Historic Baxendale Schoolhouse relocated to Archie Bray grounds in Helena

Posted January 24, 2019
Image Courtesy of Montana Preservation Alliance

After several months of planning, the historic Baxendale Schoolhouse was moved from the Wassweiler Dinner House & Pub west of Helena to a temporary new home on the grounds of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts on Wednesday. 

Faced with a lack of parking space, the owners of the restaurant donated the schoolhouse to the Montana Preservation Alliance in the hopes that it would be relocated and preserved. 

The Montana Preservation Alliance, Archie Bray Foundation, Montana History Foundation and Prickly Pear Land Trust then teamed up for the 4-mile move, a meticulously planned piece of choreography that took only an hour and 45 minutes just after midnight Wednesday. 

A score of workers from the Whitehall-based Tamietti House Moving and Construction Co. brought the old white schoolhouse down Highway 12 to a field just off Country Club Road, where it will remain until its permanent placement is secured. 

“We have a long relationship with the MPA,” Steven Lee, the Archie Bray Foundation’s resident artist director, said. “We got to thinking this piece of land might be a good spot to park a schoolhouse.”

A photo from the 1940's shows Myrna Loy
A photo from the 1940s shows Myrna Loy, second from left, on the steps of the Baxendale Schoolhouse.
Image Courtesy of Montana Preservation Alliance

The Baxendale Schoolhouse was built in 1890 and was originally located near the Holter sawmill near the town of Baxendale. According to a press handout, it operated as a schoolhouse in three separate locations west of Helena and later as a community center until 1997. Before its move to the Bray property, it was part of an antique mall and also saw time as a yarn shop.

Madie Westrom, the Montana Preservation Alliance’s outreach coordinator, said that after the school is moved off the truck onto a temporary foundation, a major renovation will take place.

“There’ll be a new roof in spring,” Westrom said. “It’ll be comprehensive, though the inside looks good.”

While much of the renovation is still up in the air as funding is raised, the MPA hopes the schoolhouse will live on as a school. The MPA hopes to reopen the school in late 2019 as its new Montana Preservation Training Center. 

Wednesday’s move was funded in part by the Montana History Foundation’s emergency grant program. Anna Strange of the Montana History Foundation said the emergency grant program can be used for purposes slightly outside the norm of historic preservation. A $7,500 grant helped get the project across the finish line, as the entire 3.4-mile move cost over $27,000.

Wednesday’s snowstorm wasn’t much of an issue, although a detour did have to be made to get around one stoplight.

By the end of the move, a single broken branch adorned the top of the schoolhouse. But with no other damage, the effort got an A-plus.

Part of the MPA’s work is to restore schoolhouses, according to Dustin Kalanick, the association’s restoration director. “MPA has a longstanding commitment to schoolhouses,” Kalanick said.

With 2,700 schoolhouses scattered throughout the state, the MPA has a large job keeping track of and working on renovating what it can, where it can. 

“We want to prevent it melting back into the landscape,” Kalanick said. 

The original article ran in the Helena Independent Record on January 24, 2019. Read it here

KPAX, a Helena station, also picked up the story. See their feature here and below.