Ninemile Stark School

“Children’s Day” Sunday School at Stark School House, 1916

Courtesy photo

NINEMILE – It’s been an even 100 years since a school was built at the now-vanished town of Stark.

That’s plenty of reason to celebrate all that has happened since then in the Ninemile Valley, and to talk about the future.

Stark School, some 8 1/2 miles up the creek, has been the Ninemile Community Center for the past 67 years, and it’ll be the site of a centennial celebration Saturday.

“It’s a commemoration of 100 years of history in the Ninemile Valley, but our Stark Schoolhouse is now 100 years old, so that’s really the center of the celebration,” said Sharon Sweeney, president of the Ninemile Community Center group that calls the former schoolhouse home.

Activities Saturday include three morning mini-lectures starting at 10:30 a.m., covering the past, present and future of the Ninemile. Sydney Bacon, archaeologist with the Lolo National Forest, will discuss the valley's history. At 11:30 a.m., Paul Parson of Trout Unlimited will speak on restoration of fisheries in the valley. And at noon, Mark Schiltz with Montana Land Reliance talks about conservation easements as a way of preserving the future.

A barbecue and potluck are planned from noon to 2 p.m. Visitors are welcome to bring potluck items. Donations are kindly requested to offset costs. 

Bob and Judy Bungarz kick off the musical entertainment at 12:30 p.m., to be followed at 1 p.m. by Ellie Nuno and the Tynelli Trio, and at 2 p.m. by the LeGrande Harvey Trio. 

Long a home for miners and scattered ranchers, the Ninemile’s pace picked up in 1915 as the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. made plans to move its logging operations there from the Blackfoot. The Missoula County superintendent of schools visited and determined a new school was needed at Stark.

It was built on an acre of ground near Kennedy Creek that had been donated in 1906 by Frederick and Jessie Proebstel. The doors opened in early 1916 with 12 students.

Enrollment peaked at 31 in the logging company’s last year there of 1926-27, and the school closed after the 1929-30 school year. Long a community center, it was deeded to the community in 1948, according to valley historian Carol Guthrie.

It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and renovations since then have been performed in keeping with the building's historic look and function.

The church behind the school was originally a mining company’s storage shed. It was moved to the site in 1949, along with a smaller second structure that was converted into a Sunday school.

"The community center is wonderfully preserved and maintained and has benefited from a number of grants to ensure both building and grounds can continue to serve as the valley's beloved meeting place," said Karen Murphy of the community center board, which will also be holding elections Saturday.

A looping PowerPoint presentation will be ongoing in the historic church Saturday, providing a comprehensive history of the valley.

Sweeney said 50 special invitations have been mailed out to valley “old-timers,” most of whom are still in the Missoula area. How many will attend is unknown, she said, but the lure of the valley remains strong.

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