Fort Assinniboine group wins preservation award


October 14, 2013

Lindsay Brown

Two of the buildings at Fort Assinniboine are seen surrounded by fall foliage Saturday.

The Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association, which has worked for 25 years to maintain the remaining buildings at the fort north of Havre, has been honored with the Historic Preservation Excellence Award.

It was one of six awards presented by the Montana Preservation Alliance to people and organizations across the state that have made “strides to save and protect Montana’s special historic buildings and places.”

The alliance lauded the Fort Assinniboine group for preserving and interpreting the 14 buildings that remain of the 75-building complex that housed soldiers from 1871 to 1911.

Candi Zion of the Havre/Hill County Historic Preservation Commission, submitted the nomination for the award.

The buildings had fallen into disrepair after they sat unused for many years. Twenty-five years ago, the preservation association was formed to help restore some of the buildings and to provide educational tours for tourists and local residents.

“It’s kind of neat that we won this during our 25th anniversary,” said Gary Wilson, longtime fort association president and founding member.

Lyndia Taplin, the group’s treasurer and grants writer, said the association has been “a hand-to-mouth operation,” for the last quarter century.

It has been exciting seeing some of the building preserved and restored, though it has been tough having so little money, she said.

“It’s discouraging to be out there and see the progress and then when a heavy Montana wind comes by, we lose a porch on one of the buildings,” she said

But Taplin said she sees a bright future for the fort.

There is an increase in interest among volunteers, she said, and more people are visiting the fort.

This year, the fort got a grant to have a tour guide on staff all day Monday through Friday, so visitors don’t have to make appointments.

Wilson is still available for twice-daily tours on weekends.

Winning the award may open the doors to get more grants to finance improvements, she said.

Wilson said numerous community groups and funding organizations have supported the association’s effort.

“If the Havre/Hill County Preservation Commission hadn’t come in to help us, I may have given up by now,” he said.

The county’s Tourism Committee and the a variety of long-time Havre area historians have also been invaluable in their support, he said, pointing to Toni Hagener, Jim Spangelo and Jim Magera, Wilson said.

Other winners of the Montana Preservation Alliance awards

• The Art Family: Mike and Eve Art and family of Pray, are honored for 40 years of sensitive development and stewardship at Chico Hot Springs.

• Diane Sands has won several major awards for her outstanding contributions to women’s rights advocacy and humanities research. But as the development director at the Fort Missoula Historic Museum from 2005 to 2012, she has been instrumental in preserving significant stories of the Garden City’s military and transportation history.

• Billings brothers Mike and Chris Nelson purchased the Northern Hotel in Billings at auction in 2009 with a clear vision to give Billings back its most modern hotel with four-star amenities and service, while preserving its unique history and grace.

• Kirby Matthew, U.S. Forest Service Region One preservation team leader, who retires this year after more than 30 years with the U.S. Forest Service, deserves much applause for his distinguished career preserving dozens of significant Forest Service buildings in Montana, Idaho and North Dakota.

• With Nicholas Vrooman's publication of Nicholas Vrooman’s “The Whole Country was … ‘One Robe’: The Little Shell Tribe’s America,” this former ranch hand, folklorist, historian and scholar has achieved his life’s work. Since 1976, Vrooman has surrounded himself with traditional Northern Plains culture of which Metis people are a part.


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