The Montana Central Railroad Historical Marker

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Craig 59648,Helena Area

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Historical Markers/Interpretive SignHistoric Sites
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Location: North of Craig

The Montana Central Railroad used to run on the tracks that follow Little Prickly Pear Creek and the highway. It was part of the railroad tycoon James J. Hill’s plan to build a vast transcontinental transportation system. As the Helena Weekly Herald reported: “The Montana Central was a scheme inaugurated by Col. Broadwater [of Helena] and countenanced by James J. Hill of St. Paul, president of Manitoba Railroad. Its birth was coetaneous with the decision of Mr. Hill to begin the extension of the Manitoba to Montana and the West."

Hill and other railroad magnates took the first through train from St. Paul to Helena on Nov. 18, 1887. At the very hour that locals were dressing the city in flags and bunting to welcome Hill and party, the Northern Pacific Railroad attempted to keep the Montana Central track laying crew from building across its line. The blockage attracted much attention and a hot exchange of words, but was settled quickly and without further incident, the track was completed. The Nov. 21 celebration was held as scheduled.

Helenans had rejoiced five years earlier when the Northern Pacific came to town because it meant competition for the stage companies and bull-team freighters. In turn, the arrival of the Montana Central broke the NP’s monopoly.

The Manitoba Railway became the Great Northern in 1890 and Montana Central sold out to them in 1907. Burlington Northern now owns these lines as well as most of the others in Montana.

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