HELENA — Thanks to Preserve Montana and The Archie Bray Foundation the historic Baxendale Schoolhouse has found a permanent home at the Archie Bray, with a groundbreaking held on Monday.
“There’s this essential connection that people have to their history, to their ancestry, to the past that has shaped the communities that we live in today and really defines us here as Montanans. And so being able to preserve the places that tell those stories is just really important,” says Chere Jiusto, Executive Director for Preserve Montana.
The schoolhouse, built in 1890, is a well-preserved relic of Helena’s history. Originally serving the mining town of Baxendale west of Helena, the school was eventually moved to Highway 12 where it continued to serve as a school and then a community center. In 1997 the school was transferred to the Wassweiler Inn property. Upon expansion of the restaurant’s parking lot, the school was again moved in 2019 by Preserve Montana to save it from demolition.
Once the labor-intensive job of replanting the school is complete, Preserve Montana plans to come in for the final touch-up by restoring the porch, the bell tower, the windows, and the interior. Then, eventually, a new coat of paint and a new roof will be added.
“You know, this building is over 100 years old and it's still generally in pretty good shape, and it just shows, the craft, how good the craftsmanship was back in the day and showing that we can actually reuse these old buildings rather than tear them down,” says Mary Webb Restoration Director for Preserve Montana.
Returning the schoolhouse to its former glory is all leading toward utilizing the building for its original intended purpose: teaching. In partnership with Archie Bray, Prickly Pear Land Trust, and the Montana Carpenters Union, Preserve Montana plans to hold training in carpentry.
“Restoration classes for homeowners that are looking to do work on their own homes, restoring their own windows in their own house. And I also really want to focus on classes for kids and women and giving them new opportunities,” says Webb.
Construction on the schoolhouse is planned to be completed by the Fall.