Tag - montana

A.L. Swanson Gallery and Craftsman Studio, Helena, MT

Swanson at work

Swanson at work

To diversify is to bet on, rather than against, your own ingenuity.

A.L Swanson’s business model is rich in diversification.

He is sharp with developing his assets. Whether those assets are his products, his branding, or his relationships, he is adaptable and ready to rethink everything if things aren’t working.

To enter the A.L. Swanson Gallery and Craftsman Studio is to navigate a sleek intermingling of talent, trade, and toil. Walls are adorned with a luxurious collection of paintings – that’s the gallery side of it – and a large, sweeping window reveals the building blocks and sawdust sights of the furniture building component.

At a center table, A.L. Swanson runs his fingers across a handsome walnut fly box, replete with abalone, mother of pearl and various metals. Fly boxes are the most recent section added to his business portfolio.

Diversify or die is an adage warning businesses about the perils of staying in the same place for too long. It can be risky to stand still, but branching out comes with risks, too. Especially when you go about it the way Swanson did.

A.L. Swanson posing

A.L. Swanson

He started the gallery business in 2004, while in search of a physical place for people to experience artwork in a homey atmosphere. A native of Maine, Swanson was familiar with the East Coast gallery vibe: stoic, clean, sterile with all slate floors and austerity.

“I wanted to create more of a home atmosphere,” said Swanson. “I wanted to do it in a way that would marriage the handmade furniture to different types of art, be it painting, or glass, or ceramics. I wanted to let them interact together: hardwood, different colored walls, fresh flowers, candles.”

In 2007, with the economy slipping, galleries closing, and furniture makers suffering, Swanson decided to expand.

“It is ironic, but with the recession bearing down on us, and in a horrible economy, we made a conscious decision to grow. We took the opposite flip. If we could weather the storm, our ship would sail. We knew we could position ourselves to be in a different situation. So we risked life and limb and economics and everything else.”

Once again, Swanson re-emphasized his original mantra: “It’s about the merging of furniture, art and woodworking and truly bringing people to the process.”

Last year, Swanson focused on a new venture. Instead of trying to control everything or worry about spreading himself and his resources too thin and losing everything, he rolled the dice.

The result?

Swanson gallery

Swanson gallery

Orvis – the largest fly angling retailer in the world – recently released four catalogs for its “Sporting Gifts Collection,” incorporating “unique products with good stories behind them.” Although Swanson and employee, Jacob Franklin, competed with more than a few established manufacturers and products, Swanson’s fly boxes appeared on three of the four covers, and the profile ran on the back of one issue.

“We went to the biggest guerilla in the room, and it worked,” said Swanson.

Taking time to look over the resourceful panache of the fly boxes, you see precision in every step, every inch the result of a decision – what slab of wood to choose, what screws to twist.

Sudden shifts and changes are not bad preparation for business life. Swanson is still, however, balancing the chasm between starting something great and scaling it. There is always the temptation to go larger, for example the recommendations of friends to set up relations with L.L. Bean or Cabella’s. He has purposefully shied away from instigating more than he can handle.

“I won’t do that – going place to place and trying to get the fly boxes everywhere. I believe in the exclusivity of our relationship with Orvis. And I believe they respect that. I won’t just be a cheap suit.”

Woodworking is a technical feat and an artistic one. Many woodworkers are blessed with talent, but some lack the motivation or staying power necessary to promote, maintain and brand what it is that they have. Heavily influenced by the New England Shaker aesthetic, Swanson consciously imparts his own flavor. It could be a line, or it could be a slight curve or some other detail that makes it his.

Swanson’s plan to spread the knowledge is so elegantly simple that it takes a moment to fully appreciate it. He offers the hands-on opportunity to make a table. At his workshop, you don’t have to know how to use a sander or a grinder ― the workshops are designed for true beginners. At the end of the class, you will be the crafter of, say, a Shaker-style cherry end table. From end table to inlays, dovetails to rocking chairs, “we have the tools and the experience you need to further develop your inner artist,” said Swanson.

Teaching people abut woodwork

Teaching people about woodwork

“We are teaching people woodworking rather than just providing them with a table, a chair and a desk. The mission at many woodworking schools or classes is to make woodworkers better woodworkers. Here, we want to make people better people, all the while exposing them to something they have never been exposed to.”

The finished product transcends the inanimate, often stirring up a geyser of emotion.

“The beauty of it is that you can walk away with something that you’ve created,” said Swanson. “You can do some of it, or you can do all of it. But the minute that you make it, or I help you make it, sign it and write a little note to your granddaughter, you’ve made a legacy. I can’t do that – you can.”

Swanson said that he is proud to have had an impact bringing tourists to the state of Montana for the past 15 years, and to be a piece of the Great Northern Town Center’s synergism (since 2007).

“We took a loud, dusty woodworking facility and figured out a way, with engineering and architecture, to put it underneath an accounting firm in the middle of the city,” said Swanson. “It’s unlike anything in Helena or anywhere else, really.”

A.L. Swanson’s business is brimming with potential and also laden with responsibility.

Finish products

Finished products

“We have the responsibility to the artists we represent, as well as to the person who wants to learn how to build their own furniture.  And now with our fly boxes, I look at it this way: the wood took 200 years to grow, so the box had better last that long. That’s another responsibility we have.”

Swanson is still preparing for the world he is moving into. And that world – the gallery, the woodworking studio, the fly boxes – may be seen at 863 Great Northern Boulevard, Tuesday to Friday, noon to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information about A.L. Swanson’s woodworking classes or other gallery information, visit www.alswanson.com

Caffé Firenze, Florence, Montana

Caffé Firenze, Florence, Montana

Caffé Firenze, Florence, Montana

The menu at Caffé Firenze reads like a perfunctory recitation of familiar Italian-American delights: puffy calzones, panini, pastries, baked focaccia bread, and gelato. Comfortable, aromatic and inviting, the restaurant feels as if it were located on the most Italian street in Brooklyn’s Little Italy—not somewhere in Florence, Montana.

