Heritage Missoula: Honoring Our Legacy A Program Formed by the Heritage Interpretive Plan

Downtown Missoula is many things to many people. It is a crossroads and a gathering place. It is the homeland of the Salish people and a haven for artists and students. It is buildings made of local brick alongside marble and granite courthouses. It is a story of displacement, growth, and perseverance. At the root of this place is Downtown Missoula’s heritage. We consider “heritage” to be the collective fabric that defines and distinguishes Missoula. It is the spirit of place. It is how Missoula sounds, looks, smells and feels. It is what makes Missoula, Missoula. 

Downtown Missoula is undergoing a period of unprecedented growth and redevelopment. A flurry of construction activity is bringing forth exciting development in the form of new and remodeled hotels, housing, businesses, shops, restaurants, and even a library. The recently completed Downtown Master Plan presents a far-reaching vision for community design. As the downtown cultural landscape evolves during this pivotal time, Missoula is presented with an opportunity to both embrace change and to celebrate the characteristics and values that make its Downtown unique – it’s heritage.

The Missoula Downtown Heritage Interpretive Plan is designed to guide downtown heritage interpretation by encouraging audiences to make meaningful connections to the shared human experience represented there. It identifies interpretive goals and issues, examines existing conditions, and provides recommendations to implement over a period of time. It also serves as an instructional tool and source of inspiration for interpretive practitioners.

More than anything, it created a comprehensive heritage program, Heritage Missoula, that will work to shape the downtown experience and celebrate the distinct character of the community by tying together key natural and cultural resources into a cohesive network.

Follow us on Instagram, @heritagemissoula.

At Heritage Missoula, we honor our legacy by bringing people together to celebrate the past. Together, we use our history to better understand ourselves and our goals for the future.

An ambitious public history project in itself, the Missoula Downtown foundation is working on producing an established heritage trail in Downtown Missoula. These heritage trails provide clear direction for audiences to immerse themselves in heritage experiences. Notable examples include the Boston Freedom Trail, Rochester (NY) Heritage Trail, and Cincinnati Brewing Heritage Trail. Heritage trails differ from published walking tours alone in that they lead audiences with physical guidance such as sidewalk lines, medallions/markers, or both. In Downtown Missoula, we are fabricating sidewalk medallions and currently working on wayfinding kiosks that will have interpretive panels on one side to start guiding the interpretive trail.

The first medallion has been installed, along with the first wayfinding kiosk in Downtown Missoula, at the newly built Missoula Public Library at 455 E. Main St. – check it out!

The first project that Heritage Missoula has produced is the Heritage Missoula Banners that can be found on Downtown boulevard banners. These banners are a partnership with Nye Imagery and a soon-to-be-published fine art book entitled, “A Corner of Space and Time: Lee Nye’s Eddie’s Club Portraits.”

An artist in the rough, Lee Nye was a brilliant, largely undiscovered photographer from Montana. He was a horse-whisperer, a veteran, a poet, a teacher, and a bartender. Most of all, Lee Nye was an artist who captured the souls of a bygone America on film like no one else of his generation.

From 1965 to 1973, he was the dynamic and artfully mustachioed man behind the bar at Eddie’s Club. Eddie’s was a rough-hewn watering hole populated by railroad workers and other common folks that was discovered by poets, professors, and college-student hippies, forming one of the American West’s most vibrant cultural melting pots. In 1965, Nye began asking the regulars, the leather-palmed working men with countless untold stories etched in their creased faces, to step outside. Using the bar’s back alley as his studio, he photographed his subjects with black and white film on a Rolleiflex camera using only natural light. The 125 images he captured represent a singular achievement in 20th century American photography.

These images are found today on the walls of the storied downtown watering hole Charlie B’s, the bar once known as Eddie’s Club. Now, for the first time, the portraits with accompanying biographies of each subject will appear in a fine art book titled, A Corner of Space and Time: Lee Nye’s Eddie’s Club Portraits. Working with Nye’s wife, Jean Belangie-Nye, designer Benjamin Ferencz scanned the negatives of the entire Eddie’s Club Collection and prepared them for print. Writer and editor Aaron Teasdale worked with Belangie-Nye to craft biographies of the subjects and Lee Nye, and wrote an introductory essay that explores the history of these unique portraits and how the Eddie’s Club Collection came to be.

The 13 images used on the banners will represent the diverse subjects Nye captured from businessmen to railroad workers to writers and waitresses. The size of the banner allows for more of the original image to be seen, revealing new details of the subjects and their place in history. This project is a celebration of beautiful works of art from Missoula’s untold history that capture men and women from a former world – and honor and promote a Missoula legacy and the heritage of our downtown.

This project was funded by the Missoula Downtown Foundation and supported in part by a grant from the Montana Arts Council, an agency of State Government.

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