There's a long-running debate about the "birthplace of Montana", with advocates for Fort Benton and Stevensville arguing each location is where the "Treasure State" really started.

There's no debating that Fort Owen represents an important landmark in Montana history, not only for its permanence for the Bitterroot but the economic importance of the trading post for the entire Northern Rockies region in the mid-1800s. Yet it became apparent a few years ago that this historically valuable spot, and one of Montana's smallest state parks, had an uncertain future.

Now, the restoration efforts are reaching a major milestone, honoring the past, and sending positive signals for the future.

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A new beginning

The future of Fort Owen began when Myra Yahraus pledged to work with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Friends of Fort Owen, to ensure the fort site was preserved, and compatible with the working ranch she purchased.

The transformation started in 2020, with funding from the State Parks Foundation, the Helmsley Family Trust, and the Montana Historic Preservation program, aiming to save the remaining adobe building, improve other buildings and exhibits, add parking, and other improvements.

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A unique structure

Stevensville's history goes back to 1841, when Jesuit missionaries established St. Mary's Mission. In 1850, John Owen acquired the fort site, transforming it into a center for agriculture and trade. It's on the National Register of Historic Places and known for many "firsts" in Montana history.

Making hundreds of adobe bricks for the project; Dennis Bragg photo
Making hundreds of adobe bricks for the project; Dennis Bragg photo

The main building is one of the oldest in Montana and is known for its unique adobe construction, which has been the focus of a multi-year effort of research and restoration. It's one of the few places in the state where the architecture that's common in the Southwest was used here in the Northern Rockies.

Mason Soloman Martin rebuilds the adobe wall in 2022; Dennis Bragg photo
Mason Soloman Martin rebuilds the adobe wall in 2022; Dennis Bragg photo

Ribbon cutting next week

On Saturday, June 8th, FWP will honor all the work of the experts and volunteers with an official "ribbon cutting", starting at 11 am to celebrate the accomplishment. The event is free and open to the public.

Because the park is surrounded by the ranch, FWP asks people to watch for signs marking the boundaries and only park, or walk, on the park property.

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Gallery Credit: Ashley

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