Owners John and Patti Stevens have done some cosmetic work inside (Mediterranean-style flooring, hand-painted mural walls, and European-bistro-type chairs and tables), creating a welcoming atmosphere of leisurely dining. Once you’ve been greeted by the scents of fresh herbs, pastas, and spices wafting from the kitchen, you’ll know you have come to the right place to sample the delicious fare of Mediterranean cuisine.

Noted for the ambrosial and simple, yet elegant, preparation of its local food, Northern Italy has become a prime travel destination for foodies. Caffé Firenze’s menu embraces this culinary style by highlighting the meats, pastas, and native herbs and spices that are characteristic of the region’s rich countryside.

“We are trying to offer all things unique in the art of dining and to bring them together: namely, Mediterranean cuisine, gelato, espresso, beer and wine, patio and drive-through dining,” says John Stevens, who oversaw the construction of Caffé Firenze and hustles daily cleaning tables, cashiering and waitering.

John and Pat

John and Pat

John and Patti’s niece, Savahna Galanti, is the head chef at Caffé Firenze. Originally from Eureka, Galanti married into an Italian-American family from Whitefish before studying cooking in Northern Italy. Her whimsical internship was at a restaurant that earned its first Michelin star (one of the most desired and influential culinary ratings in Europe) while she was learning there.

“I was quickly absorbed into Italian culture,” says Galanti. “When I was there, I realized that the culinary arts really allowed me to develop my artistic side.” For their lunch guests, the restaurant serves homemade soups and a variety of garden-fresh salads, which can be wrapped in an herb tortilla and taken to go, plus grilled panini filled with items such as artichoke hearts and roasted ham.

Inside Caffé Firenze,

Inside Caffé Firenze,

While the dinner menu at Caffé Firenze changes every week, authentic, old-world, Mediterranean recipes are perennial fixtures. “When you see the presentation of her dishes, you’ll notice that Savahna is truly an artist, and her cooking is an art form,” says Patti, co-owner and the interior designer who coordinated the restaurant’s colors and style.

“Gourmet is the key word to describe our dinner meals because they offer the convenience of take-out entrées and the comfort of sit-down dining,” says John. Caffé Firenze also serves a variety of delicious, freshly-baked desserts. Complementing these toothsome treats are sweet-scented coffees, cordials, an assortment of beers, and choice of wines imported from Italy.

Overall, the menu at Caffé Firenze is meant to be a commingling of Americans’ fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyle and Italians’ love for conviviality, wholesome food, and debonair eating habits. “The trick is to find food that isn’t too unusual, and that’s comforting and interesting,” says Patti.

The relaxed sophistication of the restaurant’s dining room resonates with its stylishly trendy décor, comfortable furnishings, muted lighting, and blend of soft and vibrant colors. The sizeable sleek space is surrounded by conversation tables and pockets of snug seating. The inside of the bistro showcases centerpiece murals that include deft depictions of Northern Italian streets, apartments, and Florence’s famous church baptistery, all of which have been hand-painted by Galanti.

The décor at Caffé Firenze seems luxurious, but you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to indulge because prices are not much higher than diner meals. But not many Montana restaurants produce food this unfailingly excellent, fresh, and diverse: the solid, popular entrées and sides are cooked with reverence; the vegetables have enough succulence to tell you they started out fresh.

“We want this to be a social place where people enjoy the cuisine and the atmosphere and stay long enough to have nice memories,” says Patti.“One thing that we want to achieve,” says John, “by being hands-on, everyday-type people, catering to families and being modestly priced, is to make this spot a community destination and a place that’s better for the community of Florence.”

Caffé Firenze is located at 281 Rodeo Drive in Florence, Montana. They are now offering call-ahead seating: (406) 273-2923 or www.caffefirenze.com

Dumas Brothel Museum Butte, Montana

Dumas Brothel Museum Butte

Dumas Brothel Museum, Butte Montana

Butte, Montana’s Dumas Brothel is the only surviving, three-story Victorian brothel in the U.S. It is also the only three-floor brothel standing in the hub of Butte’s once booming red-light district. The second largest bordello in the West (San Francisco’s Barbary Coast owns that distinction), it was constructed in 1890 and operated illegally until 1982 – making it America’s largest and longest-running house of ill repute. The girls who worked at the Dumas and their clients, who partook in their earthly gratifications there, can be imagined by walking the halls of the Dumas Brothel Museum.

The Dumas Brothel experienced hard times in the early 1980s. It closed in 1982 because of community demands, primarily the consequence of a violent robbery on the premises. Thanks to its historical significance – it is believed that the Dumas is the sole surviving model of Victorian Brothel style architecture in the country – the building has until now escaped the wrecker’s ball. In fact, since the late 1990s it has served, on and off, as a museum. As you walk in and out of the equally sized and shaped rooms – some with beds still in them – you clearly understand what they were designed for.

The Dumas Brothel

The Dumas Brothel

The dark Dumas corridors have small cribs in the cellar, quite a few parlors, middle oval hallways comprised of guest rooms overlooking the first floor, as well as skylights above the innermost area. It is further believed to be linked to the core of Butte’s business district by underground corridors. During their hours above ground, some miners spent time in the two-story brothels that were common along the “Venus Alley” stretch of Mercury Street. Today, all have been demolished except the Dumas. The tales this building conveys, however unpleasant or sordid, are crucial to the cultural composition of Butte.

The Dumas Brothel is under the serious threat of demolition. That’s because the structure’s roof is failing, and underside masonry and brick-clad walls are collapsing. In certain areas the walls are also unraveling from the main structure. Butte historical coalitions believe the only way to save the Dumas Brothel is to pump a considerable amount of money into its renovation; they are seeking a new owner as well as grants for the current owner, who has no money to foot the restoration and maintenance costs.

