Libby, Montana has a troubled past, but it’s working hard on inspiring a brighter future. It also provides a good stopping point for a journey across northwestern Montana. It’s the biggest place around, and the hotel rooms are more reasonably priced than what you’ll find in Kalispell.
Welcome to the City of Eagles! Libby, Montana officially adopted the slogan in 2007, thanks in large part to the distinctive metal sculptures that you’ll see around town. A local art teacher makes the eagles, and many of them have been purchased and put on display by local businesses.
Some of Todd Berget’s metal eagles have a wingspan of 40 feet!
The eagles help reinforce the idea that Libby is ready to soar again. The town is infamous for its asbestos problem. Asbestos mining began in 1919, but the health effects weren’t limited to the workers in the mines. The W.R. Grace company, which acquired the local operations in 1963, knew about the health dangers of asbestos (according to asbestos.com), but continued operations — and even supplied the city with leftover asbestos-tainted vermiculite for use around town. The toxic material was scattered in playgrounds and backyards, and even used in road construction. As a result, the cancer-causing dust spread throughout the town, sickening many residents. Libby became a superfund site in 2002, and in 2008 W.R. Grace was ordered to provide $250 million dollars for cleanup projects. Much of the asbestos has now been removed, but the work is ongoing.
You can still take a train to Libby. Amtrak operates a station here.
The Libby Depot dates back to the early 20th century. It was constructed by the Great Northern Railway. Libby is located on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line, which connects Portland and Seattle with Chicago.
Downtown Libby has a handful of businesses that are lined up along Mineral Avenue, a block east of Route 37.
Libby’s Dome Theater is still showing movies. It was built in 1948 (a previous theater was built here in 1910).
The Dome’s marquee sign is the original one, from 1948. Inside, the projection and audio systems have been updated for the digital age.
The stained glass on the doors is… well… not stained glass at all.
Libby has several motels. I stayed at the Country Inn, which was basic but clean and comfortable.
The Bottom Line
The casual visitor will probably never know about Libby’s past problems with asbestos contamination. Now, it’s a nice small-town that provides a good overnight stop for visitors to western Montana.
Libby, Montana is located along US Highway 2, about 32 miles east of the Idaho border, and 90 miles west of Kalispell. The western entrance to Glacier National Park is 120 miles to the east on US 2.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Kootenai Falls and Bridge, through Libby, to the Libby Dam: