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The Off Season

featuring Fort Benton, MT

POPULATION: 1.500

The small, rural town of Fort Benton is known as the birthplace of Montana. It was a bustling hub for trade, done out of the original Fort Benton, which sprung up along the Missouri River in 1846. It’s the oldest settlement in Montana and has become a much sleepier town over the years. As their town website reads, “Yes, Fort Benton is a small community… and that’s what makes it such a special place. Here… everybody knows everybody.”

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A sign in the window of The Freeze ice cream shop in Fort Benton.

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​​The outer façade of The Freeze ice cream shop in Fort Benton, which is closed during the year except for the summer. The owners of The Freeze leave Fort Benton for the winter every year while the business is closed.

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The outer gates to Old Fort Benton. The Fort is closed for half the year and open during the spring and summer. Local history buffs volunteer at the Fort when it’s open to take people through the historic fort.

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The side of the Grand Union hotel in Fort Benton. The Grand Union is the only hotel, only joined by two other small motels in the town. It’s frequented by hunters during the winter and full of tourists during the rest of the year.

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Laurie McCullough
00:00 / 01:39

Laurie McCullough cleans one of the tables in the Grand Union dining room after breakfast. McCullough cooks breakfast at the hotel two or three days a week and rotates through various other jobs during the year as well, like landscaping, gardening, maintenance and cooking.

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McCullough cleans the kitchen after breakfast. There were only a handful of guests at breakfast, mostly hunters and people in town for work, though there are a lot less than there are during the rest of the year, even with the pandemic.

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The empty dining room of the Grand Union hotel.

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​Two houses built along the Missouri River down the street from the town center. The houses are along the river trail, one of Fort Benton’s focal points for tourists to educate them on the history of the river and the town.

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A lone car is parked facing the river across the street facing the Missouri River.

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Bob Millford
00:00 / 04:16

Bob Millford sits at his post at the front desk of Bob’s Antiques on Fort Benton’s Front Street. Millford keeps meticulous log of every customer that comes into his store every day during the year and often gets tourists from Canada or outside of Montana but has been open by appointment only during the pandemic.

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Two people walk along the sidewalk outside of the historic Fort Benton.

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The customer window and door into The Freeze ice cream shop.

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The Fort Benton visitor center.

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Brandon Roberts and Stacia Fuzesy
00:00 / 02:10

Brandon Roberts serves a customer at his brewery, Golden Triangle Brewing Co., which opened in July. Roberts owns the brewery with his wife Stacia Fusezy, and they’ve had a relatively strong opening over the summer, even with COVID. They benefit from having a regular crop of customers, rather than strong ebbs and flows from summer tourism.

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A bench along the Missouri River walk.

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