The Dumas Brothel Museum, open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at unfixed, quite random times, is located at 45 Mercury Street in Butte. Make sure to call ahead to find out if the building is open. For more information call (406) 494-6908 or visit dumasbrothel.com.

The non-profit Butte CPR is energetically seeking monetary donations to save one of the most unique pieces of Butte’s past. To contribute, or for more information about contributing, contact Butte CPR, P.O. Box 164, Butte, Montana, 59870.

Garnet Ghost Town, Montana

Garnet Ghost Town is one of Montana’s best preserved and conditioned ghost towns and pioneer settlements. Although some gold miners had been working in the Garnet Range as early as the 1860s, it wasn’t until the mid-1890s when thousands of desperate miners were suddenly unemployed as a result of the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

Garnet Montana ghost town overview

Garnet Montana ghost town overview

Garnet Ghost Town is one of Montana’s best preserved and conditioned ghost towns and pioneer settlements. Although some gold miners had been working in the Garnet Range as early as the 1860s, it wasn’t until the mid-1890s when thousands of desperate miners were suddenly unemployed as a result of the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

Garnet Ghost Town, Montana Ghost Towns and Mining Camps

Garnet in the Winter

Garnet in the Winter

In 1895 Dr. Armistad Mitchell built an ore-crushing mill at the head of First Chance Gulch, around which grew a town – initially called Mitchell. By 1887, however, the moniker was switched to Garnet, in honor of the semiprecious, ruby-colored stones located in the nearby hills and valleys.

By 1898, when a plentiful vein was struck at the Nancy Hanks mine, not quite 1,000 people lived in Garnet. At that time, Garnet was a fairly modern and eclectic settlement, consisting of dozens and dozens of cabins, a doctor’s office, an assay building, a union hall (hosting what was even regarded as one of Montana’s best dance floors), thirteen saloons, two barbershops, four stores, four hotels, and much more. Many miners brought families with them to Garnet, so the social life was reputedly a bit more civilized than in many other Montana gold and mineral camps, commonly associated with vigilantes and lawlessness.

Garnet Ghost town

Garnet Ghost town

Such is the story of most boomtowns: buildings were constructed quickly and cheaply, and bereft of sturdy foundations. Come 1905, most of the gold had been exhausted and only 150 people remained. Garnet gradually slipped into darkness, notwithstanding a short resurgence of mining in the Great Depression era of the 1930s. Most of the buildings have since collapsed, although several of the 1800’s structures remain intact more than one hundred years after being built up. The Bureau of Land Management works with the nonprofit Garnet Preservation Association to save and stabilize the remaining structures, including the essential, three-story J.K. Wells Hotel, built in the winter of 1897 on a wooden-post base.

Today, visitors to Garnet Ghost Town, in addition to the old hotel, will find several newer buildings. Two 1930s-vintage cabins are available for rent during the winter, making the ghost town a popular destination for cross-country skiers and snowmobile enthusiasts. The cozy, wood-stoved cabins are bare-bones and delightfully primitive, with firewood stacked directly outside. Another great time to visit is during the preservation association’s annual fundraiser, the Hard Times Dinner and Dance, usually held in the summertime.

Garnet Ghost Town Directions, Information

To get to Garnet Ghost Town, which some old-timers claim is a veritable ‘ghost town’ actually haunted and occupied by specters, turn onto the well-signed Garnet Range Road near the 22-mile marker on Highway 200 east of Potomac and travel about 11 bumpy miles. The road is closed to wheeled vehicles between January 1 and April 30, when it turns into a snowmobiling and cross-country skiing cross route. For additional information contact the Bureau of Land Management at (406) 329-3914.

Missoula Smokejumpers’ Museum

Smokejumpers' museum

Smokejumpers’ museum, Missoula, MT

America’s largest active training center for smokejumpers and the biggest smokejumpers museum is located in Missoula, Montana.

Smokejumpers earn their paychecks by going to the most hellacious places at the most hellacious times. Parachuting to the periphery of wildfires deep in isolated wilderness without roads, and then battling the furious blazes with not much more than some equipment and gear dropped from above, smokejumpers are toughness, ego, adrenaline, and personal peril personified. The drive, desire and determination required to put oneself in great physical danger is not an easy thing to understand for most people, but it is, undoubtedly, the key to smokejumpers’ success.

The country’s largest active training facility for smokejumpers is located on the outskirts of paradisiacal Missoula, Montana. Refurbished in 1992, the Smokejumpers’ Visitor Center at the depot offers simplified displays, murals, dioramas and videos connected to the seventy-five-year history of fire suppression techniques. Guided tours include visits to the parachute loft and training headquarters.

Presently 85 smokejumpers, men and women, ranging in age from their early twenties to late fifties, exert themselves at the base. These risky, distinguished individuals, soaring through the air angelically, are important national resources. Jumpers, who work from approximately June 1 through October, trek all over the country, from California to Alaska. They provide savvy, practiced skills for swift, initial attacks on far-off, wildland fires. Fire fighting gear and provisions are released by parachute to the smokejumpers as they set up operation close to the flames. Smokejumpers are remarkably noted for self-sustainment for the first 48 hours.

Seven miles west of town, adjacent to Johnson-Bell Airport, the Smokejumpers’ Visitor Center provides a unique chance to learn about and understand this extraordinarily dangerous air-delivered occupation. The tour includes a visit to the National Smokejumper Memorial, a look inside a replica of a 1930s Forest Service lookout tower, and a perusal of the smokejumper loft, where the smokejumpers lounge or labor when not battling blazes. The visit also allows for the exploration of the ready room and load masters’ room, where smokejumpers plan and set up for fire calls.

