Montana State Training School Old Administration Building
Montana pledged its commitment to children with disabilities in 1887 when Territorial Governor Preston Leslie requested funds for a Montana Deaf and Dumb Asylum. Its title, although shocking by today’s standards, reflects accepted nineteenth-century terminology and attitudes. Upon statehood in 1889, Congress granted Montana 50,000 acres of land to raise funds for the school. The 1893 legislature provided operating expenses and chose Boulder as the site. Students attended classes in a private home while the school built this first campus building, begun in 1896 and completed in 1898. Despite its formidable name, the school offered innovative college-preparatory instruction and training for deaf and blind youth. In 1903, the state legislature changed the name to the Montana School for the Deaf and Dumb, thereby acknowledging that it was not an “asylum,” but rather a public school for children with special needs. By 1915, additional buildings increased the campus capacity to 200 students, who ranged from ages 5 to 20. By this time its mission had expanded to include educating developmentally disabled youth. Until the 1930s, this building served numerous purposes as the center of activities, housing for students and staff, and dining rooms. Blind students learned various manual industries and deaf students learned lip-reading in addition to the usual public school curriculum. The school also offered an extensive music program. State architect John C. Paulsen designed the building of local brick and granite, appropriately trimmed in Montana copper. The blending of Italianate and Renaissance revival styles, and its long institutional service, mark this Boulder landmark as a state milestone.