It was one hundred years ago today, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 1912.
A delegation of Havre community leaders visited Gov. Edwin L. Norris in Helena. They had legal papers formally designating the swath of the Hi-Line — they preferred the name Milk River Valley — as Hill County.
There was an air of optimism. The governor wished the residents well and congratulated them on the creation of the county. The ceremony lasted only a few minutes. The community leaders left for Havre, the signed legal paper in their hands, to begin the difficult task for setting up a county government.
Actually, the Hill County delegation rushed into the governor's office once the legal papers were drawn up, fearful that some kind of legal action would be launched to quash the creation of the new county that had been the subject of a yearlong series of town meetings, contentious debates, nasty letters to the editor and a referendum.
Hill County had been part of Choteau County, a massive area larger than the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware combined. It was based in Fort Benton, but most people in the far reaches of the county had little to do with county government and the few services it provided — a sheriff's department, a highway department and a jail.
That was fine as long as Havre was a rough-and-ready cow town, full of drunkards, houses of prostitution and cattle bein driven down what is today U. S. Highway 2. It was the place soldiers from nearby Fort Assinniboine would visit when they were on leave.
But Havre was turning into quite a city. More than 5,000 people lived in Havre, dwarfing Fort Benton. Electricity had been installed. New buildings were constructed. Hotels and restaurants were opened.
Havre was on the move.
Churches were opening.
Two new schools — Lincoln and Devlin — were being built. Something had to be done about the high school. Enrollment had reached 40 and the place was bursting at the seams.
A new neighborhood of houses was being built on the south side of the city.
Because of changes in the Homestead Act, farmers were moving in en masse. Things were popping in nearby Box Elder, Rudyard, Kremlin, Joplin and Hingham. Chester was growing.
A newly formed Chamber of Commerce had been organized and was competing with Fort Benton to attract new businesses.
Sacred Heart Hospital was about to open, the first such facility on the Hi-Line.
So, there was a groundswell to create an independent county.
This being Montana's Hi-Line, politics ensued.
Most people in Havre strongly favored the idea, though neighbors in Fort Benton, warned that taxes would go up if Hill County was created.
Some wanted the new county named for the railroad magnate who brought life to the country years earlier, but others thought it should be named Plains County or Bear Paw County.
Folks in Chester wanted out of Chouteau County, but they thought Chester would be a great county seat. A brouhaha with the Havre people developed. Chester people said they would form a separate county if Hill County were to be based in Havre. They swallowed hard at first, but eventually declared their own Liberty County and split away from Hill.
But with legal papers in hand, the community leaders arrived back in Havre a century ago to begin the hard work of creating a county government.
In the 1911 election, three Hill County commissioners were elected, even though it was not clear there would be a Hill County.
But now, with Norris' approval, the county was ready to go.
It wasn't easy. It would be four years before the county courthouse was built and open, so offices were spread all over Havre.
The county attorney, coroner, assessor and superintendent of schools were located in the Havre National Bank Building.
The clerk, treasurer and surveyor were set up in the Security Bank Building.
The jail was in a building at 1st Street and 2nd Avenue.
Shortly after the delegation returned to Havre, the commissioners — Ever Neilsen, E.C. Trolley and Joseph Bertholote — met in the office of County Attorney Victor R. Griggs.
The first order of business, Neilsen was elected chairman.
The second item was to instruct clerk J. H. Devine to send a letter to Norris giving him the news: Hill County was up and running.
What was going on in 1912 when Hill County was established?
• William Howard Taft was president of the United States, but he would be defeated by Woodrow Wilson later in the year.
• Ty Cobb hit .409, the best batting average in Major League Baseball.
• Danny Thomas, singer and comedian, was born.
• The first episode of Keystone Kops was released.
• The Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Giants, 4 games to 3 to win the World Series.
• Blaine County was established Feb. 29, one day after Hill County was created.
• The Olympic Games were held in Stockholm, Sweden.
• Sick of copper magnates buying politicians and elections, Montana voters, in an initiative, approved the strictest-in-the-nation limits on campaign contributions.