At the Smokejumpers’ Museum, we learn that smokejumping was first conceptualized by a Forest Service Inter-mountain Regional Forester named T.V. Pearson in the 1930s . He projected that a willing band of men could be utilized as a method to speedily provide initial assault on forest fires. By dropping in via parachute, the self-reliant group could arrive ready and able for the backbreaking duty and hardy terrain ahead. We, too, learn that the history of actual smokejumping officially got underway as a conduct test in the Pacific Northwest Region in 1939, and the original fire leap was carried out on Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest’s Northern Region in 1940 .

Over 270 smokejumpers are working (and risking their lives) from Forest Service smokejumper stations. In addition to the Missoula, Montana base, facilities are located in California, Idaho, West Yellowstone, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. There, too, exists a pair of Bureau of Land Management-supervised smokejumper centers; one in Boise, Idaho, and the other in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Located at the Aerial Fire Depot by Missoula International Airport, the Missoula Smokejumpers’ Base and Center is situated at the west end of the airport, along with the Region One Fire Cache, the Interagency Fire Science building, and the Northern Region Training Center. Free tours are presented at 10:00 am and 11:00 am, 2:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 4:00 pm daily. During the winter, appointments and reservations need to be made at least two days in advance. Contact: 406-329-4972

The Sacred Art & Architecture of St. Francis Xavier Church Missoula, MT

St Francis Xavier Church Missoula, MT

St Francis Xavier Church Missoula, MT

The stained-glass windows at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church unassumingly brighten the brick building’s striking, 119-year-old core. On sun-packed days, the windows produce golden sparkles inside the downtown Pine Street church. Ordinary glass windows were in place when Mass was first held in the A.J. Gibson-designed church back on October 9, 1892.

The clear panes were substituted for stained-glass over a century ago (pre-1910), in an attempt to guard from sunlight the church’s magnificent frescos painted by Brother Joseph Carignano, an untrained artist who worked as a cook at a nearby mission. When the church opened decades ago, the murals were no less impressive. Their story interweaves a tale stretching back as early as 1841 – the year St. Mary’s Mission was established in the Bitterroot Valley by Jesuit fathers fulfilling the instruction of American bishops to extend their religion to Native Americans.

For years, settlers in the Missoula Valley had even petitioned the Jesuits for pastoral attention. These Catholics contracted their diocesan authorities who, in response, established a Jesuit Church in Missoula in 1881. On August 9, 1891, the Jesuits laid the cornerstone for what was then the largest church constructed in Montana. Within a decade, thanks in large part to the work of Father Alexander Diomedi, S.J., the Jesuits established the new parish as a significant community focal point. St. Francis Xavier Church is spatially integrated, understated, and harmonious. Humbler than Helena’s imposing cathedral, there is fluidity to the art and architecture. Nave arcades link by a barrel vault ending in the half-dome above the apse. A cornice crowning the arcade spans in a steady line around the semicircular apse in the fashion of sixteenth-century Baroque churches create a more united space by joining sanctuary and congregation.

The Sacred Art & Architecture of St. Francis Xavier Church

The Sacred Art & Architecture of St. Francis Xavier Church

The building’s architecture is highlighted by the unique expression of Carignano’s efforts; his artwork vividly details Christian beliefs to a community of Catholics who are distant from the center of Catholic worship. Thanks to these murals, the church’s interior solidified a visual catechism and a celebration of faith, a cohesive vision in a congruous composition.

Brother Joseph Carignano, S.J., who was thirty-nine in 1892, painted the church walls with religious similes, a pictorial study of scripture stories and symbols of the liturgy. His intent was to inspire people to imitate the lives of the saints and reflect on the teachings of Jesus. Cargignano may have been invited to St. Francis by Father L.B. Palladino, noted author on Indian/White relations in Montana, who served as pastor for many years. (The bell in the steeple is dedicated to Palladino.) The paints that Brother Carignano selected transformed the interior of St. Francis Xavier into a place like no other the congregation in the five valleys: A heavenly realm, a congenial contrast to the drab winter light of a frequently overcast valley.

Architecture of St. Francis Xavier Church

Architecture of St. Francis Xavier Church

To enter the great brick church, where ornate gilt scroll work on walls and capitals reflect rays of light, is to step into a sparkling and brilliant remembrance of the harsh existence of early Rocky Mountain West life. It stands as a testament to a time when Jesuits were giants and their steadfast devotion to their faith was palpable. Carignano’s paintings may also be viewed inside St. Ignatius Mission, a landmark Roman Catholic mission founded at its present location in 1854 by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet and Father Adrian Hoecken.

That mission was built between 1891 and 1893, a simplified, vernacular example of Gothic revival architecture constructed of bricks made from native clay. While the backdrop is splendid, the most exceptional features of the interior are the 58 murals painted by Brother Joseph Carignano. Regarded today as an accomplished artist, his art still summons for a more comprehensive evaluation.

The Day Otis Redding Died: December 10, 1967, Lake Monona, Wis.

Otis redding Plane

Otis redding Plane

Soul singer Otis Redding had acquired his own plane to make touring less hectic, but the twin-engine Beechcraft H18 would prove his fatal undoing. At around 3:30 p.m. on a foggy Sunday afternoon, December 10, 1967, the plane, which encountered a storm en route from Cleveland to a concert in Madison, plunged into the frigid waters of Lake Monona. Redding, 26, and four members of his Bar-Kays band were killed. The musicians were headed to The Factory nightclub and scheduled to perform at 6:30 p.m.

The crash killed six others, everyone on board except for trumpeter Ben Cauley (bassist James Alexander had luckily avoided the flight altogether). On the cusp of achieving pop super-stardom, Redding, best known for his hit “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” recorded just three days earlier and released after his death, was dead. The tune was Otis’ first posthumous release and his biggest-selling single ever, topping both the R&B and pop charts on its way to going gold. Engineers tastefully overdubbed the sound effects, the mournful cries of seagulls, the singer’s lonesome whistling, after Otis’ death.

