Montana State University

Museum of the Rockies receives Hamilton Povah collection

September 10, 2009 -- MSU News Service

Eleanor Hamilton Povah has donated more than 1,000 items to the Museum of the Rockies. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- The Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University announced today that it has received the most significant history collection since its founding more than 50 years ago thanks to a generous gift from Eleanor Hamilton Povah of West Yellowstone.

Povah is the daughter of Charles A. Hamilton, founder of the Hamilton Store chain that operated in Yellowstone National Park from 1915 through 2002. She and her deceased husband, Trevor Povah, assumed the operation of Hamilton Stores and ran the company for many years. During their long involvement with the park, the Hamilton and Povah families acquired a unique and valuable collection related to the history of the Yellowstone area.

More than 1,000 items from Hamilton Povah Collection are being donated. They include vehicles associated with the families' business operations in Yellowstone, items from the stores themselves and Native American objects that would have been representational of inventory in the stores. Among the vehicles are an authentic Yellowstone bus, a 1941 Lincoln Zephyr and a horse-drawn oil tanker.

Povah said it was important to keep the collection together in a location associated with Yellowstone National Park, rather than have the items sold individually at auction.

"It's a matter of keeping something together that we spent a lifetime putting together," Povah said.

Sheldon McKamey, museum dean and director, said, "The collection itself is extensive but Mrs. Povah's generosity didn't stop there. She is also providing a substantial financial gift to support the curation and interpretation of the collection which makes it possible for us to accept it.

"We are delighted the collection is staying in Montana," McKamey continued. "This collection tells an important story about Montana. For it to be gifted to the Museum of the Rockies and being able to show it in context with the area we live is very significant for us."

The collection complements MSU's intention to be known as the University of the Yellowstone, McKamey said, adding that "Currently MSU's focus has been based on scientific research in the Yellowstone ecosystem, but this collection will help us better understand the area's cultural history."

Museum Curator of History Michael Fox said the museum will use the collection as the basis for a long-term multi-disciplinary project to interpret the history and legacy of the Hamilton and Povah families and their contributions to the cultural development of Yellowstone National Park.

"The Hamilton Stores name became synonymous with hospitality and visitor services within Yellowstone National Park and continues to be recognized as a pioneering business whose influence is seen in mercantile operations throughout the National Park System. The ways in which the administration, development and interpretation of the Park were influenced and affected by the families and their businesses will also be the subject of study," Fox said.

A full-scale exhibit of the collection is planned at the Museum of the Rockies within the next five years and traveling rental and/or on-line exhibits are possible. Isolated objects from the collection will be displayed as soon as they are catalogued and conserved. Artifacts from the collection would be available to researchers and historians including students at MSU and objects could be loaned to other qualified institutions.

Financial support from Povah will be used as a match in securing federal support for the collection and fundraising from private donors and foundations will be ongoing.

The Museum of the Rockies began as a history museum in 1957 with the gift of Dr. Caroline McGill's collection. Today, the museum stewards nearly 300,000 objects and 500 million years of history. One of the finest paleontology collections in North America is found under the museum's roof, along with strong core collections in western history, textiles, Native American artifacts, and photography.

For more information about the Museum of the Rockies and plans for the Hamilton Povah collection, log onto

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or