This time of year in northwest Montana, any glimpse of blue sky has everyone smiling. Even while focused on stitching, the women look up in unison when light through the old school house windows gets slightly brighter with a break in the clouds. January not only brought us a few snatches of sun, but also three new Tobacco Valley Board of History volunteers. Not quite enough for all that needs to be done but certainly a good start. Magdalena is new to the area and a great fit for helping with displays as she wants to learn more about local history. Michelle has the energy to help out with the grounds and the shrubbery once we get into spring. Ya’aqov, a retired librarian, is learning to maintain the archives from Cathryn. And having these three awesome individuals step up, encourages us to think there just might be others in the community who want to help maintain our local heritage.
Perhaps though people have other ideas about what to do with their spare time? Maybe they see maintaining artifacts, photographs and historical buildings from the Tobacco Valley as frivolous. Why think about the past when there are sufficient worries for the present? And don’t even mention the future! But our past has a lot to offer, not only to school children who come each spring to visit the exhibits or the tourists who pass through on summer afternoons, but to all of us.
Some locals lament about lack of business in the area and how the town is going to dry up. The old newspapers in the Historical Village files tell of the same sentiment numerous times throughout the town’s history. But there has always been something new that came along. Eureka was once the Christmas tree capital and there was logging. There were the years when the Libby dam and the train tunnel were built that brought many new people and jobs to this area. There were opportunities and change and dry spells and then new opportunities appeared.
The files show how the Tobacco Valley News, our local newspaper that still comes out weekly, got started. There are articles telling about how the valley first got internet and the volunteers who helped set it up. A computer shop now occupies the building where the office supply store used to be (a business now farther up the road in a larger space), and the same building that used to house the newspaper (which moved behind the bank). Things change for sure but there are things to be learned from the changes. How can we make transitions easier? Where do new ideas for our town come from? How have great additions to the valley come about in the past? What can we use from those experiences to continue to make this a place where we want to be?