Evidence suggests the Teslow was built in or before 1906. At that time, Livingston was a bustling new railroad town offering a gateway to our nation’s first national park, Yellowstone.
The Teslow’s location adjacent to the rail line illustrates the inter-relationship of the building and the railroad in the transportation of agricultural produce. The railroad connected remote Montana farmers to international markets, and the elevator enabled commodities such as wheat, oats, and barley to be easily weighed, stockpiled, and distributed.
According to architectural expert Lynn Frehill-Maye, the “…functionality [of grain elevators] was once widely celebrated. The Bauhaus architects considered them the epitome of form, function, and design. Indeed, Le Corbusier, in his 1923 Modernist manifesto 'Towards a New Architecture,' called them 'the magnificent first-fruits of the new age.'" The Teslow was cutting-edge technology in its day.
To put the building’s history into perspective, the Northern Pacific Railway arrived here on Jan. 15, 1883. Six years later, Montana became a state. A mere seven years after that, the grain elevator that would eventually be named the Teslow was erected. This was exactly one century after Capt. William Clark of the Corps of Discovery camped on the banks of the Yellowstone River near present-day Livingston and pondered western expansion, having just mapped lands considered “terra incognita” by eastern Americans.
The Teslow stands like a stately exclamation point marking time halfway between us and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It was built a mere century after Clark’s expedition, then saved a century after it was built. The Teslow is a product of the Industrial Revolution and represents the settlement of the West. Despite its magnificence, it eventually became obsolete and fell into disuse and disrepair.
WHAT IS THE TESLOW?
The Teslow is not simply a building, but a grand wooden machine.
Elevators such as the Teslow are built of “cribbed” construction, meaning lumber is stacked like pancakes to withstand the pressures of grain circulating through the structure. They contain a honeycomb of large multistory bins, as well as mechanisms for moving grain vertically and horizontally via chutes and small bucket elevators on conveyor belts and augers in the basement and highhouse.
Invented in Buffalo, New York, in 1842 by Scottish engineer Robert Dunbar and entrepreneur Joseph Dart, the grain elevator revolutionized sales and distribution of commodities by automating the process of unloading, weighing, sorting, stockpiling, and transferring agricultural products such as oats, corn, wheat and barley.
Sadly, grain elevators like the Teslow are vanishing at an alarming rate across agricultural America. For example, in the midst of the initial fight to save the Teslow, the 1913 G.D. Eastlick grain elevator in downtown Laurel, Montana, was torn down during the night. Many locals still miss the beautiful Chadbourne elevator near Clyde Park, which was demolished to provide flooring in Japan, and are now bearing witness as the last remnants of the beloved Montana Elevator Co./Sapphire Flour elevator in Wilsall are being hauled away. These losses makes the Teslow all the more valuable each year that it stands. Just look to Bozeman’s Misco Mill for proof of a grain elevator being successfully adapted.
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