Community Spotlight~Dean Community Club

This week, as the seventh part of an ongoing series of articles, the ACF is highlighting one grant recipient, the Dean Community Club. The ACF granted the organization $1000 for much needed repairs to the historic Dean Schoolhouse. Rita Westrum so graciously put together a bit of history about the schoolhouse and their restoration project.

By Rita Westrum: As with many rural Montana schools, when the Dean School first opened in 1902, it was housed in a log cabin (the log schoolhouse was located approximately 1 mile east of the present school, and was near the Fiddler Creek Road). When the cabin burned in 1914, the homestead community quickly built the present schoolhouse and attached teacherage on donated land. While the new school was being built, the children attended school in a granary, located on the Grover Rickman ranch.

In the early years, most children either walked or rode horseback to school. The school grades over the years ranged from first grade to eighth, with the number of children attending varying from the three in 1919 (during the influenza) to 32 in the early 1940s.

Some people who attended the school remember the big pot-bellied stove in the classroom, sweeping the floor, bringing in the coal and washing the blackboards. 

The Dean schoolhouse exhibits classic simple, one-room school characteristics with its one-story, hipped-roof and row of original windows along the east wall. The north entry is protected by a two-sided hipped-roof vestibule. A tall belfry protruding from the north roof-slope houses the original school bell that still rings today and further distinguishes the school. 

The north front door opens into the coatroom where Connie (Kissler) Mills remembers, “there was a place to hang your coats, hats and your overshoes or boots. The teacher had placed a wash basin for the children to wash their hands and face. A water jug was used to bring in the water from a pump.” The one-room classroom today still retains its original wainscoting, the original  blackboard covering the length of the south wall, original metal decorative ceiling and maple flooring (which was refinished in 2013). There were only outdoor toilets (indoor restrooms were added sometime in the 1950’s or early 1960’s).

In an area of distance and isolation, Dean Schoolhouse reflects the importance of education to the early settlers of southern Stillwater County. This part of Stillwater County had only been opened for settlement about ten years when they started the school. During the homestead boom years in Montana, the hills surrounding Dean filled up with families, and the schoolhouse served as the educational and social center of the community. 

Unfortunately, the student numbers dwindled after the Mouat Chrome Mine closed in the 1960’s, and in 1967, the decision was made to close the Dean School and consolidate with Fishtail.

The importance of the school to the community was evident by the immediate effort after the school closure by the local residents to establish the Dean Community Club so the school would continue to bring neighbors together. 

The ensuing years saw the Dean Schoolhouse continue as a gathering place for social events. Many dances, potlucks, card parties, and anniversary celebrations were held there over the past 50 years. In the spring of 2018, the membership agreed that the Schoolhouse needed substantial repairs to bring it back to its former stately appearance. With limited membership and limited funds, we knew that we would need to ask the larger community for help. We were overwhelmed by the response to our request for financial help to accomplish the monumental task of refurbishing the Schoolhouse. Through generous grants from the Nye and Absarokee Community Foundations, as well as from Sibanye Stillwater Mining, and many donations and memorials from individuals, and countless hours of volunteer work by the members and other volunteers, the Schoolhouse now boasts new shingles on the roof and new exterior paint. And, because of the amazing community support, we received enough money to replace the ceiling and the flooring in the kitchen area. Of course, we couldn’t stop there, so the interior has been completely re-painted and we are planning to replace the countertops in the kitchen. A few jobs remain, including re-roofing the horse barn and painting the window frames, but we have some determined members who will not rest until those tasks are completed as well.

To date, 503 volunteer hours have been contributed to the renovation. We are hoping to get the roof on the shed (original horse barn) replaced this coming spring.  We also plan to have an open house this spring 2019 to celebrate the completion of this huge project. We will let you know the date. Please plan to attend and see the beautiful Dean Schoolhouse as it was meant to be!