort Benton. His sheepdog followed him and waited outside the hospital. Unfortunately, the man died, but Shep the dog began a five-year vigil by the train tracks, waiting for his person to return until he also passed away.
Another must-see is the Thomas Francis Meagher monument.
Thomas Francis Meagher was an Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848. He was convicted of sedition and sentenced to death, but was instead imprisoned for life. He escaped, fleeing to North America and living in New York before making his way to Montana. He joined the U.S. Army, but unfortunately, he drowned after falling from a steamboat in Fort Benton at the age of 43.
If you spend the night, there's no better place to rest your head than the Grand Union Hotel.
Built in 1882, it has been lovingly restored to its original charms. And while it is allegedly very haunted, the spirits who may or may not reside there don't seem hostile.
When was the last time you visited Fort Benton? Share your favorite places in this historic town in the comments!
Address: Fort Benton, MT 59442, USA
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