Walk Havre Beneath The Streets

Of our country’s underground cities, none are quite as kitchy as Havre Beneath the Streets in Havre, Montana.

Or, more specifically, no underground city has been replicated with quite so much kitch.

Havre Beneath the Streets (via Montana office of Tourism)
Havre Beneath the Streets (via Montana office of Tourism)

The Montana Office of Tourism invites you back in time to visit “the Sporting Eagle Saloon, a turn-of-the-century honk where cowboys gambled, kicked up their heels and drank good old-fashioned frontier rot-gut. Join us as we saunter along the streets beneath Havre and see an opium den (one of three known to have existed in the early days), a Chinese laundry, an ethnic restaurant, and of course, a bordello.”

Oh my god. A turn-of-the-century honk? Featuring good old-fashioned frontier rot-gut?

They just don’t build ’em like they used to, folks.*

* I kinda think they don’t copy-and-paste quite the same way they used to, either. The Montana Chamber of Commerce website uses almost identical copy, diverging only when calling HBTS a “turn-of-the-century honky-tonk.” I really like the abridged version, though, and shall heretofore call  all honky-tonks “honks.” 

The museum pays well-decorated tribute to the city’s former glory days — which seemed to have occurred well after the city was burned to the ground in 1904. Forced to move their businesses into their basements while the rebuild took place up above, those good ol’ Havre folks built themselves some tunnel-hallways for convenience. Et voila! An underground city was borned.

Yes, you can still visit and tour the site. No, it is no longer the functional city center. From what I understand, the guides do a fine job of balancing the theatrical with the cold truth. Which leads us to …

The Catch: Once business moved back above ground, many of the railroad workers were kinda-sorta forced to stay in their underground lairs, ostensibly for their own safety, but probably/really to keep them contained. Many of those rail workers were Asian immigrants living and working in a slave-like way, despite not technically being owned as slaves. The Sporting Eagle Saloon becomes slightly less charming, the bordello straight-up depressing.

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