Note: there are two separate histories of Westby here the first as written in "Sheridan's Daybreak" published in 1970 and the second as written in "Three Quarter After Crossin' The Border" published in 1988. There is also a separate history of the the community of McElroy.
Thanks to Vicki Koterba for transcription!!!!
Horace Greely said, "Go west, young man, go west." Many did go west but not many picked up their town and moved it with them as Westby did.
The first homesteaders started coming into the northeast corner of Montana and the northwest corner of North Dakota in 1905 and 1906. The earliest one recorded was in 1903 when Sig Nelson drove a herd of cattle up from Nelson Lakes south of Minot, North Dakota. He came alone, and the trip took three weeks. He later took up a homestead but was here six years before the land was open to homesteading. They could homestead in North Dakota at this time, but Montana did not open up to homesteading until 1908; and the first ones to come were called "squatters". This meant that they came in and picked out their 320 acres and built a shack; then they squatted there until they could file for homesteads. Sig's cattle, those of a Mr. Ueland and John Rice (who came to Westby in 1906), ran loose until the homesteaders took up their land and put up fences. Also in the fall of 1906, Peter Andersen and Walter Olsen took land here, built a shack and returned east for the winter.
These early pioneers either drove up cattle or came by train. After they got to the end of the railroad, they had to come across country by horseback or horse and wagon the 30 to 60 miles, depending on when they came and where they homesteaded. Times were not so pleasant for these homesteaders. It was slow work turning the sod with oxen hitched to a fourteen-inch plow, moving at about two miles an hour. Horses were much faster, but they had to be fed oats, whereas, oxen did fairly well on the adequate supply of prairie grass.
Many pioneers also experienced what the wind could do. One man moved his shack to a new location then went to his brother's house for dinner. When he came back, he found his shack gone -- scattered by the wind all over the prairie. Wind, hail, prairie fires and blizzards all had to be fought. Nevertheless, one pioneer said, "To me it was quite a thrill to break up the new land. Was not I the first to break it up since God made the earth!"
With kerosene lamps and lanterns for light, and coal for the stoves to heat their modest homes, these pioneers looked forward to better times. These people were a brave breed who did not complain and never lost heart.
The second part of our story had to do with a group of Danes in the northwestern corner of North Dakota, who decided to start a town in 1909. An application was made for a post office to be called Westby. This name was chosen because "By" in Dane means "town", and it would be the most westerly town in North Dakota; thus, it was named West Town or Westby. The application was granted and a James Hansen became the first postmaster. Ed Simonson drove the first star route between Ambrose, Skermo Post Office and later to Westby. A Mr. J.P. Neve set up a blacksmith shop, Nels Nelson agreed to build a store and sent out a man, Oliver Sannerud, to operate it.
The first lumber yard and bank were started by Harold Borg. Jacob Freund ran a feedbarn, and thus the town of Westby was situated until the rumor that the Soo Line would probably extend their rails westward from Ambrose to the North Dakota-Montana border. This caused a furor of excitement, and when the railroad was assured, the town was picked up and moved to the North Dakota line ("a city on a railroad") to await the long dreamed of rail. REMEMBER! This was during the days of Prohibition in North Dakota, so the saloons were located on Montana soil. This, as one narrator put it, "split the town with the business 'improper' on one side of the line and the business 'proper' on the other side."
The pioneer homesteaders who had settled here could really appreciate the opening of the railroad; no more 40-mile trips for supplies in the dead of winter; no more men or teams lost in blizzards. When the railroad did plot a town, however, the town on the North Dakota line was ignored. It seems that railroad rates for Montana were higher than those in North Dakota, and so with typical financial acumen, the officials placed the new town on the Montana side of the line. Thus the business section thereupon abandoned the North Dakota site, and in 1914 the town was moved into Montana. The first person to be a Montana resident in Westby was Henry Reuter, the Immigration Officer. His first office was a box car. Henry Reuter was also the first mayor before Westby's incorporation -- being the only eligible candidate for that office.
