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Small towns in focus: Kremlin

 

May 9, 2014

Eric Seidle

Kremlin sits between the towns of Havre and Hingham and has had a fairly long and varied history.

Kremlin was established after James J. Hill built the Great Northern Railroad from Havre to Cut Bank in the winter of 1890-1891. A section house was built in 1901 and Kremlin was formed around it.

According to the town's website, which is dedicated to the history of Kremlin, the first settlers began arriving in the spring of 1910. After Fort Assinniboine was decommissioned in 1911, another large group of settlers moved to the area.

A history of Kremlin compiled in 1941 by Earl C. Winter shows that at Kremlin's height, it had two banks, two lumberyards, three implement houses, two hardware stores, four general stores, two restaurants, a boarding house, two hotels, three saloons, a dance hall, a barber shop, a shoe shop, a ball park and many other businesses and establishments.

The town had over 300 residents and 33 places of business at its apex.

The town's decline occurred around the time of World War I. When the war hit the price of wheat went up to $3 or more a bushel, but the crops failed due to a six or seven-year drought. Between hot winds, little rain, grasshoppers and cutworms, farming in Kremlin was doomed, said the website.

The banks were broke and the lumberyards, hardware and general store went out of business. Many homesteaders left the area as the town failed.

In 10 years, the population was cut by 50 percent.

Now, the town's biggest business is AG Wise, a fertilizer company. It is the only business in the town.

Still, the town has its own United State Post Office, with Lynn Melby as postmaster. Melby has lived in Kremlin since 1978 but is originally from Gildford.

She said living in a town Kremlin's size has its benefits.

"If someone's hurt or sick or something, the whole town comes together," Melby said. "There's a real sense of community."

Melby said the town recently lost its corner store and school.

Kremlin's school district, which consolidated with Gildford in 1971, became part of the North Star School District in 2005, due to declining enrollment. The K-G school building still stands in Kremlin.

The 2010 United States Census data placed the Kremlin population at 98 and the median age at 46.8.

Judi Gomke, a resident of Kremlin, said every house in Kremlin is filled and the town is doing well for itself.

"Now when you go outside, you can hear little kids playing," Gomke said. "It seemed pretty dead outside, but now it's alive again."

Gomke used to own a grocery store in Kremlin with her husband Mel, who died in 2013, but they moved the business to Havre after encountering troubles with keeping the business alive. Mel's Food, which used to be on the 1600 Block of 5th Avenue in Havre, is now closed and Gomke is now retired, living in Kremlin where she has a multi-generational connection.

Her grandmother and some of her aunts and uncles came from Minnesota by train with their livestock to live in Kremlin in a time when the railroad was strongly encouraging expansion in the area.

The formation of Kremlin was advanced by an offer from James Hill for free train traffic for people to come out to places like Kremlin, in exchange for them using the train to transport their farm products. This is how Gomke's ancestors established themselves in the town of Kremlin.

Now, a sense of community keeps the town together.

Eric Seidle

"This is a town that thrives on its volunteers," Gomke said.

Gomke used the park in Kremlin as an example. The park is maintained by its neighbors, she said. The people of Kremlin plant the planters, mow the grass and plow snow on their own accord.

"People see what needs to be done and it kind of just happens," Gomke said. "It's always been everybody looks out for one another."

Gomke said the town relies on Havre for jobs, but Havre also relies on Kremlin for employees.

"You'd be amazed how many people drive to Havre for jobs," Gomke said. "The Hi-Line really adds to Havre's business. It's a big part of Havre's economy. Everything fits together hand and glove.

 

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