By Ron VandenBoom
There was little more than lonely prairie in the northern part of Montana before 1876.
It was in that year the U.S. Army decided it needed a fort to help guard the border between the United States and Canada against possible marauding Indians that had fled north after Custers defeat at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
For most, what would become known as Fort Assinniboine was little more than another isolated assignment, but for a few, the new post was an economic opportunity as well. One such visionary was Charles A. Broadwater a St. Louis bread businessman who came west seeking economic opportunity and found it in the wilds of Montana.
Broadwater secured a contract for brick-making at the post during construction and when completed, he constructed the Post Traders Building on the south end of the fort in 1879 using the same brick. The Post Trader Building would grow to be one of the largest structures at the fort serving the needs of military personnel and area ranchers alike.
Broadwaters Post Trader complex soon employed two of his cousins, E. T. Broadwater worked as a clerk and bookkeeper and A. J. Broadwater became a quartermasters clerk.
The complex filled a role similar to that of the modern military commissary except that Broadwater could sell his goods to anyone, not just military personnel and their dependents.
The list of goods and services he offered ranged from smoked oysters and silk handkerchiefs to a restaurant and small hotel. The facility would ultimately contain a bar, pool hall, bowling alley, photo shop, barbershop, telegraph office, post office, stage depot and officers club. Other goods Broadwater offered included: groceries, dry goods, queensware and crockery, furniture, hardware, canned goods, smokers supplies, and poultry, fish and fruit when in season.
Broadwater supplied his Fort Assinniboine operation and a similar operation he had started in Lewistown by operating a massive freight hauling business that came to include more than 1,200 oxen and 480 mules.
Heading the freight operation in the Fort Assinniboine area was Simon Pepin, who also ran the cattle end of the business, and Lawrence Devlin provided hay and wood for the operation.
The Post traders system was abolished by the Army in 1892 and the running of the Broadwaters franchise reverted to the Army. By this time, though, the Great Northern Railroad was beginning to bring farmers from the East who also needed what Broadwater had been providing all along to the fort.
In 1891, E. T. Broadwater and Pepin jumped the gun slightly when they set up a tent on the present site of Havre and started selling general merchandise. Later, when the railroad wanted to put tracks through their property, Broadwater donated his land to get the Great Northern to use Havre as a terminal. He would also help organize the First National Bank of Havre in 1903.
A. J. Broadwater moved his operation into Havre in 1892 and opened a general merchandise store on the site of the present day Eagles Club and also opened the first drug store in Havre. He also operated Broadwater McCulloh and Company where he sold fresh and salt meats, poultry and fish. He would later help organize Broadwater, Pepin and Broadwaters hardware and furniture store.
Other businesses in Havre during this time included The Havre Jewelry Store, The State Bank of Havre, (in which Simon Pepin was vice president), The Havre Herald newspaper, a shoemaker, The Gem Restaurant and Bakery, the Windsor Hotel, a hardware store, drug store, grocery store, blacksmith, and merchant tailor store, to name but a few.
Havre also had its share of watering holes and also a red light district. Both had been a feature of Havres landscape since the time of the opening of Fort Assinniboine.
1902 was also the year Frank A. Buttrey moved to Havre and opened the Fair Store. After the 1904 fire, Buttrey rebuilt his store on the corner of Third Avenue and Second Street and expanded the list of goods he carried to include groceries.
Buttrey was the first store to have automobile retail delivery service in Montana. He was also the founder of the first radio station in Montana, KFBB in Havre. It began operation in 1922.
Other prominent businessmen of the day were Elmer Carpenter with his Plumbing and Sewerage Tin Shop; H. Earl Clack, who built the first grain elevator and later got into the petroleum market; Lawrence Devlin, car dealer and coal business; and Lou Lucke, clothing and shoes.
Today, Havre businesses still reflect their early beginnings and the agricultural backbone of the Hi-Lines economy with businesses like Meissner Tractors Inc., Cenex/Harvest States, Havre Implement, and Fleet and Big R Supply to name just a few.
Hill Countys population is more than 17,000 with the city of Havre reaching more than 10,000 people.
Havre, too, has become a regional market in its own right, attracting customers from communities from Chester to the west, Malta in the east and Big Sandy to the south. Rocky Boys Indian Reservation is also a major market for Havre businesses.
According to statistics from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Research and Analysis, 30 new businesses opened in Hill County in 1998 with building contractors and membership organizations topping the list of new businesses.
Not counting the BNSF Railroad and city, county, state and federal agencies, Northern Montana Hospital, Albertsons, Gary and Leos IGA, Havre Day Activity Center, Hill County Electric Co-op, Kmart, and the Chippewa Cree Tribe represent some of the largest employers in the county.
Havre Businesses employed 4,524 men and 3,628 women in 1998 with the majority of men (1,028) working as operators, fabricators and laborers. Women, 1,525 of them, predominantly worked in the fields of technical, sales, and administrative support. The combination of men and women in the technical, sales, and administrative support fields makes this the largest employment field in Hill County with 2,106 people employed.
Hill Countys 598 industries generated more than $117 million in wages during 1998. Of that figure, state, local and federal government generated wages of $32 million with the service industry providing $39 million in wages.
Per capita income has risen steadily over the years in Hill County with the 1997 figure reaching an average of $19,236. It is a figure that is only 76 percent of the national average, however.
New businesses also continue to be planned for the 21st Century in the Havre area.
BioGold Composites is currently lining up the financing that will eventually lead to the establishment of a strawboard manufacturing facility in Rudyard. The facility is expected to produce 30 million square feet of product a year and 30 to 40 new jobs. It is also expected to add substantially to the agricultural community through the purchase of straw.
Havre hopes to be able to attract spin-off industries from the plant.
Havre can also expect to see a revitalized Holiday Village Shopping Center come the next century.
OCWEN Financial Corp. has purchased the Havre shopping complex and is working diligently to up-grade the building and fill the vacancies that currently plague the facility.
Premium Pork of Montana is also still alive and kicking as it continues to work to line up financing for a hog production facility north of Havre at the old Havre Air Force Station. More than 1,400 sows will be housed in the new facility, where they will be impregnated using artificial insemination. The facility is expected to produce about 28,000 piglets a year or 550 piglets per week.
Up to five employees will be needed at the facility and spin-off industries for feed and other products are hoped for.
The Academy of Realistic Taxidermy is also expected to be open for business in January 1999.
The school will train students from all over the country in the art of taxidermy using some of the finest talent in the industry as instructors. The school will attract new visitors to Havre and bring outside money into the community.