Lumber was shipped in and soon two lumber yards were in business. Quote from the May 1, 1914 edition of the Westby News (Price: $1.50 per year in advance) tells of the moving of Westby to the new townsite in Montana. Says the Westby News: "The Knutson Opera House was the first building to be constructed in the new townsite. It is quite a sight to see the men and teams grading, excavating and getting the ground ready for the many business houses and residences."
Honstain Brothers built the first Farmers Elevator in Westby at a cost of $6,740 with a capacity of 30,000 bushels. The school building was also erected during the summer of 1914. There were about
30 students in attendance, most of them being very cold during the winter in the unfinished building. The pot bellied stove was somewhat comfortable; but the teacher, Miss Effinger, would often have to suggest an exercise period to warm up.
Westby was booming and many businesses sprang up in the town. Looking down the street, some of those to be seen were Farmers Grain and Trading Co., Tri-State Land, Farmers State Bank, Hinshaw and Roycraft Barber Shop, Onstad, Ditmarson & Jensen Independent Oil Co., Planter's Hotel (Andy Wall, Prop.), Peter Miller's feed mill (the first in the new town -- Peter also shipped out the first car load of grain", John Borg's Hardware, Bentley Law Offices, Simmon's Westby News, Christine Kambestad's Millinery, Berger Larsen's General Merchandise, Otto Enger Shoe Store and Repair, Grina Brothers Clothing, Slocum-Simpkins Saloon, Kelly-Gordon Saloon, Nelson-Sannerud Merchandise, Jens Hammong Dray Line, Lee's Dray Line (first in Westby), Green's Arcade Hotel, Attorney-at-Law Sevareid, C.G. Johnson Home Bakery, C.N. Rostad Drug Store, Barry and Flaskerud Drug Store, First State Bank, Mortenson Cafe, J.P. Johnson and A.T. Olesen Livery Barns, Henry Hudson, Blacksmith, Schloesser Confectionary and Billiards, Minot Cafe (H. Timbrel, Prop.), Bowling Alley, Drae Photo Shop, J.P. Johnson Cream Station, Kulaas Lumber, and Monarch Lumber (E.E. Morrison, Mgr.). The first two churches built in Westby were the Catholic and the Lutheran (prior to this, services were held in the homes with ministers coming from nearby towns). The first butchers in town were Fred Anhalt and Archie Johnson; first milkman was Ted Nielsen; first depot agent was John Schmidt; and the first doctor was Dr. Norris.
The blacksmiths were busy early and late shoeing horses, sharpening plowshares, repairing wagon wheels and doing general metal repairs. When large buildings like the Nelson-Sannerud store were moved from North Dakota to the present location, a large steam engine pulled the building over a series of round poles used as rollers. These rollers were manned by a dozen strong men who kept carrying the rollers to the fore as the building passed over them.
Westby soon had good streets, too, for the soil was sandy and there was an abundance of gravel in the area. Hitching posts were installed on the side streets, so folks coming to town in wagons and buggies could tie their horses. Westby, being a border town, with North Dakota to the east and Canada to the north, found the residents of these three areas doing much visiting and neighboring. Some of the early pioneers to settle in Westby were from these bordering regions.
In its infancy, Westby produced some rousing Fourth of July celebrations. Farmers and their families could not travel far in the horse and buggy days, so they came to celebrate in their own town. Traveling carnivals set up tents and small booths where the wonders of the world could be seen and also shirts lost on the games of chance. Not to be forgotten were the Chautauqua's and their musical entertainment and plays. Setting up huge tents, they could entertain large crowds. Baseball games attracted much attention, too. Westby's team was one of the best in the area with pitcher Hans Larson and catcher Hub Wirtzberger, as well as many other very good players outdoing themselves on the field to put on a good show.
Signs were posted on the edge of town stating the speed limit -- 10 miles per hour. Before going for a drive at night in the first Model T Fords (A.T. Olesen is rumored to have owned the first one in Westby), the driver would first light the kerosene burning tail lights, and then the Prestolite (carbide gas) head lamps with matches.
Looking at the Westby News again, 1916 edition, we find that Walter Olesen was to build a new garage. The building was to be 50' by 100' and was to be constructed of solid cement. The contract was awarded to one of the finest masons in the area -- John Christofferson -- who was greatly in demand for this type of work.
A look at prices during 1916 revealed the following: Nelson-Sannerud advertising suits for sale for $15.00. No more or less!! The grain market quotation told this story:
Wheat ..$1.35 Oats ....$ .40 Flax ..$1.84
Rye . $ .97 Durum ..$1.28 Barley ..$ .55
Olesen and Anderson were advertising the Maxwell car for $595, while Westby Hardware and Implement offered the Ford Car for $345.
World War I touched the Westby community with many a husband, son and brother serving duty to protect this great country of ours.
The era of the "roaring twenties" found Westby still a bustling, ambitious little town. Many of the businesses had changed hands, and new ones were added. Looking down the street now, some of the signs would say Berlin Brothers Tire Repair, Matt Madsen Meat Market, Alida Steinberg Home Cafe (later sold to Irene Finn and Marian Schultz). Peter Miller and Luther Hultgren General Merchandise (purchased from Berger Larsen), Frank Bertch's Piper-Howe Lumber Co., Bredevin Chevrolet, Rohweder Show Hall, Planter's Hotel (sold by Mrs. Shaber to Hilma Pearson during this period). There were two doctors during this time, the first one being Dr. Wright -- followed by Dr. LaBarge. Mrs. Berg ran a nursing home (Wm. Stageberg residence today), and one patient (Mrs. Leonard Rierson) recalls having her tonsils removed there when she was seven years old. Walter Olesen opened his light plant and the first telephone office in town was opened. Anton Nelson's Implement, Hank Skeel's Pool Hall (later sold to Charlie Meyer), Alvina Andersen's Millinery, and John Andreson's "livery service" (John used a Model T Ford to drive passengers and often the doctors to their destination) were all part of this era.
Westby's first mayor when the town was incorporated was Nels Nelson. On the date of December 14, 1916 an election was held in which 46 votes were cast and all for the Incorporation of Westby -- not one dissenting vote. Thus the beginning of city government in Westby was official. The year 1925 finds P.G. Anderson serving as mayor and Elmer Hultgren as policeman. it was also during this year that the "Lights of the Westby News" were extinguished, and the newspaper went out of existence.
1930-1940 -- depression, poor crops and hard times were felt by everyone. President Roosevelt inaugurated a program of relief and many early residents recall "WPA" projects where they were provided with $40-45 a month. Despite these hardships, the people found time for pleasure and many times the entertainment was offered by Thorstein Skarning (related to Gene Hanson), the world famous accordionist. This event was always held in John's Hall.
A big improvement to Westby was the building of a new, modern highway between Westby and Plentywood. No longer needed was the famous "old blue trail". It was also during these years that Westby was struck by two tragic fires, which destroyed many buildings on Main Street. Buildings lost were Otto Enger Shoe Shop, Charlie Meyer Billiards and Saloon (1936) and the Planter's Hotel (1937).
1941 and World War II -- Westby felt the impact of the war, minor was rationing of food, clothes and gasoline; but heart rending was the loss of three boys from our community. Alton Olesen, Helmar Lee and Andrew Wirtzberger gave their lives in the defense of their country. It was also during this time that Westby welcomed the REA into the community. One of the men, who worked hard to promote this, P.G. Anderson, is also the oldest pioneer (93 years). The REA Office located in Westby for a short time and then moved to its present headquarters at Medicine Lake, Montana.
