P-burg

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Among the many fine stories in the current issue of Montana Quarterly is John Clayton’s profile of the town of Philipsburg, Montana. I found it to be a town with a sense of humor, a place proud of its heritage without clinging to it. Anne Krickel, above, lives next door to a church. At one time, she says, she and her husband had a sign on the bathtub outside their home that advertised, “Baptisms: 50¢.” Then some friends brought her a mannequin leg from an old department store. “I thought, ‘That is perfect,’ ” she says.

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Asked to explain the math on a sign welcoming visitors to P-burg’s southern entrance, Mayor Craig Sorensen says, “It’s an art project slash joke.” Mayor Sorensen adds that there are also four signs around town directing people to a fictitious nude beach. If followed, the signs lead travelers in a circle.

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Founded as a mining town in the 1860s, P-burg was built to last. Much of the architecture, including the Philipsburg grade school, was constructed of brick. The school, dedicated in 1896, claims to be the oldest operating grade school in Montana.

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And a lot of work has gone into preserving and maintaining the historic downtown. On the June Saturday morning I visited, the main drag was getting a fresh chip seal.

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Roy Hamilton, 96, grew up in P-burg. He learned mechanical skills from his father, a carpenter from Sweden. He sent his three kids to college with jobs that included manganese mining and work for the city public works department.

“You could say that Roy’s career is a microcosm of P-burg and the economic history of the state as a whole,” John Clayton writes. “He used his mechanical aptitude and common sense to make things in teamwork with others. And responding to market forces beyond his control, his source of income had to shift from mining to logging to government. The stability was not in a single employer, but in family, landscape, community, and the value of work itself. All that makes Roy very likable, just like his town.”

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