Amid the banks, real estate offices, clothing boutiques, and jewelry stores of downtown Havre, residents and visitors can absorb a true sense of the city?s rich history by visiting its several museums.
Havre Beneath the Streets is an absolute must-see. The tour includes historically accurate re-creations of businesses in early 1900s Havre, including a saloon, brothel, opium den, dentist office, bakery, and drugstore.
In late 1904, downtown Havre suffered a major fire that destroyed the whole business district. In order to continue any sort of business at all in a place that has no lumber to begin with, they took drastic measures.
They cleaned out their basements, roofed them over if the floor of the building hadn?t survived, and knocked down walls between basements downtown. They also dug tunnels underground from one block to the next. This created the first "mall", underground.
People came to downtown, went downstairs at one of several locations, and walked around underground in comfort, doing their necessary business. The businesses underground included groceries, butcher?s shop, post office, auto repair (they drove the car down into the underground facility to work on it), bar with card room, a bordello, the dentist, and several offices. There's also a mortuary, complete with wicker hand-baskets that were used prior to body bags to transport the remains. This was the source of the term "going to hell in a hand-basket".
This continued into the next summer. Some of the buildings were reconstructed (of brick or stone, this time), but many were left underground. In fact, the underground was improved with lighting from above through glass blocks installed in the sidewalks. The underground functioned for a couple more years. It gradually fell into disuse and became a place where merchants threw discards into, and filled with trash.
Some bright person recalled this in later years. The Lions got behind it, got some contributions, and reconstructed one short block of it. They used the same stores, but the new street out front had destroyed the underground "sidewalk", so they had to move that in and create new front walls. The stores were restored using original items if possible, otherwise equivalent items (like radios of the times) were substituted.
It?s quite a sight, and really illustrates the ingenuity people have in tough times.