On the Trail 2-25-13
February 25, 2013
While exploring interesting places along the Lewis and Clark Trail, I recently discovered a gem of a museum in Livingston, Mont. Nestled on a side street among local residences, the Yellowstone Gateway Museum is housed in the historic North Side School.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of Interior, the North Side School is one example of civic buildings built around the time the Northern Pacific Railroad was expanding its reach across the American West. Constructed in 1907, in the Renaissance Revival style of the period, the school housed four classrooms and a small library room, with playrooms and lavatories in the basement. Teaching grades one through four, it welcomed its first students in the fall of 1908. At this time across the western frontier, only single women could be hired as elementary teachers and North Side school kept the rule until 1942, when the local school board voted for change. Although the smallest of the three elementary schools in Livingston, it educated students for over 60 years, closing its doors 1971.
Today this historic schoolhouse continues to educate and enlighten, now the home of the Yellowstone Gateway Museum. I walked through the double front-doors and up the beautiful wooden staircase, its banisters worn shiny smooth by hundreds of students hands. I soon discovered a large range of artifacts and objects pertaining to the history and people of Park County in the rooms nearby. Divided into different categories, the first room was Pioneer History. Here a Homestead Kitchen is re-created, complete with items from those who homesteaded throughout the Shields Valley. Along one wall, the story of the polio epidemic outbreak in Montana of 1952, tells of the tragic times for children, including a large Emerson Respirator — Iron Lung, used for some rare types of polio. Further along, a photo and memento filled display case chronicles the many dude ranches and farms throughout Park County over many generations.
The Transportation Room was fascinating, especially one display filled with all types of bicycles. A High Wheel Bicycle made me wonder … how did you get up onto that tiny seat behind that huge front wheel? Another two-wheeled bike made we question why a lady, in her long skirts, would sit on the seat up on the handlebars while her "beau" peddled them along the street. Another exhibit displayed many items of the Yellowstone Trail Association, the organization that worked to open Yellowstone Park to automobiles. Till 1914, Yellowstone Park was one of the last places still served only by stagecoach and horseback. That year, the first auto road was opened through the northwest corner (Bozeman to West Yellowstone) and then in 1915, the Yellowstone Trail from Livingston, south to the Park, became a major artery for travelers. It is still a main highway to Yellowstone Park and surrounding areas.
Heading upstairs, in the balcony hallway, I discovered several musical instruments and photos on display, all telling of the famous 1900s Gateway City Band of Livingston. Known in its heyday for flashy parades and celebrations, one photo showed their uniforms were quite regal indeed.
I next enjoyed the exhibits in the Expedition Room. History documents the Corp of Discovery arrived in Livingston on July 15, 1806, but not finding any trees large enough to build canoes with, they continued four more days on horseback to present day Park City, Mont. Today, a large hand-made dugout canoe, similar to the ones used by Lewis and Clark, sits along one wall here. It was built by Churchill Clark, the fifth great grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, in recognition of the historic adventure. Here too, the story of the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade is told, as well as the fascinating history of the 1871 Hayden survey crew. Several fossils, including a large Ammonite (a flat spiral chambered nautilus fossil shell), fill a display case, exhibiting a rainbow of color on their fossilized surfaces.
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During my visit of the Yellowstone Gateway Museum, the Native People's Room housed a traveling display from the Heritage Center in Billings, Mont. I learned about the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Tribes, their culture and history over the centuries. Videoed Native talkers filled the room with their voices as I viewed beaded moccasins, cultural artifacts and feathered head-dresses. Not only does the museum welcome traveling displays, it offers its own Teaching Trunks, developed for teachers to check out and share with their students. These trunks explore the history of Park County as interpreted through the traditional life-ways of native peoples. Each trunk is made for "hands-on" exploration-education and sound like they'd be a lot fun.
Just before I was headed out the door for my car, the volunteer at the desk invited me to come back during the summer, when they have a the Rural Schoolhouse, the Red Caboose and Blacksmith Shop open for visitors. She reminded me that everyone is welcome to use their research library or explore the museum's extensive photo collection. It has some 10,000 photos from the Bill and Doris Whithorn collection, all pertaining to Park County history and can be viewed online at http://www.YellowstoneGatewayMuseum.org. I have to admit … I will make a return trip this summer for sure. ❖