Historic preservation group looking at options to save Boston and Montana Barn in Black Eagle

The Great Falls Cascade County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission is looking at options to preserve the Boston and Montana Barn.

The aging barn is in Black Eagle, owned by the City of Great Falls and is the last remaining building owned by the Boston and Montana Consolidated Copper and Silver Mining Company, which built a smelter in Great Falls in the early 1890s and was later acquired by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, according to HPAC.

In 2021, the joint-city county advisory group passed a resolution asking the governing bodies of the city and county to help financially support an engineering study to determine the barn’s condition and options to preserve it.

In 2021, HPAC committed $10,000 toward the effort to save the barn through a $5,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and $5,000 from the city’s Christmas ornament sales.

The Big Sky County National Heritage Area Inc. contributed $10,000 toward the initial assessment that city contracted with Cushing Terrell earlier this year to conduct for $17,900.

County selects preferred land use plan for former smelter site [2021]

During their April 12, 2023 meeting, HPAC discussed plans for stabilization and preservation with architects and engineers.

Tony Houtz, an architect with Cushing Terrell, said that they’ve developed plans to shore up and stabilize the barn so that HPAC can look at further restoration later.

The engineers said there’s not much left of the foundation and the roof is deteriorating.

Houtz said the plan includes placing plywood sheathing and a membrane over the roof to keep water and snow out and buy a few more years for the roof.

Houtz said they also plan to close up windows with some screening to allow ventilation, and temporarily frame in the foundation to keep rodents out. That would have access panels to the underside of the structure and for ventilation.

To avoid damaging the historic integrity of the structure, Houtz said they’d screw coverings into the exterior siding around windows and doors, leaving a few with screens for ventilation.

Houtz said they built cost estimates based on bidding the project in December. If they bid sooner than that, costs might be lower, but if they bid after that, there’d likely be more inflation.

“This is gonna be slower work, we won’t be able to just blow through this,” Houtz told the HPAC.

The cost estimate to stabilize the barn is $576,000, Houtz said. The estimate does not include project management costs.

Rodney Blake with TD&H Engineering said the next phase of a potential project would be the big chunk of structural work and “the following phase would be pretty costly.”

Ellen Seivert, an HPAC member and former historic preservation officer for the city, said “where in the world are we going to get that kind of money?”

Houtz said if the board was okay with the preliminary stabilization plan, the team would finalize the proposal and cost estimates in a formal document for city officials to determine next steps.

The barn is a two-story, wood framed, gable-roofed structure with a sandstone foundation built in a T-plan oriented north-south on the south end of the Anaconda Hills golf course, according to the city-county historic preservation office.

The barn has served a variety of uses over more than a century.

For an unknown period, it served as a fire station for the ACM facility with three finished bedrooms housing firemen on the northwest wall of the west wing, which was protected by a sprinkler system, according to the city-county historic preservation office.

According to oral reports in a city-county historic preservation office background on the barn, firemen played basketball on the second floor of the east wing and removed structural supports to have a clear playing space, weakening the structural system.

The barn was used for automobiles and storage in 1929 and in 1950, the second floor had a gymnasium while the first floor continued to be used for storage and vehicles, according to city documents.

The city Park and Recreation Department used the barn for golf cart and other recreational storage needs until it became too dilapidated, according to city documents.

According to the 2021 HPAC resolution, the smelter-refinery was the area’s larger employer and provided much of the copper for the Allied war effort during World Wars I and II.

“There was a common saying that ‘copper from Great Falls wired the world,'” according to the HPAC resolution.

The smelter closed in 1980 and the structures on the property were demolished or moved.

The barn is the only remaining structure from the company, according to HPAC.

“The building is of significant historical value, the last structure still standing that represents the greatest industrial era in Great Falls history. But it is in danger of collapse and destruction,” according to the HPAC resolution.

HPAC is exploring funding options for barn preservation efforts.