The I.G. Baker House, located along Front Street in Fort Benton, is one of the oldest homes in Montana still standing. At more than 150 years old, the home was built by Isaac Gilbert Baker in 1867. According to the website devoted to the I.G. Baker House, Baker arrived to the area just a few years prior by steamboat. He built the house after his wife Frannie and son George joined him in Fort Benton.
The two-room house is made from adobe and originally had a sod roof. It has a double-faced fireplace in the center, four windows, and a front porch supported by four columns. The home became the center of Baker’s trade firm, which according to the website had a large influence on the trans-border development of Montana and the Canadian West.
The Fort Benton Community Improvement Association is the devoted caretaker of the property. The group is the sponsor of many historical landmarks and events in the community. In 2019, the group applied for a History Foundation grant to partially fund a historic structure report to detail the condition of the I.G. Baker House. That report utilizes standards set by the National Park Service on how to conduct repairs and maintain the integrity of the house, which was showing significant signs of age due to deferred maintenance.
The report was finished in July of 2019 by historical architect firm Sievert & Sievert. According to the Fort Benton Community Improvement Association, the 300+ page document details many problems and issues associated with preserving a building that is more than 150 years old.
“It’s impossible to go one step after another step until you know what the plan is,” says Fort Benton Community Improvement Association President Dan Nelsen. “We began implementing steps as soon as the report came out and we will keep going.”
The first step involved replacing the roof. The original 1867 roof was sod, but by 1880 it had been replaced by a hip roof constructed of metal. The Community Improvement Association’s first project was to remove shake shingles and restore the roof to metal in accordance with the 1880 version.
In 2020, the Fort Benton Community Improvement Association applied for and was given a second grant for the I.G. Baker House. This grant will assist with stabilization efforts to restore the Parlor Room. That includes demolishing the interior of the parlor, stabilizing a portion of the room, re-installing the floor to 1880’s specifications and reconstructing the chimney, which was removed in 1970. The hearth, fireplace, interior walls and ceiling will also be restored.
The full historic structure report delves into great detail on the history of the I.G. Baker house and the work that needs to be done to maintain it into the future. You can read the full report by clicking here.