They’re gone now, most of them – the downtown homes of the men and women who built Missoula around them.
There’s a tire store on the corner of Orange Street and West Pine, where Judge Frank Woody, Missoula’s first mayor, lived with his wife Sarah.
The city home with a cupola on top in which John and Olive Rankin raised the nation’s first congresswoman and a U.S. attorney? It’s paved over by an overflow motel parking lot and a quick lube shop, just north of the Madison Street Bridge.
For decades an immense, mysterious telephone/telecommunications building has occupied half of the first block of East Main Street. Somewhere inside is the ghost print of the home where Missoula co-founder Christopher P. Higgins lived with wife Julia until he suffered an untimely death in 1889.
Higgins’ partner and city co-founder, Francis Worden, died two years earlier, but his modest farmhouse still stands on East Pine Street. Built in 1874, it is the city’s oldest residence.
The house-turned-rambling apartment on East Front that Dan Heyfron, sheriff and entrepreneur, built in 1882 also exists all these years later, though its days are probably numbered.
Stories of the home lives of Missoula’s scions in the 1880s are frustratingly hard to come by. The Higginses and Wordens, Hammonds, Woodys and Beckwiths and Greenoughs were forging legacies in their chosen frontier town by the river, as it emerged as an economic force in Montana.
But with a few exceptions, they left little in the way of their personal pasts behind.
Missoula is marking its 150th birthday in 2015, with a signature event at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula on July 4. Copies of the 1890 city directory, Missoula’s first, can be found in the archives of the Missoula Public Library and the University of Montana’s Mansfield Library. They take us back 125 of those years – and give us at least a glimpse of what the city fathers had in mind, sometimes at cross purposes with each other.
“The one thing I think is important to note is that Missoula as a town grew north of the river first, and East Pine Street became the most fashionable street,” said Philip Maechling, former historic preservation officer for Missoula. “The town didn’t actually grow south of the river until it was platted in 1888 or ‘89, so the first buildings weren’t actually built on the south side of the river yet except for Judge (Hiram) Knowles'. He built this big house where the (Loyola) Ram Center is today.”
Despite the limited downtown area, the homes of the prominent families on our 1890 list were notably scattered. They walked to and from work and play and lived intimate lives on East Front and West Spruce, East Pine, Madison and Vine streets.
Let’s begin a virtual walking tour of Missoula’s “houses that were” on Main Street strolling east:
146 E. Main St.: Christopher and Julia Higgins
Northwest corner of Main and Pattee streets. Now unmarked offices of Centurylink (formerly Qwest, U.S. West and, for years, the traffic department for Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph).
The Higgins family, Missoula scions since 1860, owned most of the block east of Higgins Avenue and by the late 1880s “Captain” Higgins wanted to build a bank on the corner worthy of his status in the community. He got it done, but didn’t live to see it. Stories vary, but Higgins died on Oct. 14, 1889, at age 59 after a fall either at the construction site or on his way home for lunch.
Higgins’ impact on the development of Missoula can’t be overstated. Among many other things, he is believed to have been the first fire chief. According to “Missoula: The Way It Was” by Lenora Koelbel and Stan Cohen, he and Worden organized Missoula’s first water plant on top of Waterworks Hill in 1880.
Julia Higgins played an important role as well. She was the daughter of Capt. Richard Grant and was living at the family’s Grant Creek Ranch that John and Olive Rankin later owned when she married Higgins in 1863. They had nine children, several of whom became prominent in Missoula affairs after their dad died.
324 E. Front St.: A.B. and Florence Hammond
Now the parking lot of the Missoula Public Library, 301 E. Main.
According to Missoula historian Dale Johnson, the Hammonds shared the unpretentious Front Street home with the family of his partner and former boss at the Missoula Mercantile Co., Richard Eddy, until Eddy moved to California sometime in the 1880s.
When Hammond himself moved to California in the 1890s to expand his enterprises, 324 E. Front St. became the home of his man in charge of the Merc, Herbert McLeod. While he was here, Hammond surrounded himself with relatives and acquaintances from his native New Brunswick. It was a short, three-block walk to his "power corner" at Front and Higgins. The Missoula Mercantile and Florence Hotel on the north side, and First National Bank and the Hammond Block on the south were all part of the kingdom of a man jealous detractors dubbed "the Missoula Octopus."
