Anyone who’s traveled U.S. 2 through Libby has spotted the unique 13,500-square-foot building that houses the Heritage Museum.
The dodecagonal (12-sided) structure is composed of approximately 800 native Western larch and lodgepole pine logs, 130 feet in diameter with a dodecagon-shaped 30-foot cupola. At 46 years old, the creation of this extremely rare design represents the story of the Libby community at its best. Volunteers were involved in every step of the building’s construction.
According to a press release from Tammy Byrd, the museum’s board president, the museum was conceived by Doug Porter upon the death of his father, Western landscape painter Roy D. Porter, in 1971. Doug wanted to fulfill his father’s dream of a museum in Libby and needed a place to house his father’s paintings and extensive collection of 1800-1900s historical artifacts. The state of Montana issued a Bicentennial Celebration grant of $5,000 for the project. Portions of the project were donated by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees at Libby Dam; the building design was donated by structural engineer Floyd Lucas; the grounds design was donated by architect Wayne Tlusty; and electrical engineer John Davidson donated his time to create the electrical system and concrete floor, and served as the first building chairman.
Dozens of local volunteers cut, loaded and hauled the logs from the Hensley Creek drainage in the Yaak and Pipe Creek, then hand-peeled and saddle-notched each log. Kyle and Iva Beebe, both in their 80s, peeled over half the logs — hence the name of the museum’s Beebe Room.
Log homebuilders Dan Emerson and Claude Huckins constructed the building for $12,000. The Libby Fire Department donated the security and fire alarm system. One of the wooden front doors was built at Libby High School by students in woodshop class. A local well-digger dug the well, charging only the cost of the well casings. Local volunteers cataloged, researched and professionally exhibited the thousands of historical artifacts prior to the building’s opening in 1978.
Today, continuing the legacy of volunteerism, Byrd said, the museum continues to be staffed solely by volunteers, as it has been since its opening.
“Amazingly, some of the current volunteers (i.e. Clarence and Verna Johnson, and John Davidson) have been associated with the museum since before it was built,” Byrd said. The building has been nominated for listing in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Byrd asks that if anyone has any background information about volunteer Floyd Lucas, structural engineer at Libby Dam, to contact Sherry at 406-293-9421.
The museum board of directors is currently searching for volunteer members, a membership coordinator and greeters, along with a handy person. If you have carpentry skills and are looking for a rewarding project this summer, call Sherry for more information.
The museum is now open for the season. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is by donation.
Community Editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.