The communities along Montana Highway 200 in Sanders County exist, or used to exist, in part because of the Railroad that winds through the valley. Visitors can see up to 20 trains (or more) a day going both directions.
Surviving Railway Stations in Sanders County, MT
Dixon: The passenger station originally built by the Northern Pacific Railway here still stands, owned by Montana Rail Link.
Paradise: The passenger station originally built by the NP here still stands.
Plains: The passenger station originally built by the NP here still stands.
Thompson Falls: The passenger station originally built by the NP here still stands, owned by Montana Rail Link.
How the Train Helped Build the Communities in Sanders County:
Paradise was originally a station for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Today dozens of rail cars are stored along the multiple tracks. It was a booming town when Northern Pacific used the facilities as a main stop with hotels, bars and restaurants.
Plains is home to the first built train depot in what was then Missoula county was built at Horse Plains.
Weeksville was a railroad construction camp starting with 50-75 employees in late 1881 to as many as 2,000 at the beginning of January 1883 from some sources, yet others claim 4,000 Chinese and 2,000 white men headquartered here. The town vanished and today it is a rich farming area. It was named for I.S.P. Weeks an assistant engineer for the Northern Pacific in charge of the Missoula division.
Eddy or Eddy Flats was named for Richard A. Eddy, a signer of the 1884 Montana constitution, who was in the area on an inspection of railroad work. The community had 25 log buildings which included a hotel, businesses, and residences. Eddy secured a contract to supply the railroad with twelve million feet of ties, timber and lumber and a sawmill was constructed. The mill closed in 1900 and burned down within a few months.
Thompson Falls was chosen by Train Magazine as one of the top 115 places for railfans to visit. As the story goes, The original Thompson Falls nearly faded away as those seeking access to the Coeur d’Alene gold mines in 1883-4 passed it by and went to Belknap some seven miles west to cross over the Bitterroot Mountains. The inhabitants of Thompson Falls decided this wouldn’t do, so to take matters into their own hands they piled logs on the railway,
forcing the train to stop. The townspeople then boarded the train and persuaded the passengers to settle in Thompson Falls and to access the gold mines via the Prospect Creek route over Thompson Pass.
Noxon was also a route to the gold fields for those hearty enough to make the trip by foot. Timber and trapping and the excitement of forging the railroad through the area introduced early settlers to the excitement of the west.
Heron is accessed by a one-way bridge built in 1952 across the river. When the Northern Pacific came through the area it received every odd section of land for 30 miles on each side of the right-of-way. The land was released to be sold to settlers for no more than $2.50 an acre. Heron, known originally as Heron Siding, was at the end of the Rocky Mountain Division of the Northern Pacific. In the mid 1880s a $30,000 waterworks had been built, a roundhouse with a dozen “stalls”, a good depot and freight house and other company improvements, a $10,000 hotel which housed a store and emigrant supply house and barber shop. Of course saloons prospered.
Montana Rail Link currently manages over 900 miles of rails from Billings, MT to Spokane, WA. They employ over 900 people, though their corporate office is located in Missoula, MT.
Railroad Structures in Sanders County
|Belknap||North Pacific||over Clark Fork River||B||rr||in use||steel||MRL||deck truss, field checked 5/05|
|Noxon||North Pacific||over Clark Fork River||B||rr||in use||steel||MRL||8 span deck girder, Field checked 5/05|
|Paradise||North Pacific||on site||C||rr||in use||brick||MRL||Field checked 5/08|
|Paradise||North Pacific||over Clark Fork River||B||rr||in use||steel||MRL||4 span Pratt through truss, field checked 6/06|
|Perma||North Pacific||near town over Flathead River||B||rr||in use||steel||MRL||4 span Pratt through truss, field checked 6/06|
|Plains||North Pacific||on site||C||rr||in use||wood||MRL||Field checked 5/08|
|Thompson Falls||North Pacific||on site||C||rr||in use||wood||MRL||Field checked 5/08|
|Trout Creek||North Pacific||Noxon Reservoir, 3 miles northwest of town||B||rr||in use||steel||MRL||Baltimore through truss and deck girder, field checked 5/05|
Code Type Key
|B||Railroad bridge/trestle||C||Railroad combination||Cd||Locomotive coaling station (coal dock)||Eh||Enginehouse|
|F||Railroad freight depot||Gt||Gatetower||IB||Interurban/trolley bridge/trestle||IC||Interurban combination depot|
|ICb||Interurban/trolley carbarn||IF||Interurban freight depot||IP||Interurban/trolley passenger depot||IPh||Interurban/trolley powerhouse|
|ISh||Interurban/trolley shop||IS||Interurban substation||M||Miscellaneous Railroad Building||O||Railroad Office Building|
|Railroad passenger depot||Rh||Roundhouse||Sh||Railroad shop building||T||Interlocking/Signal tower/cabin|
|Tn||Tunnel||Tt||Turntable||Wt||Water tank||Y||Railroad yard structure|