Westby was again struck by fire -- this time buildings on the west side of the street were destroyed. Lost in the blaze were Lloyd Schultz Barber Shop, Home Cafe (Selma Helseth, Prop.) and the Aubrey Ferguson living quarters. The years between 1950-60 also brought improvements to our little town, including the arrival of RTA, and a much improved telephone service. The 780th Radar Squadron eight miles east of Westby was built in 1951. The Radar Squadron receives its mail through the Westby Post Office, and often the base families live in Westby until living space is available at base headquarters. It affords to us the opportunity to mingle with people from all parts of the world.
A new addition to the Westby School was built in 1955 and dedicated to Mr. G.F. Freisleben, who devoted 35 years as superintendent of this school. The present faculty includes 15 teachers and a superintendent. Also included is a school secretary, two janitors and hot lunch program (housed in the old gym) that employs two cooks and a dishwasher. There are four buses running daily to pick up students from rural areas. The school has grown from 30 pupils in 1914 to 227 pupils in 1966. In 1968, another addition was completed which houses the elementary grades and several high school classrooms as well as a new cafeteria.
Water for the town was also the question of the 50's. A special election was held on June 20, 1958 and a vote was passed to bond the town for such a purpose. Eighty-eight votes were cast with only 17 of them dissenting. Mayor at the time of this election was Roy Listoe. In 1960, Westby was authorized to build a new post office and the contract for such building was awarded to Simon Swanson of Plentywood. It was also during this time that Lawrence Rohweder built his new insurance building. Many of the buildings along the main street were given a new front and all of these improvements did much to improve the appearance.
Westby has been served by 13 mayors. These men are Henry Reuter, Nels Nelson, Berger Larson, Peter Miller, C.N. Rostad, P.G. Anderson, A.T. Olesen, Elmer Hultgren, Idor Ekness, Lawrence Rohweder, Roy Listoe, Stanley Thorpe and our present mayor, Jerome Meyer. To these men we are appreciative for giving of their time and effort in serving our city.
The past fifty years have seen vast changes in the lives of everyone. Gone are the horse and buggy days replaced by automobile and jet plane. The first oil well was drilled on the Carl Petersen land in 1962. Since then oil wells have sprung up rapidly until now there are close to 50 wells in the area with drilling still continuing. This is a land of shining futures, glorious hope and realized aspirations. This land of God has been and still remains a "bountiful one". In 1903 -- pioneers of a new land; in 1969 -- still pioneers -- always at the beginning of a new era. Whether it be developing the sod, building the first automobile, flying the first airplane or landing on the moon. The residents of Westby are proud of their past, hopeful for their future and thankful to those diligent pioneers who helped to make this way of life for us so rich and secure.
Long before anyone dreamed of a town, vast stretches of unclaimed hills and prairie lay in the area now forming the triple border of Canada and the American states of Montana and North Dakota.
In fact, statehood had already been conferred before settlers began to move into this region. The earliest recorded "homesteader" was Sig Nelson who drove a herd of cattle from Nelson Lakes south of Minot, ND, in 1903. Since Montana did not open up for homesteading until 1908, Mr. Nelson and others who arrived in 1905-06 were actually "squatters". This meant that they came in, picked out their 320 acres, built a shack, and squatted there until they could file for a homestead. Some of the early homesteaders only stayed part of the year, returning to the east for the winter. Many men again came west in the spring with their families or a new bride.
Winter or summer, homesteading was a difficult task. Traveling to this area meant a 30- to 60-mile trip by horse and wagon or horseback after the end of the railroad. The work was hard and slow. Rocks had to be picked by hand and turning the sod with oxen hitched to a 14-inch plow, moved at about two miles an hour. Oxen were preferred over the faster horses, however, since oxen did well on prairie grass, whereas horses had to be fed oats. Another important yet difficult task was constructing a shack or house in which to live. Although some built sod houses, many chose to construct wooden shacks, hauling the lumber to build these modest dwellings from the end of the railroad line, at least 30 miles away, by wagon.
