Manhattan, Montana History


In the 1800's, families from the Netherlands moved here to grow barley for malters near the little town of Manhattan, named by a group of New York City investors who operated the Manhattan Malting Company.  They settled together in a tightly knit society that continues to flourish today.  By 1898, Manhattan had become quite important to the Valley, with about 150 inhabitants and a school enrollment of 75.  There were two hotels, a general store, one meat market, two blacksmith shops and one saloon.  Today, Manhattan's most productive industries center on seed potatoes, dairy and wheat farms, commercial beef and registered cattle.  In addition, Manhattan is a host to woodcarvers, artisans and antique dealers.

Born from a need to help revive the town, Manhattan Days grew into what is now the Annual Potato Festival. Once a thriving town between the late 1800’s and early 1900s, Manhattan had exploded under the success of the Manhattan Malting Co.  A successful group of businessmen formed what became the first Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. During 1913, the first Chamber of Commerce, with the support of local businessmen, spent $100,000 in improvements to the Town; $50,000 of which had been spent on sidewalks and water systems. With the slump of the early 1970’s, the Chamber of Commerce disappeared, but by 1984, Manhattan was growing again with a newspaper report indicating “1985 was looking brighter for Manhattan.” At that time, Manhattan was a little over 988 residents, and ready for a centennial celebration. The centennial celebration helped ignite the town again, which led to Manhattan Days, eventually morphing into the Potato Festival.  “What better way to celebrate the heritage of the town than by labeling the annual celebration “The Potato Festival,” in honor of the many seed potato farmers who helped establish the town and surrounding area,” D.G. Poynter reported. On Jan. 12, 1985, the Chamber held its first annual banquet and membership drive meeting; the rest is history. Andy Malby reported, “throughout its 145-year history, Manhattan has been an important center for commerce and trade, and through all its ups and downs, the business community has been at the helm of the town's prosperity.” 1987 marked the first Potato Festival. Poynter stated in the 1989 article in the High Country Independent Press that the festival “had grown from 400-500 visitors in 1989.” 2018 saw upwards of 4,000 visitors to the festival. Returning vendors come from all over Montana and out of state. Recently asked by a potential new vendor, “What makes the Potato Festival so special that I should spend that much money on a one day event?” “Well, out of state vendors return year after year for a reason; 4,000 reasons in one day is a pretty good return on your money,” the chamber replied. “Good enough for me,” they said.