Our first stop was on our barn tour was not a barn, but a very important part of agricultural community life. The LaSalle Grange Hall was the gathering place for farm families of the northern Lower Valley area who belonged to the National Grange, a fraternal organization of not just farmers, but whole farm families.
The new owners have adaptively reused the grange hall as a small theater.
The new owner removed the wall board and ceiling on the interior to find an arched roof and walls of lapped wood sheathing, which created an acoustically warm and resonant music space. The theater hosts all types of musical performances, films, and lectures every week.
All kinds of interesting musical treasures abound inside this remodeled Grange hall.
This barn never held animals, but as a granary on a major dairy farm, it held the all-important feed for the ladies. The granary was the centerpiece of the Bruyer family’s Kal-Mont Dairy, first established in 1901. Julius Bruyer built the granary in 1909 at the height of homestead settlement in the Flathead, reflecting many farmer’s great optimism and hope for the future.
The Schulze family bought the Kal-Mont Dairy in 1950 and continued the operation for many years. Genevieve Schulze (center) remembers growing up on the farm.
A little further south in the Lower Valley we stopped at the 1884 homestead of Christian and Belle Wiley. The Wiley’s were early homesteaders to the area, and great-grandson Dean Robbins has followed the family history closely and worked tirelessly to preserve the remaining buildings on the property. Christian and Belle set about improving the land right away in 1884 adding a house and log barn, and raising chickens, dairy cows, hay, wheat, and other crops to sell. Christian also worked in the Butte mines in the winter while Belle raised their eight children.
By 1907, the farm was prospering and the family added this water tank house, a luxury at the time, and also added a second story on the farmhouse. The tank house provided gravity powered running water for the kitchen by pulling water from a nearby windmill and storing it in an elevated zinc tank in the upper portion of the tower. Below, a water trough kept dairy products cool, and in the winter a stove ran to keep the water from freezing.
Water tank houses are a rare and unusual site to see on Montana farms. Many farmers could never afford to build one in the first place, and those who did often did not maintain them after local water and sewer service arrived. That this one is still standing shows the generations of Wiley family members’ continuity and good stewardship over many years.
The Porter-Blasdel barn is an icon in the Lower Valley and one that many people hate to see wither over the years.
Frank Porter, a wealthy logging contractor and farmer, purchased land in the Lower Valley in 1904 and had this barn built in 1908. Although lighter “stick” framing was becoming common at the time, Frank used his connections in the timber industry to build an enormous barn complete with heavy timber framing, just like the barns in the old country.
Kevin Shinn (left), Manager of the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Blasdel Waterfowl Production Area and Christine Brown of MPA (right) explained some history of the Porter Ranch. Porter sold the ranch and everything with it in 1918 to a wealthy cattlemen in the valley, but tough economic times in MT after 1918, saw the ranch owned by a bank until 1945 when the Blasdel family bought it. Today the US Fish & Wildlife Service owns it as part of the Blasdel Waterfowl Production Area, an important nesting habitat that has preserved much land and wildlife around Flathead Lake.
Apparently, the barn was only used by Porter to have a grand party in the loft, and to occasionally store hay.
MPA Executive Director Chere Jiusto enjoyed the many photo opps in this barn.
The McClarty Barn and the Porter-Blasdel barn are in a family of several barns in the vicinity that look very much alike. Joseph McClarty built this barn in 1910, around the same time that several very similar barns were constructed from Kalispell to Creston and Big Fork. It is not known who designed or built the barns, or if it was a common barn plan that the local lumber company offered. Some of the barns have heavy timbering in the rafter, and other have more modern stick framing.
Gael Bissell, retired biologist at MT Fish, Wildlife, & Parks helped coordinate the restoration of the McClarty barn with the owner in 2014.
The McClarty barn is a lucky save for descendants and caretakers of this farm. In 1992, Darrell Worm bought the property, and leased the land to a farmer. In 2014, with the barn in very rough shape, MT Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, Flathead Land Trust, and Mr. Worm worked together to add 189 acres of the McClarty Farm to the North Shore Wildlife Management Area with funding from the Bonneville Power Administration. The terms of the sale then allowed Mr. Worm to restore the barn.
A narrow driveway prevented getting inside our last stop at the Oldenburg Barn on Oldenburg Road. Built by Charles Oldenburg in the 1910s, it was another one of several like it to dot the Lower Valley landscape. It is still in excellent condition today, and is used for family gatherings.