This week there was a woman whose path I crossed many times. When I would drive by her, she would be sitting in her car gazetteer in hand, appearing to be studying it intensely. Later she would drive by me while I was recording survey data or looking at my maps picking my way to my next location. We finally met up when we were both having lunch at Calf-A with our maps and notebooks spread out on the table while we ate. We laughed because we had smiled and waved at each other, so it was almost like we knew one another before we had introduced ourselves.
This woman was also doing survey work also. She was a grad student who was working on a project for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Montana’s rural school houses were listed in 2013 as one of the 11 most endangered places. She was documenting one and two room school houses in Montana.I love history and would loved to have spent a day working with her. The old school houses often tell the story of rural communities not just the teacher, but also the students and their families, their hardships and their joys. Montana still has lots of functional one and two room school houses, but they are considered endangered as like the rest of the country we become more urbanized and families become smaller. As schools are combine and abandon they become at risk for vandalism or destruction, if a new purpose is not found for them.
It was fun to listen to this woman tell about coming from Tennessee to do this project in Montana. How she was discovering so much as she traveled around finding remnants of old school houses many of them still standing. She told me how where she was from the old school houses were no more than a place on a map. Here our dry climate has managed to keep many of the old buildings still intact. We also have many one room schools that were started so many years ago still in use. She told of the feeling of walking into a school that was a clapboard building covering the original log school and seeing computers. The past supporting the future and changing to do so.
I would cross paths with her the rest of the week. Next week I will be another county but I will think of her each time I drive by another school building wondering if she got a chance to visit and document that one.