Stark Schoolhouse was built in 1915 for the children living in the rural area in west-central Montana. The Stark community thrived in the late 1880s and early 1900s as a mining camp and grew further during that time when the Anaconda Company located its logging operations there. Once the logging operations left the area, Stark’s population dwindled from more than 500 to just over 60 in the 1930s
The schoolhouse served students of the Nine Mile area for just 15 years. It was placed into the care of residents in the 1930s and eventually became a community center in 1948. At present, there are more than 600 area families that use the Stark Schoolhouse as the Nine Mile Community Center.
Since 2014, the center has received three History Foundation grants. The first was used to install new storm windows. A second grant in 2016 allowed for repairs to the foundation. In 2020, a third grant went towards revitalizing the exterior of the building with repairs and a complete repainting.
Each of the History Foundation grants have been a catalyst for the Nine Mile Community Center to receive more private donations, which have further helped with maintenance of the Stark Schoolhouse. Beyond that, the community pride has continued to grow as well.
“The work that has been done on the Stark Schoolhouse is a wonderful example of the power of our grant program,” says History Foundation President Charlene Porsild. “One grant can lead to private donations, then other grants, and in turn an increase in community involvement – that’s exactly the kind of capacity building that happened in the Nine Mile community. We are so proud of all they have accomplished.”
For the 2020 project, the Nine Mile Community Center board of directors studied historic photos to decide how the exterior should be painted. Even though the photos were all black and white, the research helped them come up with a plan for how the painting would be completed. Community members voted on color options, giving them a chance to be involved in the final result.
The painting project was completed in the fall of 2020 and was not delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the forced cancellation of many events that would have ordinarily been held meant the work could be completed without interruption. The outcome is an amazing transformation for this National Register-listed historic schoolhouse that is ready to welcome its community back for many more years of celebrations and events to come.