Havre, Montana: Havre Beneath the Streets

Tours take you where Havre residents once lived and shopped underground. See the saloon, the meat market, the bordello, the opium dens. It opened in 1904, then reopened as an attraction in 1999.
Address:
120 3rd Ave., Havre, MT
Directions:
West side of town, on the corner of 1st St./US Hwy 2 and 3rd Ave. Ticket office is on 3rd Ave. south of Norman's Ranch Wear.
Hours:
Daily 9:30 am - 3:30 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
406-265-8888
RA Rates:
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Havre Beneath the Streets

The Havre Underground Tour is one of those misguided attempts to turn a depressing local trauma into a tourist attraction. And yet is a fascinating look at a little known part of the the history of the West. The city of Havre was built as a railroad supply depot by the Great Northern Railway. As such, it sprang up overnight and the collection of hastily built wooden buildings burned down rather easily. One fire took out the entire town, but residents were not to give up (after all, a steady paycheck from the railroad was at stake) and they moved into the basements of their buildings as temporary shelters. A series of tunnels was dug to connect these. This was the respectable time for the tunnel and most of the cheerful exhibits -- the underground bank, funeral parlor and drugstore (complete with soda fountain) -- reflect this middle class part of history.

However, when the buildings were repaired and the citizens moved back above ground, the Railroad decided to keep their workers, mostly Asians imported for the back breaking task of laying the track across the plains, in the tunnels for their "safety." The underground city known to the railroad workers is a lot more depressing. The rooms are all dark and unfinished. The creepiest of all is the bordello which has about half a dozen rusting iron beds crammed together in a small room. There is also a recreation of a laundry and an opium den.

The tour guides are actually pretty knowledgeable (I think they also work in the Railroad museum, which is the the start of the tour) and I admire the fact that they don't try to gloss over the more disturbing facts about the history. I was particularly interested in this part of the town's history because I'm originally from Minot, North Dakota, another railroad town on Highway 2. Minot also has a tunnel system, used in the early days to house railroad laborers and later as part of a bootlegging network. The bordellos and opium dens hung on until the end of prohibition, fueled by the bootlegging industry.

While in Havre don't miss the Buffalo Jump and the dinosaur eggs at the H. Earl Clacke Museum. The buffalo jump is a an archaeological site where prehistoric Indians drove buffalo over a cliff. It's located behind the mall on Highway 2 and the Museum is located inside the mall. Both are free.

[Jenny the Nipper, 08/30/2008]
Underground Tour

The underground town was built in response to a need to protect Asian railroad workers [in the 19th century]. The railroad employed a lot of Asian workers, who were not always welcome in some towns. They were apparently safe on railroad property. Tunnels were built from the railroad property to beneath several sections of town to house businesses for them. There are tunnels to underground stores, shops, residents, etc. Some areas of Havre still have the glass blocks in the sidewalks above to allow sunlight into the tunnels.

Think of this as a smaller version of the underground tour in Seattle, which was the result of raising the city streets 10-15 feet, with the former 1st floors winding up below street level.

[BobA, 07/24/2007]
Havre Beneath the Streets

In the early 20th century, Havre, Montana, had a network of tunnels running underneath the 1st Street area. These tunnels were originally developed as part of a plan to heat many of the downtown buildings, but later people moved into the tunnels and built businesses in them. The tunnels were occupied for a couple of decades before businesses ceased to use them.

In the 1990's, the Havre Chamber of Commerce, which has been looking to attract tourists passing through on highway US 2, restored a portion of the tunnels and reopened them as a tourist attraction. The tour goes through several rooms that have been furnished with antiques, and a knowledgeable tour guide describes the uses of the various rooms. The tour ends in a small railroad museum that features antiques from the Great Northern Railroad (now part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad) and a large table with several operational model trains.

[George Bendo, 09/16/2001]

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