A century ago in the Bitterroot Valley, US Public Health Service scientists battling Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever moved from their small facility in Victor, Montana, to a schoolhouse west of Hamilton. Honoring the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the Ricketts Lab, the Office of NIH History and Sletten Museum in Bethesda, Maryland, has a great on-line presentation with plenty of historic photos.

The lab started research work in 1921, probably on September 20, continuing the Victor studies on ticks, which had been going on since 1912. The lab was in operation until 1928, when the much larger Rocky Mountain Laboratories campus opened on South 4th Street in Hamilton. The National Institutes of Health lab has continued operation and has grown since then. The Rocky Mountain Laboratories are part of the NIAID of the NIH.

The Schoolhouse Lab building was remodeled, eliminating its top floor. Then, in 1995, the interior was turned into a community theater by the Hamilton Players, who also added rooms to include a larger stage area and lobby. It looks much different today (photo below).

The online site presents information about the early history of finding a vaccine against Rocky Mountain spotted fever, spread by ticks in the Bitterroot Valley and elsewhere. The vaccine was first used in 1924 when Dr. Roscoe Spencer inoculated himself. Before the vaccine, the disease had an 80 percent fatality rate.

There are over 80 photos included in the presentation. Michele Lyons, associate director and curator at the NIH Museum said there were three main reasons for the display. In a news release she said, "First, the schoolhouse laboratory was really the beginning of RML. The people there developed a vaccine for such a deadly disease when they didn't even know about molecular biology or have much technology. That really blew my mind. Second, the whole endeavor grew out of cooperation. There were state and federal governments at an organizing level, and entomologists and physicians at a professional level. Lastly, the cache of excellent and some gross photos showing their research and how they made the vaccine gave life to the project."

Hamilton playhouse
The entrance of the old lab is not used as much today. (Steve Fullerton, Townsquare Media)

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