The date was New Year’s Eve, 1880, when Thomas Edison’s first electric street lamps illuminated the sidewalks of Menlo Park, New Jersey. Flash forward more than 100 years and well, Edison would be surprised to see the many ways electricity is created and used in the 21st century.
From our refrigerators to our radios, electricity powers all our lives, minus those in the outpost community of Polebridge, Montana. While most of America generates power via natural gas, oil, and fossil fuels, this small mountain town supports local businesses on a few simple generators.
“So,” you may be asking yourself, “what’s the appeal? Why visit or live somewhere without man’s common inventions like WIFI and toaster ovens?” The answer: Because more than 90% of adult Americans own a cell phone, that’s why. That’s millions of people updating profile photos, watching TV, or Halloween costume shopping for Sparky on Amazon.com.
Once you find yourself in Polebridge with zero cell service, your only option is to surrender to the wilderness that surrounds you. Press “disable notifications” on your phone, get out of your car, and begin connecting with the world from the other side of your windshield.
Located about 20 miles from Canada, a mile from Glacier National Park, and three hours north of Whitefish Range, Polebridge is a town of fewer than 50 people. They are tough, self-sufficient, and totally cool with mail arriving only twice a month. Polebridge residents reside in rustic cabins on dirt roads, some without running water! If they need supplies, human interaction, or a huckleberry bear claw, they pop into the local Polebridge Mercantile or the Northern Lights Saloon—both powered by generators.
Minus the propane that bakes the bread and pastries, the Mercantile leans lightly on the support of some solar panels and batteries to keep the lights on. Especially when they start rolling out pastry dough at 4:00AM! The entire town seems to be frozen in 1914, the date Polebridge Mercantile was established. (Only four years after Glacier Park was named a national park back in 1910!) The Mercantile has also been declared a National Register of Historic Places.
While some may consider these electric methods unreliable or unacceptable, more businesses like Polebridge Ranch and the North Fork Hostel remain booked and bustling with explorers looking to fully experience a rustic way of living and discovering a new-found respect for the sun. Polebridge is proving that you can still live well without damaging nature by digging holes for power line posts.
There’s no challenge that awaits you in Polebridge, but rather the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with nature and your human instinct to explore new territory. Just remember, take a right at the hand-painted, wooden exit sign, and continue down the dirt road for about 30 miles until you see the red paneling of the Mercantile. Pack a rechargeable flashlight and leave your 4G hotspot at home. There’s no daylight to waste!
Does an electricity-free community sound like your kind of adventure? Let us know in the comments below.