Chief Mountain U.S. Border Station, Babb, MT
The Chief Mountain Border Station and the Pump House were built in the National Park Service Rustic style in 1939. The detached Garage was built in 1941 in the same style. These buildings were constructed for the support and purpose of monitoring the border crossing between two national parks -- Glacier National Park in the United States and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. The development of this need arose from the rise in visitation and automobile traffic which paralleled the development and expansion of the road systems in Glacier National Park, specifically the completion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in 1933.
Designed by A. Paul Brown and built in 1939, the Chief Mountain Border Station is a good representative example of the National Park Service Rustic architectural style. The one and one-half story building was financed by the United States Treasury Department and fits well into its rural park setting. Despite its ties with the United States Government and the National Park Service, it appears none of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s work relief programs took part in the building’s construction. There is documentation that the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played a major role in construction at Glacier National Park from 1934 to 1942, but no evidence has been found that they were involved with the Chief Mountain Border Station. Additionally, no evidence has been found that the Works Progress Administration or the Public Works Administration contributed on this undertaking.
Located within the popular Glacier National Park, the Chief Mountain Border Station was one of forty-eight border stations built in the 1930s along the entire United States-Canada border from Vermont to Washington, and at selected locations along the Mexican border. Before the construction of these facilities border and custom procedures took place in other federal buildings, such as post offices and court houses, as the majority of federal funding for border facilities went to major seaport cities. It was not until 1920 when border stations away from bodies of water were seen as necessary, partly due to new Congressional legislation, but more so due to the profound impact to mobility for bootleggers, alien-smugglers, tourists, and the rest of the population that was greatly affected by the automobile and federal and state programs to improve roads. To improve the physical circumstances under which customs and immigration laws were enforced along the borders, over $700,000,000 was appropriated for the construction of new public buildings during the 1930s, including border stations, under control of the Treasury Department.
These new border stations had a prototypical architectural style and site layout, making use of a symmetrical building with a canopy extending over the main elevation where traffic would stop. The interior of the building was divided equally between custom and immigration purposes, with long counters separating general space at the entrance of the building upon which paperwork was processed. The rear portion and any upper floors of the building were used for living quarters of the customs and immigration inspector’s families, and basements generally contained storage areas and detention cells, with the necessary system equipment of the building. The border stations were provided with garage space, generally consisting of two separate wings, for storage of the inspector’s own vehicles on the northern wing and secondary inspections of traveler’s automobiles in the southern wing. Commonly consisting of several bays, the floor of at least one of the bays on the southern wing would contain a long and narrow pit from which an inspector could examine the underside of a vehicle. The exteriors of these buildings were constructed primarily in brick in a simplified Georgian Colonial Revival style, a popular style in both private and public sectors the United States society at the time. However, there were a few locations where the standard plans were somewhat modified to reflect their cultural or physical surroundings, including the Chief Mountain Border Station. Due to its location within Glacier National Park and design assistance from the National Park Service, the building housing the facilities at Chief Mountain incorporates the standard plan of border stations, but uses a more rusticated building style to be further in harmony with the surrounding area. While employing overall symmetry in its plan, the Chief Mountain Border Station and Quarters varies from the standard plan of border stations. Instead of incorporating the two standard garage wings as found on other border stations, the Chief Mountain Border Station has a single detached three-bay garage directly to the south of the building. This is due perhaps to the somewhat steep slope of the surrounding land, making two garages on either side of the building difficult to build and access. Additionally deviating from the standard plan is the building’s use of its canopy. Rather than having a canopy extend from its main elevation, Chief Mountain’s canopy is incorporated to the overall mass of the building, as one heavy gable-end roof covers both the building and the canopy in one form. A third, smaller, building is located on the property, known as the “pump house.” This structure is similar in style to the main border station, and houses mechanical equipment.
The Chief Mountain Border Station has been in continuous use since the completion of its construction in 1939, and has retained its original use throughout the years. Serving as both a border station to inspect traffic traveling between both sides of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and as a multiple unit residence for the inspectors patrolling the international border, this noteworthy building has seen few alterations over the years. The building retains much of its historic integrity, is in good condition, and illustrates one variation of the border station design from the 1930s.
–Excerpts from the National Register form for the Chief Mountain Border Station & Quarters, NRIS number: 06000744, listed 5/20/2008.
- Construction Date: 1939
- GSA Building Number: MT0501AD
- National Register of Historic Places Landmark Status: National Register Listed