Former mill building recommended for national preservation status

Managing Editor

Lewistown HIstoric Resources Commission Chairman Jim Dullenty stands in front of the building recently recommended for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Despite objections from the City of Lewistown, the Montana Preservation Review Board voted unanimously Friday to recommend the Gamble-Robinson Co. Warehouse for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Gamble-Robinson Co. Warehouse (at 302 E. Main, the former WestFeeds location), also known locally as the mill building or the fruit and grocery warehouse, is owned by the City of Lewistown. In October of last year, the Lewistown Historic Resources Commission voted unanimously to begin the process to gain National Historic Register status for the property.

“The National Register is a list of historic places that should be preserved,” Lewistown’s Historic Preservation Officer Duane Ferdinand said Monday. “This building is important for its ties to Lewistown’s early history, including its railroad history and the development of agriculture here.”

Ferdinand’s support was integral to the approval of the nomination, as it was a private account, the Lewistown Historic Accord, started by Ferdinand in the 1980s and administered by the Central Montana Foundation, which paid for hiring consultant Jessie Nunn to write the application for the property.

Ferdinand said he believes City government has an “obligation to protect” historic resources. Jim Dullenty, chairman of the Lewistown Historic Resources Commission, agrees.

“I’m very pleased this has happened,” Dullenty said. “This is a statement by the state that this building is a historic structure and should be preserved.”

City officials do not necessarily agree with Dullenty and Ferdinand on the importance of the building.

A letter sent on Jan. 6 to the chairman of the Montana Preservation Review Board and signed by Interim City Manager Holly Phelps, said, “While this is an old building, the building lacks significant features and has not significantly contributed to broad patterns in our history. There are many other building (sic) in this community that have contributed to the history in the area and have never been nominated.”

City Commissioner Dave Byerly, in a written statement to the News-Argus Monday, wrote: “It is surprising that a building, especially one in the condition of the old mill building, can be nominated for the historic registry without the approval of its owner.

“It is also surprising that the state board would grant this designation without the support of the city, which owns the building and opposed this designation, and of the community, which has spoken out vigorously in support of developing that area in ways that may not include investing a lot of money in the old mill building.”


Will designation affect Creekside Park plans?

One concern both Ferdinand and Dullenty say they are sensitive to is the proposal by a Recharge Our Community group to develop the area around the Gamble-Robinson building into a park, perhaps with a music amphitheater or stage.

“Our Historic Resources Commission feels this building could be a nice addition to Creekside Park,” Dullenty said. “Even the architect that drew the park map said the building could easily be incorporated. We are trying to save a building that is historic and is in a wonderful location to be used. We are not opposed to a park.”

“It’s a neat building, it could fit in quite well with Creekside Park as a brewery or restaurant,” Ferdinand said.

Karen Sweeney, a member of the ROC committee proposing Creekside Park, said Snowy Mountain Development Corporation staff is currently assisting the group with funding efforts to obtain detailed plans for the park, including cost estimates. 

In an email to the News-Argus, Sweeney wrote, “The current proposal excludes the Mill Building, which means the proposed plan is for the Mill Building to be demolished. During the public outreach efforts, no comments were received in favor of saving the Mill Building. For this reason, there has been no discussion to incorporate the Mill Building into the project. Additional public meetings are planned to get further input. Although a small group nominated the Mill Building to the National Register of Historic Places, approval does not prohibit demolition. The information submitted with the nomination could be utilized for documentation required when a building in excess of 50 years old is being demolished.” 

Byerly also addressed the proposed park development, saying, “This designation appears to be an effort by a few people to circumvent the city commission and the wishes of the community. It may actually hurt efforts to find the best possible use for the building and the public land, and that really is too bad.”


What next?

With the positive vote of the Montana Preservation Review Board, Dullenty said the next step is to make some minor modifications to the application for National Historic Register status, and send it to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., which administers the National Register of Historic Places.

“I think we will send the application by the end of February, and then they will review it and make a ruling,” Dullenty said, adding that if the property is listed, his group will begin to look for restoration funding.

“We don’t want to make the City mad,” Dullenty said. “We have to go to them to get the building restored. This could become a public project with a lot of people participating.

“There’s a preservation ethic in Lewistown,” he added, pointing to the effort to renovate the Draft Horse Barn at the fairgrounds as an example. “We could get grants, hold bake sales and raise money to restore it [the Gamble-Robinson Co. warehouse building]. What people don’t know is there are a lot of people in town who are preservationists.”

Dullenty said the Draft Horse Barn is the next property he hopes to submit for National Historic Register status.








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