Andrew married Florence Abbott in 1879. Hammond's biographer, Greg Gordon, wrote in his 2014 book "When Money Grew On Trees" that the Eddy/Hammond house became the scene of many Missoula social gatherings. Gordon quoted a local newspaper that said on the occasion of the couple's first anniversary, "A party of friends gathered at the house of A.B. Hammond ... and chased the hours with flying feet."
"A.B. and Florence soon became Missoula's preeminent couple," Gordon wrote.
503 E. Front St.: Daniel and Josephine Heyfron
Now a recently abandoned sprawling apartment complex that was built around the original 1882 home.
The Heyfrons built the home and their family occupied it for more than 50 years. Dan Heyfron was elected Missoula County sheriff for two terms in the 1880s. According to bio information on the Missoula Cemetery website, he owned a quarry south of Missoula that provided much of the rock work that built many of the university’s and downtown Missoula’s commercial buildings. Heyfron was also the driving force to build the Big Ditch from Bandmann Flats to south Missoula.
134 Madison St.: John and Olive Rankin
Now a Jiffy Lube and parking lot on the southeast corner of Madison Street and East Broadway.
The first bathtub in Missoula was installed at the Rankin home. The nation’s first female congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin, grew up on this corner and at the family ranch up Grant Creek. Her brother, Wellington, famously led the Prohibition raids in Missoula and other cities as Montana attorney general in 1921, and later became a U.S. attorney.
631 Vine St.: Thomas and Tennie Greenough
Now under the westbound on-ramp and lane of Interstate 90 over Rattlesnake Creek.
The famous Greenough Mansion and Greenough Park were still a dream in 1890. According to the nomination for the Lower Rattlesnake Historic District, the Greenoughs built a modest frame house at 631 Vine when they arrived in town in 1882. Thomas made his fortune mining and providing ties to the Northern Pacific Railroad and cords of wood to Butte. The mansion in 1897 and the donation of 28 acres of land on either side of Rattlesnake Creek in 1902 greatly influenced development in the lower Rattlesnake.
When I-90 came through town in 1965, the Greenough Mansion had to go. It was eventually moved in pieces to Ben Hogan Drive in the South Hills. It served as a restaurant until it burned down in 1992 and was replaced by Shadows Keep Restaurant (now The Keep Restaurant).
328 E. Pine St.: Francis and Lucretia Worden
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Worden residence is still in use as an apartment house.
The Folk Gothic style farmhouse stood by itself in northeast Missoula when it was built in 1874. The Wordens raised their seven children here and planted maple trees from Frank’s native Vermont in the yard and along the country road into town.
Worden and Higgins set up shop at Hell Gate east of town in 1860, then established Missoula Mills in 1864 and 1865. The town was to be named Wordensville until Frank Worden protested.
The Wordens' historic residence wasn’t in great shape in 1994 when their grandson Bill Worden and his wife Tomme Lu bought it, fixed it up and used it in part for office space for Tomme Lu’s and son Austin’s real estate firm. It has gone through a couple of ownerships since.
328 W. Pine St.: Frank and Sarah Woody
Now, roughly, the Tire Rama lot, across Orange Street from St. Francis Xavier Church.
Frank Woody was the first of Missoula’s founding fathers to stake a tent here (in 1856) and the last to die (1916). He was clerk for Worden and Higgins at Hellgate; married Sarah “Lizzie” Countryman, a teacher and one of the few women in Missoula, in 1871; became Missoula’s first licensed attorney in 1877, and its first mayor in 1883. Woody was a leader in the campaign to land a university in town in the early 1890s and became “Judge Woody” at the District Court level in 1892.
Sarah and Frank had nine children over a 28-year span, four of whom survived to adulthood.
Allan Mathews, who has researched Frank Woody's story and portrays him at the Missoula Cemetery at its annual Stories and Stones program, said he's seen a picture of the Woody house.
"It was not dissimilar to the Dixon mansion (now the Knights of Columbus Hall on East Front)," Mathews said. "It looks like it's got the big columns in front. It's quite fancy."