The birth of the usual western town was spurred by discovery—of gold, land, or trade. But one “old” town, tucked into the grandeur of Montana’s Crazy Mountains, was spurred into existence by the creativity of a Montana architectural firm.
Faure Halvorsen Architects, a Bozeman-based architectural firm created a version of an old western town on a cattle ranch east of Livingston. Architects Matt Faure and Kipp Halvorsen, partners in the firm, were the drivers behind the creation of the town. “It started as a very simple thought,” says Kipp Halvorsen, “We wanted to design a residence based on the concept of an old western town.” The project’s owners were quickly on board with the idea and soon dubbed the new town, “Deadrock,” giving life to the fictitious town from Thomas McGuane’s book Nobody’s Angel.
The town was created as party town for the client’s family and friends. Every fourth of July he had a big party that included fireworks, which would rival Bozeman’s or Livingston’s fireworks display. Then the family had large music acts come in and play for family, friends, and neighbors.
Yellowstone Traditions of Bozeman was the general contractor for this experiment in architectural authenticity. “We were involved in the project from the beginning,” said Ron Adams, YT principal. “It was an incredible vision of creativity and will always be a project we are extremely proud of.”
Like many old towns, this one centered on the watering hole. Deadrock’s saloon, known as the Thirsty Bull, became the gathering spot for the town, serving as the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Across from the saloon, a variety store, an assay office, the Criterion Hall, and the Midnight Sun began to define the Main Street. The shops were designed as bedroom suites, connected by porches and boardwalks. To recreate the reality of the early 1900s in each building, the architects researched and toured Montana’s ghost towns.
More building followed as the travelers kept coming. The Crystal Palace Hotel gave weary travelers a place to sleep, and a general store stocked sundries. A jail was added to take care of the outlaws that go hand and hand with a real western town. The jail is complete with a cell that doubles as a central heating plant, as it was discovered that modern day outlaws prefer a comfy bed to cold jail cells. A Chinese laundry was added to take care of the housekeeping duties and keep the linens starched and pressed. Eventually a new bank, a fire house, a barbershop, another hotel, and place to cache the stage coach were added to complete the picturesque main street.
All of the 20-plus buildings along Deadrock’s Main Street borrow from Montana’s history. The bank has a vault door salvaged from the renovation of the Montana Capitol Building. The barbershop has chairs from a long since forgotten barbershop in Miles City, and one of the structures, a century-old, stage-stop hotel, was painstakingly brought to the site from Shawmut, MT.
At the end of town, a bit back from Main Street, a livery stable was added. Unlike a real livery stable, this one serves as a hall for entertaining large groups; it houses a stage with full concert- sound and lighting system. The livery stable has hosted concerts with country and western legends, from Alabama to Don Williams and the Oak Ridge Boys. The acoustics and lighting systems rival area concert halls, yet are hidden within an antique timber frame reclaimed from a trestle bridge that once crossed the Great Salt Lake.
The town is still evolving as all real towns do. “It is amazing that this project has taken on a life of its own,” says Kipp Halvorsen. “It really feels like a town when you walk down the main street.” The streetlights along the worn and tattered boardwalk flicker as the sun sets in the western sky. Another day ticks by in the life of this real western town. You won’t be able to find this town on a map and its name doesn’t grace the pages of a Montana history book. But its privileged visitors truly believe they are in the middle of a real Montana western town when they step through the swinging saloon doors and onto the dusty Main Street.
Architecture: Faure Halvorsen Architects
General Contractor: Yellowstone Traditions
Civil Engineering: Bridger Engineers
Mechanical and Electrical Engineering: Gordon Prill Drapes
Interior Design: Kent Interiors
Sound and Lighting Systems: Black Box Design
Reclaimed Lumber: Yellowstone Traditions, Montana Reclaimed Lumber, and Superior Hardwoods
Architects Faure and Halvorsen have long been engaged in distinctive ranch, residential, and commercial projects in SW Montana. For details, see www.faurehalvorsen.com.