The Franklin part of this neighborhood gets its name from the Franklin School, one of Missoula’s oldest operating elementary schools. This two-story brick structure was built in 1916. Having seen almost a century of students, it is integral to the city’s heritage. The nearby Franklin Park welcomes throngs of children and their families throughout the year. It boasts one of Missoula’s popular spraygrounds with water play equipment to keep kids cool in the summer. The neighborhood hosts an annual picnic in the park and impromptu gatherings are happening all of the time. Just off 8th Street, the neighborhood came together to create a native plant pocket park where once there was a weed patch. The park now attracts birds, butterflies, and curious onlookers.
There is a real roll-up-your-sleeves attitude here. Active neighbors are working diligently with the city to bring comprehensive sidewalks, curbs, and gutters into the neighborhood. The process is still under way, but the persistence has helped secure grants for neighbors that cannot afford to install sidewalks in front of their properties to be able to do so. Sidewalks contribute to a more connected fabric of community, where kids can safely ride their bikes and walk to school and neighbors can meet and greet one another in the common space. The sidewalk effort is also part of a larger movement in Montana and the nation, the Safe Routes to School program, which is supported by the Montana Department of Transportation, Missoula Bicycle/Pedestrian Office, and the Missoula Public Schools. Another project that has contributed to the movement is the landscaping and improvements made to the one-lane bridge going over the irrigation canal that many kids in the neighborhood cross to get to school. Better visibility and aesthetics help with safety and add beautification for all neighbors to enjoy. Franklin to the Fort neighbors also have the good fortune of accessing Missoula’s trail system to ride or walk downtown or to the University. One-way streets on 5th and 6th make coming and going from the University incredibly easy to negotiate. These transportation enhancements are a tangible extension of the front porch idea of bringing people together.
Now onto the Fort part of the neighborhood. Fort Missoula is at the heart of the city’s history. Established in 1877, more than a decade before Montana gained statehood, the Fort stood as a permanent military post to provide protection for local citizens and settlers from potential conflict with western Montana’s Indian tribes. It was built as an open fort construction, as opposed to being surrounded by walls as was the case with many other forts in the west. This perhaps made it less a symbol of defensiveness and Missoula experienced less animosity between settlers and American Indians than other parts of the state. Today Fort Missoula is a large common area with multiple uses. The past is well preserved at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula and 13 historical structures on the Fort’s 32 acres. Many of the buildings along the old Officer’s Row are on the National Register of Historic Places and quite a few are currently inhabited by Missoula’s largest employer, the U.S. Forest Service. Most Missoulians know that the Fort is where you go to get your $5.00 permit to cut down a Christmas tree in the Lolo National Forest. The Northern Rockies Heritage Center, known as Heritage Hall, is also a popular event space with high ceilings, large windows, and a beautiful wooden floor making it a stunning setting for weddings at the Fort.
The Fort is also a place for recreation. Missoula Parks and Recreation maintains soccer fields as well as a baseball diamond. A gravel walking trail connects the various fields and there is a small playground for children on the premises. The Missoula Batting Cages are located on Fort Missoula Road for hitters to perfect their swings come baseball season. Just south of the Fort is another venue for swinging, although golfers at Larchmont Golf Course are looking for that long drive as opposed to the line drive. In addition to other regular events, Fort Missoula hosts an all-day Fourth of July celebration starting with a pancake breakfast and musical entertainment.
The area between Reserve Street and the Fort is considered a health care corridor for Missoula. Community Medical Center and other physicians’ offices are located here. The Village Senior Residence is just next door to the hospital as well. Ronald McDonald House, Watson Children’s Shelter, and Mountain Home Montana, a residence for young mothers and their children, can be found here too. To fulfill its mission to provide a safe place for children who have been victims of abuse, neglect, and abandonment, Watson Children’s Shelter is in the process of building a second residential structure and raises funds each year with its extremely popular Bike for Shelter event, which is well attended by many Missoulians. Whether for recreation, celebration, or just good hard work, neighbors and other Missoulians intersect in the diverse and active Franklin to the Fort Neighborhood.