Pulling Otis Redding's Wrecked Plane from Lake

Pulling Otis Redding’s Wrecked Plane from Lake

About 4,500 mourners, including a dazzling array of soul giants, such as James Brown, Solomon Burke, and Wilson Pickett, crowded Macon’s City Auditorium for Redding’s funeral one week later.

On December 3, 1997, thirty years later, hundreds of people showed up at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center to pay their respects to the Georgia-born soul singer and songwriter. They’d never met Otis Redding, but they loved his music and came to express their appreciation of his impact as a soul pioneer, who inexorably altered the rhythm & blues landscape – and, ultimately, all of pop music- with his gritty, lustrous vocal, sexy, slinky lyrics and unforgettable songs.

Ben Cauley, who hadn’t visited Madison since the crash, received a standing ovation. He told his audience how he’d awakened early that Sunday four decades ago and headed to the Cleveland airport for the trip to Madison. That day, he said, Redding told him he’d just finished recording the supremely meditative “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” A few hours later, Cauley was flung out of the plane on impact. As he floated in the icy waters of Lake Monona, clinging to a cushion, he watched the rest of the plane’s passengers — including the man he once described as “…a groovy cat, like an older brother” — drown. When his short speech was finished, Cauley sang some of the songs that might have been on the bill at The Factory, including a trumpet-laced version of Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”

Otis redding Memorial

Otis Redding Memorial

Redding was born in Dawson, Georgia, approximately 100 miles south of Macon, on Sept. 9, 1941. His family moved into a Macon housing project when he was five, and he began singing in the choir of the Vineville Baptist Church at an early age. Today, the church is now home to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and Macon is arguably the vital center of soul. Little Richard, James Brown and Otis Redding – three men who shaped American blues music from the 1950s to the 1970s and beyond — all launched their careers there. Although he consistently impacted the R&B charts, beginning with the Top Ten appearance of “Mr. Pitiful” in 1965, and he is remembered for producing some of the toughest, sweetest, most enduring soul music ever created, none of Redding’s singles fared better than #21 on the pop Top Forty.

There’s one noteworthy aspect to Redding’s life not often touched upon: No one has anything unflattering to say about him. No scandals lurk in the closet, no unsavory incidents of rampant egotism to shatter his clean image, no shafting of his sidemen on long road jaunts. He was just a sincerely talented soul man who enhanced the lives of everyone associated with him but died much too soon.

Heartbreak never sounded good.

Or happened so abruptly.

A plaque located in the William T. Evjue Rooftop Garden on Monona Terrace commemorates Redding’s death.

Marcus Daly Mansion: ‘A Palace Fit for a Copper King’ Hamilton, MT

by Brian D’Ambrosio,


Marcus Daly Mansion Front

Marcus Daly was a colorful mining tycoon known as the “Copper King.” An industrious Irish immigrant, Daly (1841-1900) made his immense fortune in the mines of Butte during the 1880s, and created the Anaconda Mining Company. Daly established the towns of Anaconda, to boost his smelt mines, and Hamilton, to strengthen his lumber industry.

Daly became a citizen of the United States in 1874. The Walker Brothers, friends of his in New York who owned a banking and mining business group, sent Daly to the Montana Territory in 1876 to find and invest in silver mining operations. After buying and selling interests in dozens of mining properties, Daly purchased a certain silver mine claim that unexpectedly gushed forth an effusive copper vein.

Understanding there could be a gigantic profit in copper if related smelting costs could be lessened, Daly saw a golden opportunity for prosperity. With strong financial backing from associates, he built a smelter on a site twenty-eight miles west of Butte (now known as Anaconda). By the mid-1880s, the copper mines of Butte were producing over seventeen million dollars worth of metallic elements a year, and Daly, although a junior partner in the Anaconda investment, became a very wealthy fellow.

In the late 1880s, Daly built a summer residence for his family in present-day Hamilton, the center of the marvelous Bitterroot Valley. Daly purchased the existing Anthony Chaffin homestead in 1886, including the farmhouse, and had it completely remodeled into a majestic Queen Anne style Victorian mansion. To this day, the manor remains a riveting symbol of abundant wealth and lavish adornment.

“This is a very captivating place,” said Kim Morris, director of development for the Daly Mansion. “It makes many people think of Gone With the Wind.  When you come here, you are able to step back more than one hundred years..”

The Daly Mansion, aka known as “Riverside,” due to its closeness to the Bitterroot River, served to entertain and delight guests. Foreign plants, a swimming pool, and a children’s playhouse were all added to Riverside after the Daly family arrived.

Marcus Daly, a blunt and reclusive man, had a tremendous love for horse racing, and came to the Bitterroot Valley for two compelling reasons: to purchase enormous acreage for timber and to establish a breeding homestead for thoroughbreds. The Copper King eventually obtained several large ranches and farms. While Daly lived, 1,200 head of horses were kept on the 22,000-acre holding he named the Bitterroot Stock Farm.

“This is an infatuating place,” said Don Erdman, who volunteers as a Daly Mansion tour guide. “The more you come here, the more passionate you become about the Bitterroot’s historic past. This is a great place to come and learn about it. The more you come here, the more you feel as if you’re a part of that history.”

During the late 1880s, Daly bought up little sawmills in the surrounding areas and very quickly established a lumber producing industry on the grounds beside the Bitterroot River. Marcus Daly’s next big idea was to bring in a pair of men from out-of-state to design and develop his fantasy town. They were James Hamilton and Robert O’Hara, who arrived from Minnesota in 1890. The town was named after Hamilton, and O’Hara was the first mayor. Daly’s planned community had a bank, stores, shops, a school, and four churches. Hamilton was incorporated about 1894.

