May 12, 2004
When I arrived in Philipsburg, MT – “P’Burg” by local idiom – it was by complete happenstance. I was headed south from Bigfork and not at all sure of my destination. I simply saw the Philipsburg sign and impulsively veered off the highway.
As I cruised into town, I soon realized I had stepped into small town America, complete with old brick buildings, quaint storefronts and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. I was instantly intrigued and decided to seek out lodging.
When I spied The Broadway Hotel, it appeared at first to be just one of several older buildings on the main drag. I poked around and knocked on a few doors – the front and rear of the building – and a few windows, just for good measure. My perseverance paid off, as Jim and Sue Jensen, the owners/innkeepers, came to my rescue and invited me in.
What I found inside was exquisite, the result of an extensive 2003 restoration of the original 1890 building. An inviting, central room housed common seating areas, with additional tables and chairs tucked into cozy reading nooks, books provided. Hallways around the main area led to an assortment of themed rooms, each one more outstanding than the one before. It was impressive. Care had clearly been taking to make sure the renovation was both authentic and exceptionally appealing.
The Andes Suite, for example, featured the rich colors and crafts of Ecuador, while The Route 66 Suite paid tribute to the well-known byway. The Las Palomas Suite was sweet and soft, dedicated to doves and pigeons – the subject of several of Jim’s award-winning film documentaries. Additional rooms spotlight different aspects of western heritage and outdoor adventures.
With only one other guest booked in for the night, I had my choice of rooms. Though not easy to decide, I chose The Brittania Suite, conveniently located near the open kitchen area – and morning coffee. As with all the rooms, it was strikingly beautiful, with English décor, luxurious bedding, a private bath and a separate sitting room. I had fallen off the road and right into the lap of luxury.
At Jim and Sue’s recommendation, I stepped across the street to the Club Bar, a combination bar and café, where I order a Philly Chicken Sandwich took in the scene. A “Proud to be an American” banner hung on one wall, accompanied by photos of service men and women. A game started up at a nearby pool table. Music kicked in – I Love this Bar, by Toby Keith – and animated chatter rose and fell, as locals stopped by to grace the bar stools.
It didn’t take long to realize I’d need more than a quick overnight stop in order to soak up all the ambiance and history Philipsburg had to offer. I returned to the hotel for a good night’s sleep, woke up to fresh brewed coffee and bluegrass music and booked myself in for another night. Cleared for a longer visit, I set out to explore the town.
Philipsburg, through community commitment and the hard work of many local individuals, has created a town environment that is immensely visitor-friendly. The streets are clean, the buildings beautifully restored and the various shops along the main street full of interesting treasures, both tangible and educational.
The Sapphire Gallery showcases gorgeous pieces of custom designed jewelry, but also offers a chance for visitors to mine their own sapphires. Twenty-five dollars will buy a bag of stones that guests can sift and sort on their own. The knowledgeable staff will evaluate any treasures you find in your batch. For additional fees, they can heat treat and facet any sapphires that are found, as well. I had to try it myself and was glad I did. Not only did I emerge with a few tiny, rough sapphires, but going through the process of sifting and sorting let me learn a little about sapphire mining.
After my mining adventure, I wandered along to The Sweet Palace, a candy store loaded with barrels of every type of candy imaginable. In addition, a viewing area allows customers to watch fudge, saltwater taffy and caramel being produced. Nostalgia buffs can count on finding their favorite childhood candies. I watched a batch of taffy twist its way into existence, tasted a few samples and packed up a bag of assorted goodies for the road.
It was time for some non-sugary sustenance, which I found in the 1887 building that houses Doe Brothers Restaurant & Soda Fountain. While enjoying a cup of Prospector Chili, I watched school-aged children enter and sit at the counter, legs dangling above the floor. One boy perused the choices and ordered two homemade cookies. A girl popped though the front door just long enough to buy a gum ball from a machine in the front window. Just as it was with the other shops I visited, it was a slice of old-fashioned America.
Innkeepers often have the best inside advice about local attractions. This proved true with my stay at The Broadway Hotel, as Jim insisted on whisking me down the street to see the Granite County Museum and Cultural Center. Along with displays of Montana pioneer life and ghost town history, the museum houses an amazing 4,000 square foot underground mining tour, which offers a literal inside look at the area’s rich mining history.
Credit also goes to Jim for getting me inside the Opera House Theatre, built in 1891 and the oldest continuously operating theatre in Montana. This historic red brick building has seen much renovation over the last decade, with more planned for the future. Amidst these efforts, live theatre productions are held during summer months. Just one more reason for a visit to this town.
I left Philipsburg in awe of the community’s accomplishments. Some small towns are entertaining, some are aesthetically pleasing and yet others are educational. Philipsburg is all three and well worth a stop for anyone traveling through Montana.