VIEW from the BRIDGE
by Muncie Morger
Were you able to find the VIEW on the internet? It appeared on Monday the 20th and I was able, on Thursday, to e-mail most of my family, friends, and groups that I belong to. These are near and far and I have 33 hits as of today (Sunday the 26th.) Sharalee did make it into a BLOG (whatever that is?) so readers can comment. If you were not able to find it, just go to http://www.fortbenton.com/ Scroll to and click on enter, click on View from the Bridge and you should be there. Please sign in (there is not any obligation) so we can know if putting the View was worthwhile. And by the way, the View is celebrating its’ 10 year anniversary this year. It really does not seem possible.
VISITOR’S INFO CENTER
Fort Benton’s Visitor’s Information Center is our topic and focus today to let everyone know where the first place to stop is in town. Where do you stop? On the Levee side of Front Street is the Grand Union Hotel. You cannot miss it. Looking one block north you will see the very red Old Fire Hall which was converted to accommodate the Visitor’s Center about five or six years ago. This was such a change for the volunteers as it was located at the other end of the building where the rest rooms are. Back in the “Old Days”, we were exposed to the weather, as were the brochures. We sat just inside the two large outer doors (still in use) and if it rained, we had to close. The renovation gave us a beautiful room with adequate space for the racks of brochures. It even has air conditioning these past few summers.
At the time the new room opened (with handi-capped access) we had a video taken from the “Our Town” series on KRTV. That program featured a town for five evening newscasts and Fort Benton’s segment included the Elliott’s farm, the Grand Union before it was renovated, the Benton Belle, the old Fort, and Shep. I was coordinating the Center at that time and asked the carpenters to build a space in the wall for a video player. Then began a hunt for the Capitol Theatre seats, which I was told had been stored somewhere. I first went to Fort Benton Realty where the theatre originally was located. They checked their building and found nothing. I then checked every building on Front St. and came up with nothing. Since the City had everything to do with the renovation, I had conversation with them often. As I talked to Mayor Morris one day, I mentioned that I could not find the theatre seats. He replied, “You sit on them every time you come to a Council meeting.” Like magic, the seats were in the Center. We purchased a V.C.R. and I really enjoyed showing the nine-minute tape. Eventually the V.C.R. no longer worked and the tape is now missing. I have my own personal copy if anyone would like to see it give me a jingle and come on over.
Just a little about the V.C.R. tape. Stu Elliott told about farming in the area and that the land has belonged to the family since his grandfather. That is the case in so many of the farms in our Chouteau County. Visitors, who are so called “City People”, are amazed at that segment, as they have no idea what goes on with farming. The Grand Union is narrated by Jim Gagnon who gives a tour of the gutted building. He tells us about what the hotel would look like when it was finished. The Shep story is told by Steve McSweeney as his home was up on the hill near the Old Station. That story is very warm to Fort Benton’s heart and is known all over the world. We all would like it if the Benton Belle was still with us but unfortunately, the Missouri did not cooperate with her. Most of the time the river was too low to operate. What it did do was to leave many memories and it brought many Visitors to town. We had to remove that part of the tape after the Belle left because people wanted to ride it. Finally, Dave Parchen told us all about the Old Fort archeological dig and the building of three structures and a gate exactly like the original. The V.C.R. is a history lesson of its own.
Now back to the present day Visitor’s Center and the very capable volunteers on duty that can tell you everything you want to know about Fort Benton. They have lists of all gift shops, overnight accommodations, restaurants, R.V. parks, any business in town, and what is available at the Chouteau County Library and the Schwinden Library (Joel Overholser Research Center.) They have hours of operation and directions to find all the above. They have brochures about Fort Benton, the Museums, the B.L.M. Interpretive Center, other cities/towns in Montana, Canada and much more.
The Visitor’s Information Center is opening this coming Friday, the 1st of May. The hours of operation are during the months of May and September from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. In June, July and August the hours are extended from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. If for some reason, a volunteer is unable to keep their shift time and the Center is closed, a Visitor can go across the street to RJ's Toggery for information and brochures except on Sundays. Most businesses are closed on Sundays except gas stations, restaurants, and sleeping places.
One of the wonderful things about Fort Benton is that Visitors can question anyone on the street and get an answer. Just stand in front of the Visitor’s Center until someone comes along, which when the weather is good would not be long. Fort Bentonites can not only do that but also word of mouth to everyone you know will spread “The Joy of Fort Benton.”
If you missed**Pub Night** last Friday evening, you missed the best Fort Benton as ever seen. “Pub” means, “People Utterly Bubbling” and that surely was the case. Tom Rigney and Flambeau was the greatest group that has ever played in Fort Benton. Tom Rigney played the violin and fiddled. The group played every kind of music including classical. Most of the time they had everyone clapping and tapping their toes. It was just enjoyable to sit and watch the dancers. Your not being there was your loss because you did not see our very shy, quiet, refined, and cultured River Press Editor, Tim Burmeister, dancing quite a few numbers. If he did not tell Connie about it, she will know it now. (By the way, he is a great dancer.) It is still the talk of the town.
On Friday, May 1st at 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. there will be an annual fellowship day salad luncheon at the Methodist Church. On Saturday, May 2nd at 7:00 p.m., the Missoula Children’s Theatre will present Hansel and Gretel at the Fort Benton Elementary Auditorium. You do not want to miss this one. Remember to call me with your special events because it certainly does not hurt to be reminded twice. If you did not take advantage of the Spring Cleanup this past weekend, it will be on again this coming weekend. I had to find the Dump Site myself this afternoon (Sunday) because last year my branches/junk was taken to the area by my son-in-law. He talked about backing up and now I know what he meant. You have to back up a slight hill to dump. I really hate backing up but as usual, there was a very helpful young man who guided me. It turned out to be quite easy to unload because it was cardboard. Since the Pizza Pro cardboard collection was closed, it is very difficult to get large broken down boxes into our small dumpster. I am sure you have found the same. Would like to know from someone in the know, if anything is pending on that situation?
I am just going to say, “Be kind” this week. So many people are hurting these days so just try one good deed a day. I will talk at you next week.