Bridge over Missouri River
Pedestrian Bridge from former rail road bridge

Explore the historic Montana port city of Fort Benton. Montana is Big Sky Country. We like traveling around the wonderfully open and expansive Central Montana and Missouri River country. It seems empty but if you take some time to explore, you find some some really gems of American culture.

Fort Benton Montana Walking Tour – 4K City Walks – Virtual Travel Walking Treadmill Walk

On our recent travels, I found time to squeeze in a walk in the historic Fort Benton. It’s such a great little town. Geographers know Fort Benton, MT was the furthest navigable point along the Missouri River. Historians know that in the 1800’s, it was the busiest inland port in the world. It lies something like 3000 miles from the ocean. Established in 1846 by Alexander Culbertson, an American fur tradeer who worked for Auguste and Pierre Chouteau, Jr. of St. Louis, the original fort was the last trading post on the Upper Missouri River and so the fort became an important economic center.

Buildings in Fort Benton downtown area
I love these small town business areas on our virtual walking tours

The quiet calm of this little small city on the Missouri is both relaxing and reassuring.

Fort Benton is a jumping off point for canoers heading down through the Missouri Breaks National Monument. Floaters usually take several days to a week on this remote river trip.

We start out on the footbridge across the river and see the cottonwoods are beginning to change color in the late afternoon light. From there we walk over to the Grand Union hotel. It’s a luxurious 19th century brick hotel still operating today. We also see the statue of Shep a famous canine resident and make our way back down main street past shops and restaurants to the Old Fort Benton historical museum. We then amble through a residential area to the Museum of the Upper Great Plains and an Agricultural Museum before heading back downtown. Let us know what you think!

Grand Union Hotel in Fort Benton, Montana
Statue of Shep and the Fort Union Hotel along the Missouri River

Wikipedia:  Fort Benton is a city in and the county seat of Chouteau County, Montana, United States. Established in 1846, Fort Benton is the oldest settlement in Montana. The city’s waterfront area, the most important aspect of its 19th-century growth, was designated the Fort Benton Historic District, a National Historic Landmark, in 1961. The population was 1,464 at the 2010 census. Established in 1846 by Alexander Culbertson, who worked for Auguste Chouteau and Pierre Chouteau, Jr. of St. Louis, the original Fort was the last fur trading post on the Upper Missouri River, the fort became an important economic center. For 30 years, the port attracted steamboats carrying goods, merchants, gold miners and settlers, coming from New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, Hannibal, Bismarck, Kansas City, etc. As the terminus for the 642-mile-long Mullan Road, completed by the United States Army in 1860, and at the head of navigation of the Missouri River, Fort Benton was part of the overland link between trade on the Missouri and the Columbia River, at Fort Walla Walla, Washington. Twenty thousand migrants used the road in the first year to travel to the Northwest. It became an important route for miners from both directions going into the interior of Idaho, and north to Canada. Steamboat travel to Fort Benton from St. Louis, Missouri helped broadly fuel the development of the American West between 1860 and 1890, when it was supplanted by railroad transport. The river was an important route for miners to the newly discovered gold fields of southern Montana at what became Bannack and Virginia City beginning in 1862, and Helena, beginning in 1865.

River Boat Replica in Fort Benton on our virtual walking tour from the website where City Walks live.
The river boat replica in Fort Benton is actually a replica from a movie in the 50’s

With the decline of the fur trade, the American Fur Company sold the fort to the Northwest Fur Company in 1865, and the fort became a U.S. Army post from 1868 until the army units departed in 1881. Founder Alexander Culbertson formally named it Fort Benton on Christmas Day 1850, in honor of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. Beginning in the early 1860s, with the arrival of the first steamboats, a town began to grow up around the fort. Besides being one of the most important ports on the Missouri-Mississippi river system, Fort Benton was once the “World’s Innermost Port” – the furthest point of navigable water on the Missouri River.[8] It was served by numerous well-known “mountain boats” (designed for the Missouri River), including the Yellowstone and the Far West, and their famed captains, Joseph LaBarge and Grant Marsh, respectively. Fort Benton’s importance in trade was superseded by the construction of transcontinental railroads in the late 19th century. In 1867, Fort Benton was the site where Union General Thomas Francis Meagher, then acting governor of Montana Territory, fell overboard from his steamboat and drowned in the river; his body was never recovered.

Fort Benton is near Great Falls, Montana:
Great Falls, Montana – Sunny Morning Treadmill Walk
Great Falls, Montana – Walking Tour

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