On a hill overlooking Deer Lodge, the seat of Powell County, is one of Montana’s historic schools, the initial Montana Collegiate Institute (1878) renamed a few years later as Trask Hall by the Presbyterian Church who then managed the school for the next two generations. In 1921 the local school district took over the building as a public school and still today the historic hall is surrounded by other public schools from more modern times. It sits silently today almost like a rock of education for this small Montana town.
But as this close-up of the cupola shows, it too needs assistance to continue its third century of service to the residents of Deer Lodge. At the same time, the past care of the school and keeping it in place as a public landmark for now over 90 years is a credit to the sense of history and community held by the people of Deer Lodge and Powell County. Indeed north of Trask Hall is another historic school building, the Powell County High School.
This Tudor Gothic influenced building from 1917 reflects the pride of community, and local boosterism, of that decade when the homesteading boom was reshaping rural Montana and Deer Lodge was riding high, since it was served by two railroad lines, the Northern Pacific and the Milwaukee Road. Now this building is nearing its 100th anniversary and remains in use and in good shape, clearly a 20th century landmark of education and community for this county.
The adjoining Powell County High School Gym, from the 1930s
For the modernists out there, in fact, Deer Lodge’s public schools also make their mark in 1960s contemporary design with the elementary school on Dixon Street next to Trask Hall. There is a bit of every type of school design in this county seat.
Deer Lodge’s traditions of preservation, pride, and maintaining their investments in public education are ones worth evaluating and implementing not just in Montana but across the nation.