Yellowstone County Places

Laurel – Montana’s Rail Terminal


Revised 20 August 2001c

Before Laurel was created, only a small railroad section house called Carlton (forerunner of Laurel), was visible on the horizon for five years after NPR extended its line westward through the present site of Laurel[1]. The old section house was later converted to a farm home after its usefulness to the railroad was finished.

         In 1887, Samuel and Mina Young purchased a section of land (Section 30) south of the railroad tracks (two miles west of present Laurel) from the Minnesota & Montana Land and Improvement Co. At the same time September 16, 1887, Lucius.A. Nutting secured a homestead in Section 10, adjoining NPR’s Section 9 land. Additionally, he bought 160 acres of Timber Culture Land on May 19, 1892. Both pieces of land had the railroad running through the property with a 400-foot easement. Sam Young sold his section to Sam Hauser, who platted the townsite of Laurel around the Carlton stage stop in 1889. (He evidently changed the name from Carlton to Laurel.)

      In 1889 NPR completed the Rocky Fork Branch to Red Lodge, and old-timers reported that the grading was smoother than “riding a many a horse.” NPR wanted to place a freight terminal in the Billings area, but too much opposition was apparently raised, so they started looking elsewhere. Preston Moss and others thought that this major rail terminal for freight and passengers would be ideally situated between Laurel and Billings, so he created the site “Mossmain”, about two miles east of Laurel, and fully platted it to meet the railroad’s needs. NPR management was not convinced that this was in their best interests, so they decided to locate the terminal in Laurel. Lucius Nutting’s property in Section 10 proved to be a good investment, for this was the site selected for the freight yard.

      1901 Laurel was relocated to its present site, two miles west of the Carlton stop.

      In 1901 the O M Wold Co. was established.

      In 1905 Laurel was a small community that featured daily mail service, telegraph, telephone, Western Union, and train service.

      In 1906 there was only one store, Camp Brothers, Rose’s Drug (J A Gardner), Phil Hohman’s blacksmith shop, Susan Malcolm’s Hotel, Dick Mill’s livery, H A Noyes’ saloon, Ed Fenton’s post office, and a few houses.

      In 1907 NPR determined that they would place the freight terminal there. After buying the necessary land from Nutting, they moved some of their engineers to Laurel to begin design and construction of the largest rail terminal, roundhouse and machine shop between St. Paul and Seattle for a cost of $1,000,000.

      In 1908 Laurel was incorporated; and E.L. Fenton was mayor.

      In one year from 1907 to 1908 Laurel’s population jumped to over 100 families. This picture was taken after the town was incorporated. (View looking north, buildings on Main Street)

In 1909 there were 106 businesses and organizations, including two newspapers. It constructed one of the first sewage disposal plants in Montana.

[1] Billings Gazette – 75th Anniversary Edition, Section 3 (20 September 1960.

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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