Sometimes the pioneers experienced what the wind could do. After one man moved his shack to a new location, he went to his brother's house to eat dinner. Upon his return, the shack was gone, scattered all over the prairie by the wind. Wind, hail, blizzards, and prairie fires were all elements to be fought or take protection against. The early pioneers had only kerosene lamps and lanterns for light and coal for the stoves to heat and cook. It was not an easy life; nevertheless, one pioneer stated, "To me it was quite a thrill to break up the new land. Was not I the first to break it up since God made the earth?"
With more and more homesteader families moving into the area, it was inevitable that somewhere would spring up a town. In 1909 a group of Danes in the northwestern corner of North Dakota decided to start a town and applied for a post office to be called Westby. In Danish "By" means "town", and since it would be the most westerly town in North Dakota, it was named Westby. On August 3, 1910, James Hansen became the first postmaster. Ed Simonson drove the first star route between Ambrose, Skermo Post Office and later to Westby. A blacksmith shop was set up by Mr. J.P. Neve and Nels Nelson built a store that was operated by Oliver Sannerud. The first lumberyard and bank were started by Harold Borg. Jacob Freund ran a feed barn. This was Westby until rumor had it that the Soo Line had plans to extend their railroad line west from Ambrose to the ND-MT border.
The prospects of a city on a railroad created a furor of excitement, and when the railroad's route was assured, the town's buildings and people picked up and moved to the ND line to await the railroad's construction. The actual move was about three miles northwest of Westby's first site. Since North Dakota had prohibition, the saloons were all built on the Montana side. This split the town with the business "proper" on one side of the line and the business "improper" on the other. When the railroad did plot a town, however, the one on the North Dakota line was ignored. Higher railroad rates in Montana caused the officials, with typical financial acumen, to locate the new town on the Montana side. Thus the business section abandoned the North Dakota site, and in 1914, the town was moved into Montana. Large buildings like the Nelson-Sannerud Merchandise were moved from North Dakota by a large steam engine that pulled the building over a number of round poles used as rollers. A dozen strong men kept carrying the rollers to the front as the building passed over them.
The construction of the railroad meant not only the moving of the town to Montana, but it also meant jobs for the local people and easier access for new settlers, supplies, and equipment. There would be no more 40-mile trips in the dead of winter for supplies. Worries about men or teams lost in blizzards were no longer present. The weather sometimes won out and due to heavy snows, Westby was even cut off by rail from Ambrose for weeks at a time. The railroad did enable the town to grow and prosper like never before.
Lumber was shipped in, and soon two lumberyards were in business. The Knutson Opera House was the first building to be constructed in the new townsite. There was, however, a flurry of activity with men and teams grading, excavating and getting the ground ready for the many business houses and residences. Honstain Brothers built the first Farmers Elevator in Westby at a cost of $6,740. The elevator's capacity was 30,000 bushels. During that very busy summer of 1914, the first school building was erected for the 30 students who attended that fall. In the fall of 1914 Westby had a newspaper, two general stores, a hardware store, two banks, two lumberyards, a hotel, three rooming houses, two pool halls, two drug stores, a dance and show hall, two saloons, a millinery store, photo gallery, men's clothing store, a blacksmith shop, two livery barns, four elevators, a brewery and ice house, a bakery, seven eating places, two dray lines, and a doctor. The first two churches built in Westby were the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches. Prior to this, services were held in the homes with ministers coming from nearby towns. Numerous rural churches were also built to serve the religious needs of the people in their areas.
