St. Mary’s Mission was founded in 1841 by Jesuit priest Fr. Pierre De Smet. He arrived in the area after Salish and Nez Perce Indians made four trips to St. Louis to request “Blackrobe” missionaries to teach their people about Christianity. The developed area became known as St. Mary’s Village, an area we now know as Stevensville. It represents Montana’s first pioneer settlement.
The group that now cares for the site is Historic St. Mary’s Mission, Inc. They formed in 1988 and work to provide an educational experience for visitors, along with caring for the grounds and buildings. The historic site is comprised of the 1862 Chief Victor’s Cabin, 1866 Chapel, and Father Ravalli’s 1869 Cabin.
The Historic St. Mary’s Mission, Inc. received a 2020 grant from the History Foundation for preservation work. Chinking repair was necessary to keep moisture from causing wood rot between the logs. There was also significant woodpecker damage that needed to be filled in order to prevent further damage.
The work was completed in the summer of 2020, just months after the COVID-19 pandemic began. Historic St. Mary’s Mission Executive Director Colleen Meyer says, thankfully, there were no issues with completing the work as a result of the pandemic. The contractor who was hired for the project performed his work outside and he worked alone, so there was no interruption by COVID-19 restrictions. Meyer says he was extremely knowledgable and “so caring of our historic buildings.”
Even though there were no interruptions to the grant project as a result of COVID-19, the same could not be said for the tourist season. Meyer says their season usually runs from April 15th to October 15th. Because of the pandemic – and the initial quarantine order – they missed the first 6 weeks of their season. That included all of their annual school tours. Meyer says they were finally able to open on June 2nd and remained open until mid-September, shutting down for the season a month early. In all, their visitation was down by half from a typical season.
In response to the delayed start of the season, Meyer says a board member suggested virtual tours that could be shared on their Facebook page. A local videographer shot the video and edited each piece. Instrumental piano pieces were played by the videographer’s son as background music. One of the Mission’s tour guides, who is a retired Montana history teacher, provided the narration. Five videos were created in all and Meyer says the response has been overwhelming, with thousands of people watching them. While that could not make up for the loss of revenue caused by Covid, Meyer hopes that it spurred interest among those who would now like to visit Historic St. Mary’s Mission in the future.
Follow the links below to view their virtual tours:
Invitation to virtual tour of Historic St. Mary’s Mission
Part 1 – Historic St. Mary’s Chapel
Part 2 – Behind the Chapel
Part 3 – Fr. Ravalli’s Cabin
Part 4 – Chief Victor’s Cabin