In September 2013, Bill and I visited his home state of Montana. Our objective: A research trip to fill in the blanks of Bill’s family history in preparation for our next book Growing Up in Montana, 1925-1941: A Memoir.
Destination #1 – Livingston (pop 7,000, elev 4,501 feet)
We began our research in Livingston where Bill was born in 1925.
In 1925, Bill’s father, Harry Ellwood “Mac” McGee, was homesteading in the Shields River Valley about 30 miles north of Livingston. When Bill’s time came to be born, his “rich” Uncle Clyde M. Lyon drove Bill’s mother, Vivian (Lyon) McGee, to the Lott Birthing Hospital in Livingston. Maternity patients at that time were not usually kept in regular hospitals, and numerous “maternity houses” or “birthing hospitals” (as they were called) were scattered throughout Livingston before hospitals were thought important for “lying in”.
The Lott Birthing Hospital, at 128 S. Yellowstone Street, was originally a private residence built in 1889 (the year Montana achieved statehood) in the affluent West Side neighborhood known as “Bankers’ Row”. From 1920 to 1929, the residence housed the Lott Birthing Hospital run by local nurse Edith Lott. Nurse Lott, renowned for her compassion, never asked if a patient could pay. She also took care of “the ladies from B Street” (Red Light District).
Today the former Lott Birthing Hospital is once again a private residence and is on the National Register of Historic Places. (See photo.)
Livingston was established in the 1880s around the Northern Pacific Railroad. Situated on the Yellowstone River, the town soon became known as “The original gateway to Yellowstone National Park”. Tourists en route to the park had to change trains in Livingston and many spent the night in town before continuing their journey. By 1882, Livingston was a thriving community with 40 businesses, 30 of which were saloons. Rough and tumble, the town attracted the likes of Calamity Jane who is said to have lived in a local hotel with periodic stays in the local jail.
Today, Livingston’s historic Main Street is a reminder of the past, with grand old buildings that have been restored. The town is a haven for artists, writers and actors, with good restaurants — and still a healthy number of saloons. (Photo Livingston Chamber of Commerce)