As more and more businesses sprang up in Westby, people from the surrounding area began to do shopping there. The town soon had good streets for the soil was sandy, and there were many sources of gravel nearby. On the side streets hitching posts for horses were installed for the convenience of those coming to town in wagons and buggies. Since Westby was a border town, residents of Canada, North Dakota and Montana did much visiting and neighboring, ignoring the state and national borders that separated them politically. Holidays such as Independence Day were celebrated in Westby, as each town would do. Farmers and families could not travel very far with horses and buggies on the prairie "roads." Sometimes traveling carnivals would pass through town and educate the local populace on the wonders of the world. Many adults and children were entertained by the Chautauquas, which were assemblies for educational purposes, combining lectures, plays, and musical entertainments and held in large circus-style tents or outdoors. Large crowds of people gathered to observe these kinds of entertainments as well as sporting events such as baseball games between local town teams.
Improvements in transportation continued to benefit the Westby community in many ways. After the railroad line in 1914, the next important event was the arrival of the motor car in 1916. The dray lines and livery stables, which had only flourished for two years, quickly modernized, adding a Grant and a Maxwell car for their means of transportation. Large steam engines came into use to haul grain to the elevators, and the role of the horse as necessary transportation gradually diminished.
During these early World War I years, prices rose and businesses boomed. Crops were not very good, due to rust, hail, drought, or some combination of the three. Some area homesteaders found they could not make a go of it on their land and sold homesteading rights to new arrivals more enthusiastic about "proving up" the land. Some of these originals moved to Westby or Ambrose to begin businesses or work for established businesses, while others returned east. Many area young men were called up to serve duty to protect and preserve our country. The Red Cross furnished yarn so that the women could knit scarves and mittens for the soldiers. In the fall of 1918 a flu epidemic hit the community of Westby and other areas. School was closed, and the building was turned into a hospital because whole families would get sick, and there was no one to care for them. There were only two doctors in the area to tend to the severe cases. The illness struck young and old alike, and an average of one person per day died during November in the Westby area. Those who escaped the flu kept busy doing chores for those who were sick, and thus the community survived this terrible epidemic.
City government began early in 1914 when Henry Reuter, the Immigration Officer and first person to be a Montana resident in Westby, became the mayor. As the only eligible candidate, he was the inevitable first mayor before Westby's incorporation as a town. On December 14, 1916, 46 votes, none dissenting, were cast for incorporation, and Nels Nelson was elected as the first mayor of the official town of Westby.
As the "roaring twenties" began, Westby was still an ambitious, busy little town. Many businesses had changed hands, and new ones had been added. Then prices went down, and stores were forced to close. Auctioneers from wholesale houses came out and some days would stand on the roofs of stores and throw free merchandise down for anyone to have. Businesses gradually shut down, and in 1925, the local newspaper, the Westby NEWS, went out of existence. During the 20's Walter Oleson opened his light plant, and the first telephone office in town was opened. From 1924 to 1928, there were three good crop years, but the poor crop of 1929 coupled with the stock market crash in late 1929 set the stage for a decade of depression.
The "dirty thirties" saw hard times affecting everyone. After the bank closed, the Rostad Drug Store became the center to which the local merchants and townspeople went to obtain currency change. With no rain, there were few decent crops and no grass or hay for livestock. Some farmers plowed out Russian thistles to feed their cattle. Anyone who had a crop could not get any money selling it. Other crops fell prey to grasshoppers or hungry range cattle. President Roosevelt inaugurated the WPA and many residents benefited from these jobs paying $40-$50 per month. From 1933 to 1937 the Fort Peck Dam construction project employed many area people either directly or in service occupations such as stores near the dam-site. A big improvement to Westby was the building of Highway 5 to Plentywood. No longer needed was the famous "old blue trail." The drought, depression and advances in roads and automobiles, however, all contributed to a decline in population and the demise of some of the little towns that had once dotted the northeastern Montana prairies.
A political and a social event that took place in 1939 are worth mentioning. In April, Westby voters went to the polls and balloted at a "candidate-less" election. No names appeared on the ballot, although a mayor and a city council were elected. Each voter "wrote in" his favorite choice, and when the votes were counted, Elmer Hultgren emerged mayor, Bert Hoel and Martin Nereson aldermen in ward one, and Anton Nelson and Hans Hanson, aldermen in ward two. The Plentywood HERALD article of
April 6, 1939, commented, "That Westby citizens were given the chance to really vote for persons of their choice, cannot be denied, and the election without candidates' names on the ballot is exceptional in Montana political history."
On May 27, 1939, Westby celebrated its 25th anniversary as a town. Hundreds of people trekked to Westby for the occasion. Aided by ideal weather with intermittent rain showers that cheered the people, the day was marked with an outstanding parade, speeches, ball games, and climaxed by dancing. Highlights of the seven-block long parade were old model vehicles carrying eight of the founders of Westby dressed in silk top hats, floats representing pioneer days constructed by various town organizations, and a children's parade which featured "cleverly decorated doll buggies, ponies, bicycles, and gaily costumed youngsters." Prizes were given for best floats, biggest family, person coming farthest distance, oldest car, oldest man and woman present. This celebration brought an end to the depression era and lifted everyone's spirits as all looked forward to a better future.
In the 40's the rains came and agricultural interests once again prospered. As World War II began, Westby felt the impact, too. Food, clothing, and gasoline were rationed, and several young men gave their lives in defense of our country. The brightest event was the coming of the REA whose office was located in Westby for a short time, then moved to its present location in Medicine Lake. It must have been quite an experience to flick a switch and have the lights go on for the first time in many a rural Westby home! Nineteen forty-seven began in Westby with a disastrous fire that threatened to burn the west side of Main Street. In 1936 and 1937 fires had destroyed many buildings on the east side of Main Street. The 1947 fire was reported in the Plentywood HERALD as follows: "A thick brick wall of the drug store next to the Ferguson building, combined with the efforts of fire fighters with buckets of water, prevented further spread of the blaze. The Westby fire department, with only chemical and no town water system, was handicapped in fighting the fire. The Plentywood fire department was called about 7:30 p.m. and covered the 26 miles to Westby in less than an hour, but with the temperature at over
20 degrees below zero, the water on the new Plentywood truck was frozen by the time it reached the scene. After thawing out the booster tank of icy water, which was covered in an attempt to prevent freezing during the trip, Plentywood firemen aided in cooling building walls to prevent further fire." According to the article, the fire, which burned through the night, could be seen 20 miles out of Westby. No one was injured, but the Home Cafe, Lloyd Schultz's Barber Shop and Aubrey Ferguson's living quarters, and all contents, were destroyed. The efforts of members of the community prevented the disaster from becoming worse, and thus ended the decade of the 40's.
The 50's brought improvements to Westby as the town achieved better telephone service thanks to the RTA. In 1951 the 780th Radar Squadron was built on a hill eight miles east of Westby. Often base families lived in Westby until housing was available on the site. Many base children attended Westby School, affording us the opportunity to mingle with people from all parts of the world. The 780th Radar Squadron officially closed in 1979. An addition to the school was built in 1955 to accommodate extra students. Water for the town was a problem with everyone having individual wells, some with good water, while others had too much alkali or rust. In 1958 while Roy Listoe was mayor, a special election was held and the vote passed to bond the town for construction of a city-wide water system. A new post office was built in 1960, during the early 60's many of the buildings along Main Street were given new fronts, as the business people and citizens continued to display pride in their town.
In 1966 Westby celebrated 50 years as an incorporated town. The invitation issued for the
June 17-18 celebration stated, "Bring the whole family for an old-fashioned good time -- two big days of fun, reminiscing, and celebration." The Saturday parade included 120 entries with Montana Governor Tim Babcock as grand marshal. From all over the country former Westby residents and relatives converged on the community to participate in the Jubilee. Prizes were given for kiddies' parade entries, floats, homesteaders, antique cars, horses, various costumes, and beards. Ole Odegard and Hilda Lee were crowned King and Queen. It was reported that 7,000 people attended the two-day event. A carnival with rides for the children, two dances, a talent show, free barbeque and pancake breakfast rounded out the weekend's festivities. No doubt the people of Westby, including then mayor Jerome Meyer, breathed a sigh of relief at the conclusion of this most successful celebration.
