Hockaday Museum, Glacier Conservancy Receive Historic Preservation Grants

The local nonprofits are two of 44 institutions to share more than $10 million in funding to improve historical sites and museums across Montana

By Denali Sagner
Wheeler Cabin | Courtesy of Glacier Conservancy

The Montana Department of Commerce on Thursday announced that 44 historic preservation projects across Montana will receive more than $10 million in grant funding — including $31,000 for the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell and $493,200 for the Wheeler Cabin in West Glacier, which is overseen by the nonprofit Glacier Conservancy.

The grants were awarded through the department’s Montana Historic Preservation Grant program (MHPG), which funds infrastructure repairs, building renovations, maintenance and other improvements at historical sites throughout the state.

“It is important for us to showcase our state’s rich history, as well as the culture and heritage that created Montana as we know it today,” Scott Osterman, director of the Montana Department of Commerce, said in a press release. “Montana Historic Preservation Grants help Montana communities increase economic development, community revitalization and statewide tourism through added investment, job creation, business expansion and local tax-base growth.”

“These sorts of grants are so essential,” Alyssa Cordova, executive director of the Hockaday Museum, said. Cordova emphasized that while there are many opportunities for nonprofits to apply for grants, very few address infrastructure and building repairs that are critical in keeping the spaces operational.

Alyssa Cordova, executive director of the Hockaday Museum of Art, is pictured in front of the museum in 2019. | Flathead Beacon

The Hockaday’s MHPG grant will be used to replace the museum’s boiler system, which Cordova said has not been updated since the 1970s. With the funding, the museum is on track to fully replace its heating system by September.

“We’re very excited to be able to complete this project and have new heaters to make sure our patrons, our staff and our art are nice and safe and in a good climate-controlled environment,” she said.

“We’re fortunate to have this historic home. But with historic homes, there’s always need for repair,” the museum director added.

In West Glacier, the MHPG grant will help to fulfill a years long dream of restoring the Wheeler Cabin, the historic former home of Montana U.S. Sen. Burton Wheeler and his wife Lulu, which sits on the eastern shore of Lake McDonald.

Wheeler served in the Montana House of Representatives from 1910 to 1912 and in the U.S. Senate for four terms from 1923 to 1947. The lawmaker was instrumental in securing funding for the Going-to-the-Sun Road. In 1941 — after the original cabin burned down and the Wheelers began the process of reconstructing it — the family reached a lease agreement with the National Parks Service to retain the property in the family’s name until the last of Wheeler’s children passed away. The cabin was transferred to park ownership in 2014, and is now the focus of a major preservation effort by the park, the Glacier Conservancy and the education nonprofit the Glacier Institute.

“The grant is going to get us pretty much to the fulfillment of a longtime promise, which is to restore this historic cabin to its rightful place within Glacier’s landscape,” Glacier Conservancy Executive Director Doug Mitchell said, adding that the Wheelers’ “presence for 100 years in the park as a family should be remembered in this place.”

The Wheeler Cabin on Lake McDonald, pictured Aug. 18, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Upon the completion of the restoration, which will include new septic and electric systems and a new well, among other improvements, the Glacier Conservancy plans to turn the cabin into “Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Center,” a site where students, academics, nonprofit leaders and international groups can come together to “find solutions to difficult problems,” as Mitchell said.

Mitchell said that the project will likely be completed by 2024, as construction on the Upper McDonald Creek Bridge has slowed the pace of the project this summer.

The full list of historic preservation grant awardees can be found here.  

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