Libby’s Heritage Museum nominated to National Register of Historic Places
The Heritage Museum in Libby is under consideration for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building features a unique 12-sided design of hand-peeled and notched western larch and lodgepole pine logs, standing 130 feet in diameter. The 12-sided structure is called a “dodecagon” shape, and includes a 30-foot diameter cupola, which originates and extends to the ground floor of the museum.
“The hand-peeled and notched logs embody the distinctive characteristics of construction of Libby’s historical and western motif displayed in the building’s quite unusual and rare design,” the nominating form notes. “Log buildings often present a generalized square or rectangle footprint. A few ventures further outside the box and display hexagonal or octagonal design. Even fewer, however, display decagonal design.
“The Libby Heritage Museum stands as an exceptional example of the modern design that integrates regionally historic elements, materials, and forms.”
Between 800 and 900 native logs were used for the building, including chinking, which were donated by the Kootenai National Forest through an agreement with Lincoln County. Two oversized, hand-crafted wooden mandoors provide access into the building, while an oversized double metal door, large enough to drive through, is on the north side of the building.
The 13,500-square foot museum features two stories of exhibit space, with a third floor for storage. Two half-log staircases provide access to the upper floors of the cupola.
Just as important as the structure is the context in which it was constructed. Built almost exclusively by hundreds of volunteers beginning in 1975, the community-wide effort came as work on the Libby Dam was winding down and concerns over widespread asbestos health-related issues were mounting.
The community realized the importance of the history of Libby, and after the 1971 death of local artist Roy D. Porter, decided to build a structure large enough to house his vast collections, as well as those of others, and archival information for researchers.
Because the presence of asbestos manufacturing literally was life changing for Libby, the Heritage Museum is the repository for the historical records of not only the vermiculite mining, but also for records of the cleanup, both digitally and with hard copy archives.
The museum opened its doors in 1978.
The Heritage Museum stands as a testament to the best collaborative efforts of a small community, illustrating what can be completed through hard work, vision, and planning, without a large financial investment.
If approved by the National Park Service, this will be Libby’s first National Register listing since 2012.
“Kudos to the Heritage Museum volunteers, and especially Sherry Turner, who took it upon themselves to list their building,” said John Boughton, the national register coordinator at Montana’s State Historic Preservation Office. “Although the building is less than 50 years old – usually one of the requirements for listing in the National Register – the backstory of the community effort to construct the building, its importance to the community, along with its unmistakable architecture allows this building to move forward for listing among the significant historic buildings in Libby.”
National Register listing provides a property recognition for its historic value and rewards efforts in preserving it. Listing of a building, site, or district also affords prestige that can enhance its value and raise community awareness and pride. While National Register properties don’t have to be preserved, listing does ensure that preservation is taken to be an important consideration whenever a building’s or site’s future is in question.
Turner added that the Heritage Museum serves as a significant and exceptional repository of local historical artifacts and information.
“As I searched the Museum archives for documents needed for the register application, I was awestruck to discover this amazing story of community perseverance and volunteerism in Libby that resulted in the building of the Museum,” Turner said. “Since retiring and beginning working as a volunteer, it makes me feel good to accomplish goals and give back to the community.”
For more information, contact Boughton at 406/444-3647.