Willoughby? Maybe it’s wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man’s mind, or maybe it’s the last stop in the vast design of things, or perhaps, for a man like Gart Williams, who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it’s a place around the bend where he could jump off. Willoughby? Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity, and is a part of the Twilight Zone. -Rod Serling
In this episode, Mr. Williams wakes to find the train stopped. The sun is bright outside, and as he looks out the window, he discovers that the train is in Willoughby, and that it’s July of 1888! He learns that this is a “peaceful, restful place, where a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure.”
On New Years Day 1892, the first train pulled into Kalispell. Over the next twenty-five years, here grew a real life Willoughby.
On our daily walks, I have discovered a century old neighborhood that shares its history with all those who stroll the broad, tree lined avenues. As we start our walk, we first notice the extraordinarily wide sidewalks. Walking must have been important to the early settlers. We tread on the original concrete, poured mostly in 1909, 1910, and 1915. At each intersection, street names are cast into the walks.
Next, we notice the streets are covered by the foliage of the stately trees that line the boulevards. On a treeless prairie, the whole city was planted, mostly with Norway Maples. Some cottonwoods co-exist, but back then, non-native species were preferred.
Trees did naturally exist in town at the infamous “mosquito infested swamp and hobo camp.” After draining the swamp and repeatedly running off the hobos, Woodland Park finally became a place fit for children to play.
Continuing on our walk, we begin to notice the multitude of historic home placards. In this neighborhood of mansions to bungalows, we read the stories of the people that built the town. We also learn of the diverse architectural styles found here. We read of the occupations and careers of these bold people who came to the middle of nowhere, built fine homes and started new lives in a new place.
One hundred years ago, these folks built their own Willoughby. The trees are larger, but it remains much the same today. Pedestrians have the right of way and the signals on Main Street still flash at night. Mr. Williams, you didn’t have to kill yourself. You should have taken the train to Montana.