Located in Western Montana’s Glacier Country and just a few miles from downtown Missoula, the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula welcomes nearly 50,000 visitors annually. It’s a spacious site with stunning views of the Montana landscape, great educational exhibits, and community-centered special events. In addition, the museum has many features that make it unique. Below are the Top 5 hidden gems for groups experiencing Fort Missoula’s rich history.
Glacial Lake Missoula: You’ve traveled several hours by bus, and everyone is going a bit stir crazy. All your travelers want is to pull over and get some fresh air. Why not stop at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula? You can stretch your legs on the museum’s 32 park-like acres, enjoying panoramic views of the beautiful Missoula Valley, and you may even see evidence of glacial lake Missoula.
During the Ice Age, what is the Missoula Valley today was once all under water. Glacial Lake Missoula drained suddenly, multiple times, as the glaciers retreated, sculpting the landscape of the Northwest. Today, evidence of Glacial Lake Missoula can be seen on the hillsides surrounding the Missoula Valley.
WWII Alien Detention Center: One of the least-known stories of Fort Missoula, but one that holds the most international significance, is that of the men who were interned at Fort Missoula during WWI. Fort Missoula was home to an Alien Detention Center that held 1,200 Italian and 1,000 Japanese foreign nationals. The Italians were merchant seamen, World’s Fair workers, and others trapped in the United States at the dawn of WWII. They were held at Fort Missoula from 1941 – 1945 out of the fear that if they were to return to Italy, they would fight against the U.S. allies in Europe.
The Japanese men held at Fort Missoula were a very different story. They were prominent West Coast community, business and religious leaders. As resident aliens, they were not permitted to apply for US citizenship due to the laws of the time. During their internment in Missoula, they were subjected to a series of loyalty hearings that were conducted in a now-restored courtroom on the museum grounds. The museum staff are happy to arrange private tours for groups to visit the courtroom and its related exhibit to learn more about this very dark time in American History.
The Teepee Burner: At one point during Western Montana’s past, Teepee Burners dotted the landscape. Teepee burners were used to burn waste from the many sawmills in the West. During the evenings, the teepee burners glowed, illuminating the valley.
Today, they have disappeared from Missoula as the waste from sawmills has been repurposed. One of the few that remains resides on the campus of the Historical Museum. Come out to rediscover this beautiful, yet controversial, artifact of the past.
The Trolley Barn: Have you ever set foot on a streetcar trolley? Now is your chance. The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula has a fully restored interurban streetcar. Housed in the museum’s trolley barn, along with a restored stagecoach and Missoula’s first firetruck, group tours can arrange to not only view the streetcar up close, but climb aboard and experience what life was like for residents of Missoula in the 1920s.
The Collection: One of the little-known, but most interesting aspects of all museums are their collections. Currently, the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula houses over 45,000 objects, photos and documents from Missoula’s past. Artifacts range from furniture to postcards. In recent years, the Historical Museum has taken steps to raise awareness of this important aspect of all museums. The Historical Museum staff is happy to provide tours of “behind the scenes” areas allowing visitors to interact with the collection.
The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula is located at 3400 Captain Rawn Way, Missoula, MT, 59804. Please visit www.fortmissoulamuseum.org for more information or to book your group tour.