Before Baker Lake was created by the Milwaukee Railroad, this area was a marshy wetland fed by natural springs. The landscape of Fallon County is a wide-open prairie with rolling grass-covered hills, badland buttes, ponderosa pine-covered expanses and expansive agricultural fields.
The town of Baker traces its humble beginnings back to late 1800s-early 1900s when it served as a campground on the prairie of Eastern Montana because of the springs and abundant grass. However, it was not until the railroad arrived that the town was chartered. Reliable rail service attracted homesteaders and dryland farmers to the area. In 1912, the discovery of oil and natural gas deposits brought even more people to the area.
It was in 1908 that the Milwaukee Railroad crews built a dam to trap the water from the nearby springs to be used by the steam engines for cooling purposes. Thus, Lake Baker, now called Baker Lake, was formed. Iron Horse Park was named to honor the lake’s railroad origins. The Milwaukee Railroad soon discovered that the lake’s salty water corroded their equipment, and stopped using the water from the lake. A railroad water tank was brought in to cool the engines instead. The railroad carried passengers from 1908 until 1971 when passenger operations were stopped.
Because the Milwaukee Railroad no longer had a use for Baker Lake, it sat unused from its creation until the 1950’s when Baker’s Woman’s Club convinced the Milwaukee Land Company to transfer the ownership of the lake to the local government to be used as a community recreation asset. Mrs. C.F. (Geneviere) Hogeboom was the president of the Baker Woman’s Club. Her home was near the lake and she was the main drive behind the project. Originally the plan was for the City to take ownership of the lake, however due to lack of finances required for the restoration, the City chose to allow the County to take ownership. Since that time Fallon County has undergone numerous projects to preserve and improve the lake to be the recreational asset that we enjoy today.
Thank you to Beth Epley and Ashley Bonamie of Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation for their research and sharing this information with our readers.