Hamilton is unique because it didn’t just spring up as opportunity (or the railroad) allowed. Rather, it sprang fully formed from the brow of copper magnate Marcus Daly, who, after designing his model Irish manor, decided to establish a model town nearby.
In 1890 Daly brought in planners who laid down a city complete with free plots for churches, ready-designed banks, shops, schools, and rather glorious homes. As a result, Hamilton wears its age gracefully.
Stop to picnic or let the kids loose in one of its parks. An easy stop for either activity is a small playground only one block west of Highway 93 on Bedford, two blocks south of Main. There’s a more substantial park where Madison Street bumps up against the Bitterroot River.
Hamilton contains several handsome old homes and public buildings. The Ravalli County Museum (205 Bedford St., 406/363-3338, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon., Thurs., and Fri., 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Sat., 1–4 p.m. Sun.) is housed in the Old Ravalli County Court House, built in 1900. This stone-and-brick landmark bears a resemblance to the University of Montana’s Main Hall. The museum has a good collection of Flathead Indian artifacts, pioneer-era memorabilia, and an exhibit on wood ticks.
Like the courthouse, the City Hall (175 S. 3rd) is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Hamilton is also known for the Rocky Mountain Research Laboratory (903 S. 4th St., 406/363-9275), where research on Rocky Mountain spotted fever was conducted. The fever, which is spread by ticks and is debilitating, if not fatal, to humans and livestock, is endemic to parts of the Bitterroot. The discovery of a treatment opened infested and otherwise uninhabitable areas of the valley. The laboratory, which is being expanded to handle extremely dangerous pathogens, is now involved in studying ways to combat bioterrorism and emerging infections such as staph.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition