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Fundraising nearly complete for Fort Missoula barracks restoration project

Fort Missoula barrack building. (Barry Swackhamer/HistoricalMarker Database)

Plans to restore one of the last surviving elements of a Word War II detention center at Fort Missoula is slated to break ground next spring, bringing two of the camp’s original barracks back to their original condition.

Missoula County last week signed off on a professional services agreement with A&E Design to begin planning the structural and mechanical restoration of the two buildings, which were used at the Alien Detention Center in the early 1940s.

“They’ll move the project forward to the point where we’re ready to break ground, as soon as the ground thaws, at this point next year,” said Matt Lautzenheiser, the museum’s executive director. “We’re excited to get working and see this project come to fruition.”

The museum applied for and received a National Park Service grant last year worth around $500,000. The grant was well received and left the museum and project supporters in a position to raise the remaining funds needed to complete the project.

Lautzenheiser placed the total cost at roughly $800,000.

“We are nearly complete in our fundraising phase of this,” he said. “We’ve raised a little over $781,000. We’re within the finish line now.”

During World War II, Ft. Missoula was turned over to the Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service for use as an Alien Detention Center.

Between 1941 and 1944, the center held around 1,200 Italian men, 1,000 Japanese resident aliens, along with some Germans. When the earliest detainee arrived, they were originally housed in two barracks buildings built in 1910.

But according to the museum, 16 wood-frame barracks were shipped to the fort in 1941 for housing, and another 14 barracks were completed later that year. The barracks each held 40 to 60 men.

The museum has been planning the restoration of the two buildings now for years.

“To do a property restoration, we need to have somebody come in and they literally catalog every individual piece we have of these and give us a plan to move forward,” Lautzenheiser said two years ago, when the effort began. “The idea would be that we’d have a whole series or a complex of buildings related to the internment story at Fort Missoula we could use to tell that story.”