Deer Lodge Museums & Sights

We started Monday by taking Tia, the warrior princess, to the local vet to have an infection checked on her shoulder.  Seems as if she and Tex, the 80 lb black Lab, had to establish themselves before we left Donnelly and a small wound turned into a bad sore.  After lunch we drove to two more unique museums in Deer Lodge.  Both are located at the Old Montana Prison Museum Complex on Main Street.  In the 1800s Montana was a wild and rousty place with cowboys and miners everywhere.  After several petitions to the government, funds for the construction for the prison were obtained.  The prison was built in 1871 and began as a Territorial Prison.  After Montana became a state in 1889 it became the State Prison then continued as the primary penal institution until 1979.  Throughout the prison’s history, the institution was plagued with constant overcrowding, insufficient funds, and antiquated facilities. The administration of Warden Frank Conley from 1890 to 1921 proved the exception to this rule, as Warden Conley instituted extensive inmate labor projects that kept many inmates at work constructing the prison buildings and walls as well as providing various state and community services like road building, logging, and ranching.  Even some of the roads we drove on the day before were built by inmates from this prison.  A riot in 1907 when a junior warden was killed caused an increase in the building programs when the current stone wall was built to replace the old wooden fences.  It is 24 ft tall and 4 ft thick at the bottom with 3 ft underground.  After Conley left office, the prison experienced almost forty years of degeneration, mismanagement, and monetary restraints until an explosive riot in 1959 captured the attention of the nation.  Led by Jerry Myles and Lee Smart, the riot maintained the prison under inmate control for thirty-six hours before the Montana National Guard stormed the institution to restore order.  There is a good self guided tour and it takes awhile to tour the whole place.  The Old Prison was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and is now a museum.

After we finished the prison tour we walked next door into the Montana Auto Museum.  Now this is a real treasure and a must see for any car buff.  There are over 150 cars here in pristine condition from a 1903 Ford to 1980s T Bird.  Also listed as a “USA Today” top ten must see car museum, we definitely agree.  Many of the cars are part of the collection of Former State Senator Sherman Anderson and his wife Bonnie who live in Deer Lodge.  Some of the Fords here are from the collection of Edward Towe who collected some 300 antique cars, almost all Fords, at least one of each year, starting with a 1923 Model T Ford Roadster which he purchased and fully restored in 1954.  Along with master restorer Lewis Rector, Edward Towe developed the finest and most complete collection of antique Fords in the world.  When the collection outgrew the display in his bank basement in Circle, MT, it was moved to Helena, where for 10 years it was housed in the Montana Historical Museum.  The cars were moved to the Towe Antique Ford Museum in Deer Lodge in 1979.  Some of the cars were moved to Sacramento in 1987 and there continued to be two antique Ford museums until the collection was sold to satisfy an argument with the IRS in 1997.  It was the largest sale of antique cars from one collection ever.  The cars went to Japan, Holland and many other places around the world.  A large percentage, however, were purchased by local buyers which allowed them to be kept in their respective museums and both are still in operation as antique automobile museums today.  We even saw an antique Cozy Travel Trailer from 1933.  And we saw a Porsche from the first year made.  They had several really great 55 Chevys in the original colors.  After that we were tired so stopped at Safeway for milk & eggs then home to fix fried trout from Lake Cascade.  Ahh, another great day in Montana.

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