Eleven years before statehood, Deer Lodge became home to Montana’s first postsecondary school: the Montana Collegiate Institute. The nonsectarian, coeducational college offered both high school classes and a classical graduating course “as comprehensive and thorough as that of most seminaries and female colleges.” Architects H. DeWitt and Henry L. Gay of Chicago designed the institute’s first building. However, the building committee stripped the design of much of its ornamentation after it received the initial construction bids. The simplified hipped-roof, two-story Trask Hall was constructed in 1878 for approximately $13,000, using locally quarried granite and bricks imported from Helena. The school folded under financial strain after only a year. Three years later, the Presbyterian Church acquired the institute and changed its name to the College of Montana. Nationally, Presbyterians saw the college as part of their campaign to civilize and Christianize the West, and a generous East Coast donor, Alanson Trask, paid the school’s remaining $6,000 debt. Trask Hall was renamed in his honor. At its peak, the college boasted 15 faculty and 160 students, housed in two dormitories. Among the faculty was Theodore Brantly, who became chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court upon statehood. The school closed in 1900, unable to compete with the new, state-funded university system. It reopened under different management in 1906 only to close for good in 1917. In 1921, School District One purchased the campus, including Trask Hall. Nevertheless, Montana’s Presbyterians continued to support higher education, ultimately uniting with other denominations to found Rocky Mountain College in Billings.


Trask Hall
Trask Hall Trask Hall. Front view of the building, facing east near 5th Street in Deer Lodge, Montana. Source: Montana State Historic Preservation Office Creator: Photographer unknown Date: Date unknown


444 Montana Avenue, Deer Lodge, Montana | Public


The Montana National Register Sign Program, “Trask Hall,” Historic Montana, accessed July 13, 2024, https://historicmt.org/items/show/1723.