Margaret Daly (1853-1941) took an executive role in the daily operations of the Bitterroot Stock Farm. She hired dependable, efficient employees, and was known to be quite the   entertainer. Dinners at the home were always formal, and after most evening meals, coffee was served on the sun porch. Mrs. Daly would gather the children around her right before bedtime and read stories to them in the sitting room.

Mrs. Daly also had a philanthropic streak measuring a yard wide and a foot deep. She helped the Boy Scouts financially, enabling them to bring about the first scout camp in the Skalkaho area. She also donated land for the area’s first library to be constructed, and in memory of her husband, built the Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital.

After Marcus Daly’s death in 1900, Margaret had the home remodeled into the present structure. The Georgian Revival style Mansion was drafted by noted Missoula architect A.J. Gibson and finished in 1910.

The building occupies 24,000 square feet on three floors, with twenty five bedrooms, fifteen bathrooms, and seven fireplaces, five of which are faced with imported Italian marble.

Some of the primary rooms include a broad living room, a formal dining room, a music room, a sun room, an upstairs sitting room, a third floor billiard hall, and a trophy room which was annexed in 1914.

Mansion grounds showcase fifty species of trees, a tennis court, a greenhouse, a boathouse, and a laundry building. Following Mrs. Daly’s death in 1941, her elegant abode was boarded up until 1987, when it was opened to the public.

Various renovation projects to the elegant abode have been going on for the past three years.  “Our primary focus has been with raising funds to restore this extraordinary home,” said Cheryl Dorn, events and membership coordinator for the Daly Mansion.

With a large portion of the estate’s fundraising goals achieved, the Daly Mansion Preservation Society has finally been able to begin its major restorations. They have installed a new heating system and completed the first phase of upgrading the building’s archaic electric system.

Today, this historic getaway continually entertains visitors from all around the country. The residence and its grounds offer tours, special projects and events, including picnics, weddings, reunions, murder mysteries, doll shows, concerts, and a unique Christmas open house.

“We invite the public to come and utilize the mansion,” said Dorn. “Even if they want to use it as a place to simply come and relax, for sitting on the covered deck and playing checkers.”

The Daly Mansion is located in the heart of the Bitterroot Valley, just outside the town of Hamilton. (Approximately 45 miles south of Missoula, Montana on Highway 269, at mile marker 2)

Havre, Montana’s Underground City

‘Montana Hi-Line’s Underground City’



Built primarily to serve as a major railroad center, Havre is the largest city on the Hi-Line of Montana. Incorporated in 1893, it’s a community that was instrumental in the harnessing of the Wild West. Indeed, there are many voices telling multitudinous stories in this old rebellious railroad town.

A century ago the picture here was profoundly different: Mountain men and railroaders, bootleggers and cowboys, living midst action and violence, with assorted rendezvous, barrooms and saloons as the stage on which their heroism and backbone were seen, tested and remembered. Close your eyes tightly and it’s almost as if you can taste the city’s rambunctious past.

Throughout the decades much of old Havre has been razed or fallen into utterly unrecognizable disrepair. One preserved piece of stable, verifiable evidence testifying to the city’s unique history, however, is still very much apparent.

 On this slate-gray October morning, small, lustrous grids of purple colored squares can be seen embedded in the sidewalks of Havre’s downtown area – a short six-block section enveloping the north side of the city. At one point, these “skylights” – transformed purplish over time due to the sun’s frenzied rays – supplied and controlled the ebb and flow of illumination for the underground city built below more than one hundred years ago. Throughout its history, this underground expanse has been host to both riotous debaucheries and respectable businesses, including a bordello, a Chinese laundry mat, a saloon, a drugstore, at least three opium dens, and rooms used for smuggling alcohol during Prohibition.

  Today, Havre’s cavernous city operates as its major tourist attraction.

             “Our underground area brings more people here than anything else we’ve got. We’ve had visitors come from all over the world, including a couple from Australia last summer who came to the U.S. solely to visit us,” says Margie Deppmeier, CEO of the incorporated entity known as “Havre Beneath the Streets.”


Opium den, Havre

Havre Beneath the Streets is a presentation of original and embellished exhibits in the subterranean passages of Havre used and inhabited by the city’s earliest residents. Waltz back in time into the Sporting Eagle Saloon, a turn-of-the-century honky-tonk where cowboys gambled, cussed, puffed cigars, kicked up their spurs and swigged good old-fashioned frontier hooch. The barroom’s wooden floors and oak bar and four poker-playing tables are all original items. Saunter along the streets beneath Havre and see a cramped opium den, an ethnic restaurant, and a meat market thronged with old wares such as meat hooks, an original smoker, and other machines used in the sausage making process.

 The bustling happenings of north central Montana life in the early 1900s are displayed with unflinching honesty. Havre was a melting pot of races, and racism was ubiquitous. The ethnic mixtures of black, red, yellow and white triggered an explosive atmosphere and Chinese “safe houses” – places of sanctuary and security for Asian railroad workers and their families – were common, indeed necessary, underground creations.

Part of this eclectic social mix entailed the refinement of a different society of people whose temperament and tastes drew them to the concert hall and lavishly produced theatrical productions. Other sights of interest include Dr. Wright’s 1920s dental office, replete with hot wax molds used to make dentures, Tamale Jim’s kitchen and the Gourley Brothers Bakery.

   “A cross-section of the melodrama of times is presented in the historical underground tours. People are fascinated by the fact that there’s so much to see down here,” says Deppmeier.


Havre beneath the street

The flourishing of downtown Havre’s business district coincided with the city’s beginning days. Many of these establishments were located in what, today, is called Havre Beneath the Streets. The passageways, which span 10 blocks, first came into use in the early 1900s after a devastating fire on June 14, 1904 destroyed most of the city’s businesses, affecting a total of 55 property owners.

