HELENA – A prominent white building has stood just off U.S. Highway 12 west of Helena for 20 years. But next week, the historic Baxendale Schoolhouse will be moved to a new home.
The one-room schoolhouse, originally built around 1890, was moved next to the historic Wassweiler Inn and Bathhouse in the 1990s.
Marci and Bob Andersen bought the Wassweiler property about five years ago. Last November, they opened a restaurant in the former inn.
Marci Andersen said she initially hoped to turn the schoolhouse into a bed and breakfast or a wedding venue. But she said they’ve seen such strong business at the Wassweiler Dining House that they’re running out of parking spaces. In some cases, customers have had to park on the side of the highway.
“So we decided that the schoolhouse had to go,” Andersen said.
During the summer, they posted on Facebook that they were looking for a new owner for the building. That caught the attention of the Montana Preservation Alliance, which works to find new solutions for endangered historic structures.
“This time, we decided to adopt the building ourselves in the end,” said Chere Jiusto, MPA’s executive director.
MPA plans to turn the schoolhouse into a “Preservation Training Center,” where they will teach classes on techniques for restoring historic buildings.
“For a long time, we’ve been teaching people how to restore windows, do historic masonry, build preservation trade skills, and this will become our new center for doing that,” Jiusto said.
Jiusto said they will also allow the building to be used for other educational and community events.
Next week, Tamietti House Moving and Construction of Butte will lift the schoolhouse off its foundation and move it to a temporary location, provided by the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts. Jiusto said MPA will then talk to groups like the Bray and Prickly Pear Land Trust about where the building’s permanent home will be.
“Over the winter, we’ll figure out the logistics of where it will be set down,” she said.
MPA received private donations, an emergency grant from the Montana History Foundation and another grant from the Harbaugh Foundation to cover the costs of the move.
The Baxendale Schoolhouse has already moved several times in its history. Jiusto said it was first transported from its original location to the current site of the Baxendale Volunteer Fire Department.
There, it served as a school until 1943 and a community center until the 1990s. It was moved to the Wassweiler property to make way for the new fire station.
Jiusto said the building’s history is a sign of the quality of its construction.
“Once a historic building is improved, they tend to be pretty stout and last for a long time,” she said.
The building still includes its original log walls, which were later covered with siding. Jiusto said much of the siding now needs repairs, and the roof will eventually need to be replaced.
“There’s some substantial work that needs to be done, but that’s what we do,” she said.
There has already been one noticeable change: The schoolhouse’s bell tower was removed so the building can be transported more easily.
“It’ll be the crowning glory when we put it back on the school at the end of the whole project,” said Jiusto.
MPA will start restoration work on the building in the spring. Jiusto said they hope to raise between $50,000 and $75,000 to pay for the repairs. They will also be looking for volunteers to help with the work.
Marci Andersen said she’s pleased that she was able to find someone who will put the schoolhouse to good use.
“We are so happy that it’s going to be used actually for what it was originally built for – a classroom – which is kind of nice,” she said. “It came full circle.”
-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News