Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The historic LaLonde Ranch in the Missoula Valley hasn't seen many uses in recent years, though local historians have described it as a cultural treasure that highlights the evolution of European settlement in Missoula.

Now, having restored the property, Missoula County plans to place it on the National Register of Historic Places and consider the Community Food and Agricultural Coalition as the new tenant.

The county is also planning for public access.

“We're in the process of renovating and restoring the facility. This is kind of a milestone for us,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said on Monday.

The ranch was settled by Adam LaLonde in the 1870s and, over the past 150 years, it has stood witness to the changes that have taken place in the Missoula Valley.

LaLonde constructed a small log cabin on the property, which remains standing in its original location. The precise date of the adjoining brick ranch house is unknown, though historians believe it was built around 1888 using materials from the Hollenbeck Brickyard, once located two miles south of the ranch.

The county plans to conduct more research on the ranch, gather stories and work to preserve the property over the long term.

“This as far as I can tell is the highest profile win for historic preservation in recent years,” said Strohmaier. “This site has been on Preserve Historic Missoula's list of most endangered sites for years. This is one that's going in a different direction than some of the other properties.”

Preserving historic properties isn't an inexpensive undertaking and in Missoula, it has been a challenging proposition. While some properties have been lost, such as the Mercantile, others have been saved like the Radio Central Building and, perhaps, the hospital at Fort Missoula, which will be up for debate in the coming weeks.

By the mid 20th century, the LaLonde ranch had passed out of family ownership to Alvin Gooden and his family. The Goodens continued improving the property, adding new barns and other agricultural necessities.

In its effort to restore the property, the county hopes to uncover stories from the past.

“A few years ago, I got a call from a guy who lived out there in the 1950s, and he said they raised turkeys in one of those upstairs bedrooms,” Strohmaier said.

LaLonde Ranch

Missoula County inherited the property in 1991 and struggled to determine its future. A cyclecross race was held at the property in 2019 and one group proposed turning the property into an orchard and food processing facility.

But with restorations made, the county will consider the Community Food and Agricultural Coalition as a tenant.

While the property's history remains incomplete, its place in the valley is more obvious. Missoula has grown up around the once-rural homestead, with Interstate 90 skirting the property's northern edge and the airport just south.

The county hopes to get the property listed on the national register this year.

“That will be an important milestone,” said county planner Chet Crowser. “The nomination is made, and once it's actually listed on the national register, that will put us in a position to go after additional grant funding to round out everything we want to see happen out there.”

The county had been uncertain about the property's uses and future, but took steps to resolve that unclarity just before the pandemic hit. It created a focus group that helped lead the county to adopt a strategic vision for the property.

Now, Crowser said, the county is in position to list the ranch and open it to public access.

“There's been discussion since then on what we do next, what are some of the opportunities we have,” Crowser said. “That's what turned into some of these priorities around trying to renovate the site.”