FORT BENTON — The annual Summer Celebration in Fort Benton is always a busy, fun-filled weekend. But in the summer of 2021, there’s an extra celebratory mood.
This summer marked the 175th birthday of Fort Benton, known as the Birthplace of Montana. Historian Ken Robison said this year’s event was a great time to remember the town's historical importance as an 1800s crossroads in the fur trade, mining routes, and steamboat travel up the Missouri River from St. Louis.
"It's the birthplace and it played in every era Montana history. Some places like Virginia City were big in the mining era, and so on. But Fort Benton had a role to play, sometimes the biggest role, sometimes just a major role in every year of Montana history. And that's what makes it fun,” Robison said.
Summer Celebration was canceled last year due to Covid restrictions, but thousands of people turned out this year for the three-day event. The schedule is packed, with more than 100 vendors, museum tours, a parade, street dances, and fireworks.
It’s not an easy event to plan in any year, but this 45th edition was done on just three months notice, according to Summer Celebration committee chairwoman Connie Jenkins.
“After we’ve had the kind of year last year from COVID and everybody had to stay home, it's wonderful to see this big crowd here today. And it looks like everybody is really enjoying themselves,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said the support in the community was critical to getting this one going, but you’ll find that support even from people who have long moved away. Hub Gilbert, a 1970 graduate from Fort Benton High School, has lived in Seattle for more than 40 years after starting a software company there. He said
"A lot of people are, you know, still residing in the area. But I think those of us that moved away, I still call it home, you know, it's time to go home,” he said. “It's kind of unequaled of any place I visit and I've traveled a lot of places but just that community spirit and the pride and reputation it has around the state."
For more information, visit the event website.