Montana State University

Much of MSU now listed as district in National Register of Historic Places

January 28, 2014 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

This map shows the newly designated historic district at Montana State University in Bozeman. The area inside the red lines is now listed as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. The blue buildings are at least 50 years old and contributed to the designation. The other buildings in the district are “non-contributing.”    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN – A large portion of the Montana State University campus is now listed as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places.

The designation means that signs can be posted on or near 30 MSU buildings that are at least 50 years old and located inside the historic district, which is roughly bounded by West College Street, South 11th Avenue, West Grant Street and South 6th Avenue, said National Register Coordinator John Boughton, in the Montana State Historical Preservation Office of the Montana Historical Society.

The signs would give a brief history of the buildings and explain why they are unique, Boughton said.

Taylor Hall, for one, is the oldest building on campus. It was built in 1894. Next is Montana Hall, built in 1896. MSU had a building boom in the 1920s, so the historic district contains several buildings from that era, including Herrick Hall, Lewis Hall, Romney Gym, the Heating Plant and Roberts Hall. Some buildings constructed in the 1950s no longer exist because they were temporary buildings to accommodate the influx of students using the G.I. Bill.

“MSU is a great campus and definitely worth listing,” Boughton said.

He added that Montana now has 1,118 listings on the National Historic Register. Of those, 157 are historic districts. About 10 of those districts are in Bozeman. 

Courtney Kramer, historic preservation officer for Bozeman, said, "National Register listing recognizes the architectural gems on MSU's campus, from Mission Revival-style Hamilton Hall to the mid-century modern Fieldhouse. These buildings represent Montana's commitment to higher education for over a century. It's the first National Register listing in Bozeman since the mid-1990s, and it's wonderful to see the nomination come to fruition." 

Boughton said the historic district designation doesn’t mean that every building in the district is old. The district, in fact, contains Jabs Hall, which is being built now, and the Chemistry and Biochemistry Building, which was dedicated in 2008. Those buildings are classified as “non-contributing” buildings to the historic value of the district.

And just because a building is old doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a “contributing” building, Boughton said. A more important factor is how much the building still looks like it did when it was built.

“If it was muddled with several times in many ways, it may not necessarily retain enough integrity to be contributing to the district,” Boughton said.

The historic designation won’t keep old buildings from being torn down or remodeled on the MSU campus, Boughton said. Original materials won’t be required in remodeling projects, but builders might incorporate materials and designs that look original. Montana Hall, for example, once had a cupola made with slate, but its replacement was made with simulated slate. 

Victoria Drummond, associate university planner with MSU Facilities Planning, Design and Construction, said the Montana Historical Preservation Office will review and give recommendations about construction projects within the district, but it doesn't make decisions for MSU.

“We are not a museum,” she said. “MSU is a vibrant, dynamic campus that has to adapt to its changing population.”

The drive to designate a historic district at MSU evolved from the passage of Senate Bill 3 in 2011, Drummond said. The bill basically required state agencies and the university system to report to the state Historic Preservation Review Board and for the board/SHPO to report to the legislature biennially on the stewardship of Montana’s state-owned heritage properties.

The University Facilities Planning Board at MSU recommended in 2012 that MSU and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) work together to hire an outside consultant to conduct a historic architectural survey of MSU. Jessie Nunn, cultural resources consultant from Livingston, prepared the 129-page nomination.

“This effort would help fulfill statutory responsibilities that both SHPO and MSU have regarding State Heritage Properties,” UFPB officers wrote in a letter to MSU President Waded Cruzado. “If the survey indicates a historic district is appropriate, then SHPO will partner with MSU to nominate the district for inclusion on the National Register. Such nomination could bring MSU recognition favorable to prospective students, faculty and staff as historic buildings contribute to the campus fabric and its historic identity reflecting on the stature, quality and integrity of MSU.”

Cruzado signed the recommendation letter on June 28, 2012, giving her go-ahead to the project. MSU and SHPO then hired Jessie Nunn, a private consultant from Livingston, to assess the cultural assets at MSU. She determined that they were significant enough to warrant a historic district nomination and submitted her report and individual property record forms for each building. SHPO, MSU and a state review board reviewed her findings, provided comments and submitted the nomination to the National Register.

“They accepted it right off the bat,” Boughton said.

The MSU Historic District in Bozeman was listed Dec. 24, 2013 on the National Register.

 “The National Register is the nation’s official list of historic properties worthy of preservation,” Boughton said. “Listing in the National Register is an honor that provides wider recognition of a property’s historic values and assists in preserving Montana’s heritage.

“Certain benefits are available to the owners of National Register properties through the Montana Historic Preservation Office,” he continued. “These benefits include economic tax incentives for the rehabilitation of commercial or residential rental historic properties, very limited grant funding and technical assistance provided by the Preservation Office staff. Montana properties listed in the National Register also qualify for our Historic Places Sign Program.”

The National Register of Historic Places is supervised by the National Park Service. 

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu