New Tour Explores Downtown Missoula’s “Restricted District”
Since its existence along the historic Mullan Road, West Front Street has been dubbed Missoula’s ‘red light district’ implicating that district remained a place of vice, sin, and corruption influenced by the radical reformist religious movements of the late 19th century. While most in Missoula are familiar with the name Mary Gleim or the brief history of West Front Street, many of the district’s stories remain untold including Gleim’s and her businesses.
A new tour offered by the Unseen Missoula program of the Downtown Missoula Partnership uncovers these stories and explores the district through storytelling. The tour, named Carnal Enterprises, changes the narrative from “red-light district”, a hotbed of seediness leading people down a path of immoral corruption, to a “restricted district”, an ostracized community of people separated from the mainstream culture due to class, race, sex, and/or occupation. From 1889-1917, West Front and West Main Streets became home to a vibrant ‘restricted’ community of working women, Chinese laborers, African American soldiers, and lower-class immigrants who built the environment we have come to love today.
“The opportunity to offer this tour is important with respect to the implementation of the Downtown Heritage Interpretive Plan,” said Brandon Dewey, Program Director for the Downtown Missoula Partnership. “This tour helps us tell the history of minorities in our community and share the stories of how they lived here at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th. Guests will enjoy learning about the characters that were deeply integrated into the neighborhood along with the fascinating, and sometimes humorous, stories of how they lived.”
After taking the tour, guests will have a new understanding of restricted districts in the American West, particularly in Western Montana. In addition, guests will understand that these districts’ histories are just as important to Western narratives and to Montana history as the stories of people like Christopher Higgins and Andrew Hammond.
Tour Author and Unseen Tour Guide Sophia Etier said that acknowledging the stories of those from the restricted districts is crucial. “We are able to live in this beautifully-built historic environment and learn about our heritage because of the work they did and the experiences they endured,” said Etier.
Unseen Missoula, a program of Heritage Missoula from the Downtown Missoula Partnership, offers education-based, guided walking tours to showcase Missoula’s unique history. The program aims to connect Missoulians and guests to our community, foster cultural identity, and promote heritage experiences for all.
Carnal Enterprises kicks off on Saturday, July 1, and will be offered weekly in addition to the existing Unseen Missoula guided walking tours. Tours are $15 per person and can be purchased online at www.missouladowntown.com/tours/unseen-missoula.
For more information, contact Program Director Brandon Dewey via email at [email protected] or via phone at (406) 543-4238.