TRIDENT — Looking west from the Holcim Trident Cement Plant to the open field of tall cottonwoods framed by limestone cliffs and the Missouri River, it’s hard to imagine the village of Trident ever even existed there. Except for the plotted cottonwoods, the mine and train depot on the east side of the main road, nothing remains of the town today.
But just a few generations ago Trident was a bustling community with over 2,500 residents living and working in and around the cement factory. There was a K-8 school, a hotel, bowling alley, pool hall, theater, and more.
Now, the Three Forks Area Historical Society is working preserve the train depot and keep Trident’s history alive.
Last year the Three Forks Historical Society caught wind that the current owners of the depot, Montana Rail Link, were planning to demolish the depot, and in turn one of the last remnants of Trident’s colorful past.
The folks at the Society knew they couldn’t let that happen.
“This is all that’s left of this city,” said historical society president Pat O’Brien-Townsend. “It’s very important for us to be able to preserve this part of history.”
O’Brien-Townsend’s husband, Gene Townsend, the current mayor of Three Forks, grew up in Trident. His father worked at the cement plant.
“Everyone I’ve talked to who grew up there says it was the ideal place to live,” said O’Brien-Townsend. “Now, people that move to the area would never even know it existed.”
In January, historical society members decided they would go ahead with a plan to move the depot. In February they worked with the city of Three Forks to obtain a small plot of land near the Headwaters Heritage Museum, and found Pro Hand Services, owned by Belgrade resident Troy Dorrell, to move the old building.
Three Forks Historical Society treasurer and local historian Patrick Finnegan said that it would normally cost about $50,000 to move a building like the depot, but Dorrell said he’d relocate the depot to Three Forks for a fraction of the cost — only $16,000.
As a nonprofit funded solely by donations, the group is now in the midst of a $40,000 fund-raising project to cover the cost of moving the building, putting in a new foundation where it will be relocated to, and money for long-term maintenance of the depot. They hope to have it moved by June this year.
Once it’s in its new location, the historical society plans to restore the depot into a museum celebrating the history of Trident.
Anyone who donates $100 or more to the Trident depot fund will be entitled to a brick with a message engraved on the face. The personalized bricks will be displayed at the depot’s new location in a fashion similar to the commemorative brick wall the group had created across from the Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks.
The village of Trident was founded beneath the limestone cliffs that brought industry to the area.
In the early 1900s explorers traveling along the Missouri River noted the rock would be an excellent source for manufacturing cement. By 1908 mining had begin.
According to Finnegan, that same year the first postmaster of the budding community was responsible for naming it. He first chose Portland, which was already taken. He then tried Cementville, which the United States Post Office turned down citing the name was too long. Finally, in the tradition of the nearby town of Three Forks, he came up with the name Trident — a three-pronged spear.
In 1910 the Northern Pacific Railroad which runs in front of the mine built the depot that remains to this day.
For the next 40 years Trident continued to grow and prosper, but by the mid-1950s, good roads and cheap automobiles made commuting appealing. While the rent for company housing in Trident was cheap, many workers pursued the “American Dream” began purchasing their own homes outside the town.
By the 1960s, the village was less than half occupied. In the mid-1970s, the post office closed. The last renter moved out of the village in 1996.