Big Sky schoolhouse survey launched

In the early years of Fergus County, which included Judith Basin and Petroleum Counties, 211 school districts were created. The Ayers Colony District, No. 222, was created in 1977 for a total of 212 districts. Today, there are 10 districts in Fergus County, Judith Basin three, and Petroleum one.

With the settlement of Montana from the early mining camps, railroad stations and the homestead era, schools were built in each community. It is estimated there were 2,600 rural schools located in our state. Today, Montana has about 60 one- and two-room schools still in operation, more than any other state. Many of these are still located in their original location.

The Montana Preservation Alliance recently launched the Big Sky Schoolhouse Survey, a comprehensive statewide architectural survey and evaluation of our remaining historic rural one and two room schoolhouses. MPA is a statewide nonprofit organization working since 1987, through advocacy and educational program, to save and protect Montana’s historic places, traditional landscapes and cultural heritage.

“Through these efforts we hope to identify and help property owners who are interested in stabilizing and repairing their school,” said program coordinator Christine Brown. “Not every schoolhouse can have a new use, but our hope is to encourage stabilization of rural schoolhouses so that this strong and tangible piece of Montana history is there for future generations to learn about and enjoy.” The Preserve Montana Fund at the Montana History Foundation was established in 2012 and has distributed over $50,000 to stabilize rural schoolhouses, with the help of this survey and MPA.

MPA volunteers have completed surveys of 16 out of 56 counties in the state over the last 4 summers. Generally, about 15-20 percent of the original schools are still standing. Many have been repurposed for shops, garages, storage, or homes and many are in disrepair but still standing. Pictures are taken and an architectural survey is completed on each school that is found still standing.

The MPA volunteers are looking forward to doing a schoolhouse survey in Fergus County in the spring and summer of 2018. Do you have a school or know of schools in your neighborhood that are standing? I would like that information. Also, beneficial, would be the name of the school and location. If you are willing to help with the project, please contact me. This will be and interesting project and is long overdue. My office has a few pictures and information about many of the schools in Fergus County. Hopefully, many of the schools will be identified and their history recorded.

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