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Montana’s Schoolhouses Listed as ‘Endangered’
Preservation groups seek to preserve abandoned and operating one-room schools
The McCormick School in Troy is one of the last one-room schoolhouses left in the United States. - Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon.
Checkered across Montana’s vast landscape are little one-room “portals” to the past, as author and photographer Charlotte Caldwell describes them. Now, the state’s rural schoolhouses are included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2013 list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”

The Montana Preservation Alliance nominated Montana’s schoolhouses for the national list, according to executive director Chere Jiusto. Sixty one-room schools remain open in Montana, more than any other state, but it is unknown how many other schoolhouses survive, she said. In the 1900s, there were more than 2,600 in the state.

“These buildings are in danger,” Jiusto said. “The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s designation puts a spotlight on iconic and significant properties and Montana’s schoolhouses are just that.”

Caldwell began documenting the buildings four years ago. She traveled more than 14,000 miles, visiting all 56 counties and 126 different schoolhouses. In each community she interviewed teachers and students, recording an oral history of each tiny school.

“It didn’t take me long to realize that these schools were a portal into a town’s history,” she said. “And I also realized that I was in a race against time.”

Age and the elements are beginning to catch up with some of the buildings and Caldwell said it’s an unfortunate ending for structures that were so critical to their communities. In some cases, the one-room schoolhouse served as a town’s city hall, civic center, post office and polling place, according to Caldwell.

In 2012, she published “Visions and Voices: Montana’s One-Room Schoolhouses.” The Montana Preservation Alliance raised money to print the book and 100 percent of the profits have gone toward preserving and stabilizing the state’s abandoned schoolhouses. Since being published, the book has earned $54,000 and spurred another $20,000 in donations. In partnership with the Montana History Foundation, the alliance awarded $13,000 in grants to three schoolhouses in 2012. This year, six one-room schools received more than $26,000.

Jiusto said being added to the national endangered places list would bring more attention, and more funds, to the schools’ preservation. She said the alliance hopes to establish a survey and database to get an exact count of how many schoolhouses remain. That would help in distributing money to various projects across the state, including schoolhouses that are still in use.

“All of this attention makes everyone realize that these places are important,” she said. “And even those in operation need a little TLC.”

The tiny McCormick Schoolhouse remains open west of Troy. Last year it had 29 students and five graduated from eighth grade – the largest graduating class in a decade. To celebrate the milestone, Gov. Steve Bullock spoke at the ceremony. School board chairman Terry Holmes said even though the one-room school might be a relic from another era, it’s still important to small towns.

Holmes graduated from McCormick in 1961.

“If you didn’t have a one-room school, you just didn’t go to school,” he said. “In a way it was the foundation of the school system in the West.”

In a press release announcing the schools’ designation, National Trust for Historic Preservation president Stephanie Meeks said Montana’s schoolhouses “tell the story of the generations of farmers and ranchers who gathered, and sent their children to be educated, in these small but crucial community centers.”

Among the other structures named on the 2013 list of most endangered historic places were the Astrodome in Houston, Texas; the Chinatown House in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif; and the Worldport Terminal at JFK Airport in Jamaica, N.Y.

But for Holmes, none are more important than Montana’s rural schoolhouses.

“It’s sentimental because myself and all my siblings went to that school and graduated from that school,” he said. “For people to start recognizing these schools is pretty cool.”
On 06-22-13, Hans123 commented....
http://goo.gl/maps/DJKSh A nice drive…....memories of when Logging was King.
Kellyn Brown
Kellyn Brown18 Apr
"If we made decisions on permits this way in MT, our economy would grind to a halt" @GovernorBullock on #KeystoneXL delay
Dillon Tabish
Dillon Tabish15h
KALISPELL, MT: You'll find the box in a brick building filled with history. Skateboards, pizza, clocks & ties #THTH14
Molly Priddy
Molly Priddy18 Apr
@natashavc @TaraAriano @allyzay Oh no, I've been thinking it's a room for all your types of mustards. Recalibrating my ideas now.
Tristan Scott
Tristan Scott19 Apr
@tristanscott *Billie Joe
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