  The prodigious Havre fire started in the early morning hours inside the Gross and Lebert store, present site of the Triangle Hotel. The fiery furnace moved east to west and finally made a circle aided by a dastardly intense, veering Chinook wind to the northwest, eventually sweeping away the entire block. The only building that withstood the tremendous flames was the Old Security State Bank (a large stone building now Johnson Jewelry and an insurance office.)

As an aftermath of the uncontrolled blaze, the vault of the old Bank saloon (now the Eagles Hall) and the tall spire-like chimney of the Havre Hotel were the only landmarks left in the fire-swept blocks.

Instead of losing customers and money, and in an attempt by some to minimize interference with the massive construction projects happening above, many businessmen moved below the ashen city streets to set up shops. The underground was also heavily used for bootlegging during the 1920s and early ‘30s, but that practice discontinued once Prohibition bans were lifted in 1933.

Decades later, in 1990, north central Montana residents Lyle Watson and Frank DeRosa, along with a group of volunteers possessing the greatest of breadth and ambition, organized Havre Beneath the Streets, intent on cleaning out the cluttered, long-neglected underground and developing it into a tourist attraction.

Their work was taxing and toilsome: They needed to move entire rooms, create entire rooms, diffuse live electrical wires, and haul out detritus, rusty pipes and large rocks with wheelbarrows. Then, once all the removal work had been completed, they needed to convince safety officials that the distant metropolis wasn’t going to be too precarious or structurally unstable for tourist dealings. The project took more than four years to finish, eventually opening to the public in 1999.

Although Havre was born more than a century ago, when it comes to tourist marketing, Deppmeier admits that the city is still only a fledgling, but she hopes that tourism to the region will continue to grow despite all the severe scorchings and economic setbacks to which the area has been subjected.

“Havre’s been up and down, up and down, but the railroad is once again booming and so is mining, so hopefully tourism here will boom, too, with the underground city as the main point of interest,” says Deppmeier.

  Havre Beneath the Streets remains largely self-financed. Unfortunately, a project of this magnitude takes more than the amount of modest revenue derived from tours and requires a sizable financial commitment. As the city looks ahead to renewed financial greatness, it draws energy from the prosperity and pride of folks like Christy Owens, office manager of Havre Beneath the Streets.

“I love Havre. It’s a great place to be. I like to share my enthusiasm for it, but sometimes being so far off and away can be a challenge to attract visitors. We just need to accentuate our historical positives more,” says Owens.

In its fifteen years of operation, 300,000 tourists have walked the dusky underground halls of Havre’s history. While folks such as Deppmeier and the initial band of locals who gathered to turn an underground zone of refuse and rubble into a sparkling sliver of historical significance, have succeeded in safeguarding and perpetuating the historical mystique of the early Montana pioneers, true ownership of Havre Beneath the Streets, she says, is all encompassing.

“The people of Montana own this place, or more specifically, the folks of northern Montana,” says Deppmeier.

Stevensville Hotel, Bitterroot Valley, Montana

Stevensville Hotel

Stevensville Hotel

In June 2004, Gene Mim Mack and Robbie Springs purchased a piece of property in Stevensville with a profoundly rich history—more worthy of safeguarding, and of greater historical distinction, than just about any other structure in town.The building’s commanding historical presence and the community’s fondness and respect for its history convinced the couple that it was ideal or renovating into a fully functioning hotel. Since that time, they’ve added elegant décor, improved its operational capacity and usefulness, and revived its function.

“Knowing [that] this place meant so much to so many people is what put us over the top,” says Gene, whose past experiences in construction circles involved home and commercial building projects in Alaska. “The intensity of the experiences that people had here really made us say ‘yes,’” he adds. “This building is irreplaceable to many people.”

History of Stevensville Hotel

For more than 100 years, the building now operating as the Stevensville Hotel, located at 107 E. Third Street, has played a decidedly important and influential role in Stevensville life. Originally constructed in 1910 by Dr. William Thornton, it served the entire Bitterroot Valley as the area’s first hospital. Modeled in the Classic Revival style with contorted windows, dormers, and white Tuscan columns buttressing the two-story balcony with spindled railings, the medical center was complete with the most modern of equipment.

After Dr. Thornton moved to Missoula in 1917, a new owner, Dr. P.S. Rennick, reshaped the hospital in the late 1920s, enlarging the sun porch and altering the west dormers. The health facility continued under Dr. Rennick’s administration until his death in 1939. Years later, the building was reopened as a rest home and a boarding house. The former Thornton Hospital then sat vacant for many years before being utilized briefly, albeit unsuccessfully, as an athletic club, as a childcare facility, and then as an investment property. In 1999, the building opened as the Stevensville Hotel. Five years later, Gene and Robbie purchased the unadorned superstructure, bringing with them the decorative tact and taste it was previously lacking.

“This building has been a part of Stevensville for so long that people are really attached to it,” says Robbie. “So, it’s not hard to understand how we were able to see past 60 years of neglect and find the beauty in [it].”

Stevensville Hotel Restorations

For the past five years, Gene and Robbie have imparted new aesthetic vigor into the old edifice through various repairing and remodeling projects. The act of improving the substandard structure and renewing it to its former esteemed condition, required obvious amounts of energy, exertion, and passion. Creative enterprises began with lots of stripping, sanding, and painting work, followed by considerable electrical and paneling endeavors. “It’s a compliment when people think that the furniture and the lighting are original,” says Robbie.

The pair spent ample time mulling over their new hotel’s layout, design, and decorative color schemes. They mutually decided on its furniture. The couple’s goal from the beginning has been to restore the hotel without making it look brand-new. “There was nothing in the hotel when we bought it,” says Robbie. “We’ve preserved some items during the restoration, like the picture rails, the molding, the doors, and the baseboards.”

The noteworthy property is furnished with items, antiques, and local art acquired from both near and far, including fashionable tables and heirlooms bought in Hamilton, eBay purchases hauled back from Utah, and ornate dressers shipped from California.

A bold, rich palette in pleasant and eclectic colors certainly aids and enhances a strong sense of the hotel’s aura and storied past; in an effort to preserve the certain historical ambience and age, there are no TVs in the rooms. Both Gene and Robbie encourage an atmosphere at the hotel in which people communicate freely and frequently. “There are no phones or televisions in the rooms so as not to have any such distractions,” says Robbie. “That makes it easier to step back in time.”

A full kitchen and additional bedroom were recently added on the main floor, and since all of the necessary inside improvements have now been completed, the couple will set their refashioning sights on a few minor exterior upgrades.

Stevensville Hotel Owners

One other thing compelled Gene and Robbie to embark upon this renovation project: a mutual, mighty love of adventure. Both Gene and Robbie grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but did not meet until years later in Alaska. They enjoy traveling and speak tenderly of the brilliant landscapes they’ve visited, studied, and lived in. In fact, Gene proposed in Tonga and the couple married in 1997 in New Zealand. Two years earlier, the couple purchased a 35-foot cutter rigged sailboat in Seattle and steered down the coast to San Francisco before sailing across the Pacific.

They then visited some of the world’s most picturesque and isolated islands: Tahiti and French Polynesia, Cook Islands, American and Western Samoa, Tonga, and, finally, New Zealand. In September 1997, their daughter, Alison, was born in Takapuna, New Zealand.

In northern Vanuatu, north of Tasmania, they discovered a small, unruffled, protected bay community called Asanvari. Gene and Robbie formed the volunteer Asanvari Peace Corp, writing grants for Asanvari residents and submitting them to foreign aid agencies. Following six months of continuously working to build structures from locally harvested materials in Vanuatu, the family spent another summer in Australia before realizing it was time for further change.

After leaving the boat Down Under and returning to the United States, this time to Montana, they soon found a new experience and fresh focal point: to restore and rediscover the fundamental physical beauty and the intrinsic purpose of one of Stevensville’s most beloved places.

Today, Gene and Robbie are quite content to be contributing to Stevensville’s extraordinarily contagious community spirit. Both are actively involved in the town’s seemingly endless civic sharing, participation, and fellowship.

“Part of this hotel’s energy is its community spirit,” says Robbie. “We try to make it available for art showings and small meetings, letting the public know that they are welcome. We enjoy keeping the personal connection that people have to this place as strong as we can.”

Redsun Labyrinth: Victor, Montana

Sacred and Spiritual Walk – A Tool Of Transformation

Redsun Labyrinth , cr-flicker

Redsun Labyrinth ,  Cr-flicker by Warren Lynn

The single path of the labyrinth is what distinguishes its ethos and sets it apart as a spiritual tool. Combining the imagery of the universal circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path, the labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and then back out again into the cosmos.

“Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer and spiritual tools,” says Patty Meyer, owner of Redsun Labyrinth, west of Victor. “They’ve historically been used in both group ritual and for private

Patty Meyer knows about labyrinths; she understands their spiritual, physical, and intellectual meanings and implications. In fact, Patty has even attended a labyrinth facilitator training at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, home of Verditas, a worldwide labyrinth project. Plus, she’s participated in labyrinth workshops and has worked as a group leader in similar projects across the globe.

“The labyrinth is a personal journey,” says Patty. “It doesn’t impose religious beliefs. Everything that occurs on the labyrinth can be considered a metaphor for your own spiritual and personal life.”

The term labyrinth is often used interchangeably with maze, but Patty can easily explain away their differences by giving stricter definitions: A maze is an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one’s way or to reach the exit; a labyrinth has an unambiguous through-route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.

“ Labyrinths and mazes have often been confused. When most people hear of a labyrinth they think of a maze. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is mostly for amusement.”

A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is a left brain task that requires logical, sequential, analytical activity to find the correct path into the maze and out. A labyrinth has just one path to be followed. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. The path leads you on a circuitous route to the center and out again.

Opposite of a maze, a labyrinth is a right brain task. It involves intuition, creativity, and imagery. With a maze many choices must be made and an active mind is needed to solve the problem of finding the center. With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made: to enter or not. A more passive, receptive mindset is needed. Ultimately, the decision is whether or not to walk a spiritual path.

“There’s no wrong or right way to walk a labyrinth,” says Helmut Meyer, Patty’s husband and the labyrinth’s co-keeper. “You just have to walk and listen in a way that you feel comfortable and natural.”

“The walk should quiet the brain,” says Patty. “It appeals to the still and calm parts of life.”

A labyrinth can be represented symbolically or physically. Symbolically it is represented in art or designs on pottery, as body art, etched on walls of caves, etc. Physical representations are common throughout the world, and are generally constructed on the ground, like the stone-patterned eleven-circuit Redsun Labyrinth, so they may be walked along from entry point to center and back again.

Indeed, even the walk to the Redsun Labyrinth is an oddly beautiful one: rock cairns dangle precariously defying fate and gravity; unencumbered trees and vines form natural arches above; donated bowling balls, or “Bitterroot gazing balls,” as Helmut calls them, shine with renewed aesthetic life and value and as unusual symbols of repurposed life.

The four quadrant Redsun Labyrinth is based on an 800 year-old ancient symbol pattern relating to wholeness and is an archetype with which we can have a direct contact and experience. We can walk it alone or with a partner. We can walk it seriously, mournfully, or playfully. Either way, it is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space and place and takes us out of our ego to some place less convoluted and hectic.

“The labyrinth represents the stages of life, from mineral to plant to human and then to the angelic and the unknown. It’s the path of life,” says Helmut.

At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who and what you are.

“The labyrinth is a metaphor for life,” says Patty. “It’s a great place to open your mind to a new spiritual experience.”