During the 60's Westby area's first oil boom began. In 1962 the first well was drilled on the Carl Petersen land. It had long been known that coal was abundant. Early homesteaders had used coal such as the lignite purchased from the P. Biever Mine seven miles southwest of Westby to heat their homes. Oil, however, was more remarkable and harder to obtain. Crews of workers with huge equipment were necessary to locate a suitable site, prepare the surface, and drill through many thousands of feet of geological history until the "black gold" was reached. Peak drilling years in the area were 1964 and 1965. The Flat Lake field produced 871,111 barrels of oil in 1965, and that area has had up to 57 producers at one time. The Goose Lake area had 33 wells, followed by 15 producers in Comertown. These wells pumped intermittently until the late 70's when world oil prices skyrocketed and a new flurry of oil activity increased the population with oil workers and added income to the local mineral rights owners and the state and local governments. The mid 80's saw a decline in oil activity, and the Westby area returned to a more peaceful existence.
Even though the 70's were for the most part a peaceful time in the oil patch, the town of Westby was a busy place. Thanks to an FHA grant the town further upgraded its water system in 1972, adding new wells through 1983. During the early 70's, a city sewer system and city-wide propane gas accesses were dug in and installed in businesses and private homes. In 1976 city-wide weekly garbage pickup was contracted and is currently handled by Plentywood Sanitation. Also in 1976 the busy people of Westby took time out to present "Which Way, America," a historical pageant segment dealing with the 1951-1976 era for the American Bicentennial celebration in Plentywood. Over 100 citizens of all ages participated.
The 80's also saw numerous improvements made to the city's appearance and efficiency. A new fire station/city hall building was constructed in 1981. New sidewalks and curbs preceded the repaving of Main Street, and several other city streets have been asphalt paved as well. Most of these improvements were due to the persistent efforts of Mayor James Weiler aided by a dedicated city council that now consists of Gene Meyer, Hugh Meyer, Lynden Lagerquist, and Robert Lagerquist, assisted by clerk, Doris Nordhagen. The need for better housing was foreseen by a group of private citizens who, forming a corporation, caused the development of the four-plex and the eight-plex. These apartments provide low-cost, modern housing for senior citizens and other town residents. The love of summer softball necessitated an adequate facility and many hours of labor have been given to the development and upkeep of the Noelle Meyer Memorial Ballpark. Built and dedicated by the Westby Men's Club, this much-used field by ball players of all ages is located just west of the Westby City Park.
Throughout its history, 15 mayors have served Westby. Some of them saw longer terms than others, but all were dedicated men and had the best interests of the town at heart. They were Henry Reuter, Nels Nelson, Berger Larson, Peter Miller, C.N. Rostad, P.G. Anderson, A.T. Oleson, Elmer Hultgren, Idor Ekness, Lawrence Rohweder, Roy Listoe, Stanley Thorpe, Jerome Meyer, Rufus Wittmayer and our present mayor, James. Weiler. To these men we are appreciative for giving their time and effort in serving our town.
The past 75 years have seen vast changes in the lives of everyone. Automobiles and jet airplanes have replaced the horse and wagon. In 1903 the first pioneers arrived and began to uncover the bounty of the land, share joys and sorrows, and build their hopes into reality. Standing at the end of the 80's we look forward to future advances in communication, transportation, and other technology. With the ever-present ties of family, friends, and the land, however, we can keep our feet solidly on the ground while our eyes look upward and outward. The residents of Westby are proud of their past, hopeful for their future, and thankful to those diligent pioneers who helped make this way of life for us so rich and secure.