The Baxendale Schoolhouse
When the call went out in the fall of 2018 to save this 130 year-old school the Montana Preservation Alliance jumped into action. The story and photos below explain how we were able to save our beloved Baxendale School with the help of the Helena
and wider Montana communities.
The early history of the Baxendale School is still a bit of a mystery. From our research we can say that it was likely built between 1895 and 1897 and originally located near the Holter Sawmill at the town-site of Baxendale. Under all that classic white siding the structure is log hewn, which helps tell us it has been serving the community more than a century. Classes were held at the Baxendale School until 1942 when the district voted to begin busing students into the Kessler School west of Helena.
It was another 20 years before School District No. 24 (Baxendale) was officially annexed to the Kessler. Several other school districts were also being annexed in 1962, and initially the fate of the building looked precarious. But locals created a petition with enough signatures to preserve the building as a community center. As part of their commitment, locals gathered each year to clean the school and complete any necessary restoration work. Over these years it was used as everything from a 4-H and Farm Bureau meeting hall to a bridal shower and wedding venue.
But of all the events held each year, voting became the most important annual meeting held at the Baxendale School. As transportation to Helena became easier, the Lewis and Clark County Commission voted to move the Baxendale voting poll to Kessler in 1992. With no reason to maintain the structure the school district voted again four years later to abandon the old building altogether. Hearing this and afraid of losing the school for good, a local man purchased the building in 1996 and moved it to the historic Wassweiler property a few months later.
After changing hands several times over the years, the Baxendale fell to the Anderson family. When they opened the “Wassweiler Dinner House and Pub” in the fall of 2017 the need for additional parking quickly became a problem. The MPA was contacted and spent several months looking for a willing, capable owner. But the financial and legal obligations of moving a school proved to be too much of a barrier for any single private owner to take on.
Running out of time and unwilling to see the 130 year-old school torn down, the MPA made the decision to raise funds, find grants, and adopt the building. After much anticipation and preparation the the Baxendale School was hoisted onto a semi-truck and moved approximately 3.5 miles north to the Archie Bray Foundation in the late night hours of January 23, 2019 .
Today the Baxendale Schoolhouse is awaiting the addition of a foundation and some much needed restoration work before it begins its new life as the Montana Preservation Training Center. In years to come the school will teach people of all ages the skills needed to save and protect historic buildings. It stands as a testament to the endless potential resting in every old structure, and reminds Montanans that “[e]ven when it stands vacant the past is never empty.”
Have a Baxendale Tale to Tell?
The MPA is still in search of old photos, newspaper articles, and oral histories about our recently adopted schoolhouse. If you have information or materials you would like to share with us please call our office (406-457-2822) or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.