Rivers, Rails & Roads

1890!  The Northern Pacific Railroad reached St. Regis.  The sleepy little town in the “V” formed by the St. Regis and Clark Fork Rivers.  The town thrived then boomed in 1906 as the Milwaukee Railroad built a line paralleling the Northern Pacific to Lookout Pass and west to the coast.  Around the same time the Northern Pacific built a spur to Paradise.  No longer did settlers arrive with loaded wheelbarrows, but in style with hundreds watching as the trains would arrive.  There were jobs: logging timbers for bridges, cutting railroad ties, milling lumber to be shipped by rail and feeding and entertaining thousands from nearby railroad and logging camps.  By 1915 the boomers were gone.  Railroads had survived avalanches and fire to face a new threat.  A shiny new Maxwell 5 passenger touring car arrived in St. Regis.  Motorists of the twenties un-fazed by obstacles tackled the Camel Hump Road (“the terror of autos”) and rode the “The Snail” (ferry on the road to Paradise).  

For 72 years the railroads provided services and a healthy payroll, but autos, trucks, floods and avalanches took their toll.  By 1979 only one rail north remained.  The end of an era, but not the end of St. Regis.  By 1986 it had an interstate, scenic routes over Camel Hump and St. Joe and to Glacier Park.  Rivers, railroads and tourist accommodations still make St. Regis a thriving town.

The Big Blow Up
August 11, 1910 – 3000 fires raged in Idaho
August 20, 1910 – Hurricane force winds joined fires in a 70MPH blaze racing toward Montana
August 21, 1910 – St. Regis citizens anxiously scanned the glowing sky as gritty ash fell.  A relief train from the west arrived with dazed refugees; more women and children were crammed on and it headed for the safety of Missoula.  Those remaining faced the roar of the fire burning embers from the sky.  By 3PM, smoke blotted out the sun.  The battle for St. Regis had begun!  

Eleven days later, rains ended the 3 million acre fire.  Amount St. Regis residents despair and relief mingled to the west.  Entire towns lay burned.  86 were known dead.  Countless animals lost: mines, mills and railroads destroyed and 8 billion  board feet of timber blackened.  In St. Regis, there was no loss of life but the beauty and the economy lay in ruin.

History Timeline
1860  Mullan Road/Bitterroot Ferry first transportation in area.
1890  Northern Pacific Railroad builds a branch to Idaho.
1906  Milwaukee Railroad builds parallel line to Lookout Pass and south to Avery, Idaho.
1907 Hauling railroad ties with own wagon and team paid $8.00 a day.  Good Job!
1909  Northern Pacific Railroad builds a branch to Paradise.
1910 Railroads provided escape from 1910 fire.
1914  Both railroads offered passenger service.
1915  Mullan Road becomes Camel Hump Scenic Route.
1916  Clark Fork Bridge (remnants to left of US 10 bridge).
1921  Camel Hum Road also named Yellowstone Trail.
1925  Camel Hump Road becomes US Highway 10.
1933  Flood washes out Clark Fork Bridge.

1933  Northern Pacific railroad runs through town.  Shares Milwaukee track south to St. Regis for 19 miles west.
1941  Clark Fork Bridge replaced,
1946  Each car on the Milwaukee Streamliner cost $1,500,000.
1950  New road from St. Regis to Henderson replaced Camel Hump.
1958  All railroad steam engines were replaced with diesels.
1962  “The Snail” (Clark Fork Ferry on the Cut-Off Road) was replaced by a bridge.
1970  Northern Pacific Railroad merged with Burlington Northern.
1971  Burlington Northern buys Northern Pacific railroad to Paradise.
1972  The Little Joe Road (Forest Road 282), was built providing a scenic route from St. Regis to Idaho.
1976  The Cut-Off Road becomes US Highway 135.
1979  Milwaukee Railroad declares bankruptcy.
1980 The last Milwaukee train passed through Mineral County.
1981  Both Northern Pacific and Milwaukee railroad tracks were removed from St. Regis west.
1986  St. Regis Depot was dismantled.
1987  Burlington Northern leased St. Regis to Paradise railroad to Montana Rail Link.
1991  Montana Rail Link runs freight trains through St. Regis.

History told in Pictures

Experience the history of St. Regis and Mineral County.  Download the Next Exit History mobile app and begin exploring today!