Montana November 03, 2016
The Oldest Town In Montana That Everyone Should Visit At Least Once
The rest of the country might be thinking of November 8 as Election Day, but the Montanans who know their history know that it’s special for another reason: It’s Montana’s birthday. The Treasure State joined the Union in 1889, but Fort Benton existed over 40 years before that. It’s one of the oldest settlements in the American West, and 169 years later, it still has its original charm.
Fort Benton is called the Birthplace of Montana.
This small city has a big history. Lewis and Clark explored the area in 1805, when the Blackfeet Indians called it home. Fort Benton eventually became known as a robe trading post.
The discovery of gold in the Montana and Idaho territories brought a new wave of people to the area.
Fortune-seekers, merchants and madams moved to town. Its riverside location made it a crucial link between Missouri and Walla Walla, Washington. At one time it was known as the world’s Innermost port.
Fort Benton is now a National Historic Landmark.
It’s also on the National Register for Historic Places and a Preserve America City. This means that you can explore almost 200 years of frontier history when you visit.
The city itself might be small, but you won’t run out of things to see and do here...
… especially if you’re a history buff.
Walk across the Fort Benton Bridge, called the Bridge to Nowhere.
The bridge was built in 1888 as a toll bridge. Vehicles haven’t been allowed on it since 1963, but pedestrians are still welcome.
If you’re there between May and September, you can visit the historic old Fort Benton.
The remaining monument to the old fur trading days of Fort Benton sits on the banks of the Missouri River. Visitors will see rooms filled with period furniture, the old trade store with buffalo robes, and other goods used for trading.
Check out the Old Engine House, Fort Benton’s first firehouse.
It still contains the original hand pumper that came upriver by steamboat. The building was later used as the designated City Hall.
Stop by and pay your respects to Old Shep.
The statue serves as a memorial to Shep, the most loyal dog in Montana. In 1936, a sheepherder became ill and was brought to the St. Clare Hospital in Fort Benton. Shep, his dog, followed him and set up vigil outside the hospital door. The man ended up dying, and his family requested that the body be sent home. Shep witnessed his owner’s body being placed on the train and proceeded to wait at the train station every single day for his return. The railroad employees fed him and took care of him until he died.
Spend the night at the historic Grand Union Hotel.
The onsite Union Grille Restaurant serves delicious food in an elegant setting, and the beautifully restored rooms are luxurious but comfortable.
You might come to Fort Benton a curious tourist, but you’ll leave a history buff.
Our historic towns tend to have that effect on people.
Ready to visit Fort Benton? If you can’t make it yet, start with one of these
other historic Montana towns.