Smile if this rings a bell.
“Mother Goose Land is Something to Remember!”
That was over an advertisement on Page 11 of the Missoulian on June 17, 1953.
To get to this new “magic wonderland” you were instructed to “go to Lolo, Montana, 11 miles south of Missoula, then 300 yards up the Lewis & Clark Highway.”
Enchantment for young and old awaits those of you who spend an hour or two walking the magic path straight into the pages of Mother Goose Land. It includes 26 figures of story books in their many different colors scattered along the winding mile long path, with rustic bridges over a rippling brook, with hedges and flowers by the wayside.
If you were a kid around here in the ‘50s and ‘60s and your parents didn’t take you to Mother Goose Land, you led a deprived childhood.
“Be Young Again at Mother Goose Land” and “The Cow Jumps Over the Moon at Mother Goose Land” other ads trumpeted later that first summer. The Mother Goose Tour, including the "Crooked mile," cost 50 cents a shot.
The next year the Missoulian reported that Mother Goose Land had 10 more attractions, including Jack and Jill, Little Boy Blue, Rock-a-Bye Baby and Little Miss Muffet. It opened May 23 and would run “until the first heavy frost kills the flowers next fall.”
“She Built a Monument to Fantasy” was the headline in late 1962 over an article written by Bitterroot correspondent Bessie K. Monroe.
Monroe posted a firsthand account of Luella (Lou) Greenlee detailing how she and husband Emery partnered with Mr. and Mrs. C.O. Funkhouser to build Mother Goose Land.
A native Canadian, Greenlee said the idea came to her in 1937 and she and Emery began looking around for a place to “fit the scenes that would be part of the plan." She had taught school for six years in Alberta and kindergarten for a couple more in Shelby. That experience and a sense that children's literature failed to spark the imagination “convinced me more than ever that children needed more than they were getting in the way of fantasy," Greenlee said. "More and more there seemed to me to be a lack of things I had known as a child and I kept thinking about it.
"Mother Goose wasn't the thing for children any more, it seemed. Well, for me, it had never lost its charm."
The Greenlees moved to Portland after Shelby and finally, in 1951, to Victor in the Bitterroot Valley. With the Funkhousers they acquired 15 acres in Lolo Canyon and two springs later “Mother Goose Land became the reality the folks of Western Montana now know so well,” Greenlee told Monroe.
A photo that accompanied the 1962 article showed a young boy in shorts and sandals plucking a treasure from the Lollipop Tree, the prize at the end of the trail. In another, a doll stood next to a sign that carried the words to “Little Girl, Little Girl, Where Have You Been?” Yet another had a sleeping wooden Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater next to his poem.
The Crooked Mile proved too much of a hike so it became the Crooked Half-Mile. "But it is still a favorite with its crooked little man and all," Greenlee told Monroe.
Adults, too, loved to recapture the nursery tales of their youth.
"We have found that people past the 50-year mark are the most interested," Greenlee said. "Sometimes I hear them as they come up the trails, chanting the old rhymes before they come to the spots where the characters of Mother Goose hold forth."
In 2004, years after Mother Goose Land closed for good, Lolo neighbor Ramona Holt reminisced about the fantasy world with reporter Donna Syverston.
Holt described a “tiny gingerbread house” that served as an information booth at the entry. The trail wound through the park that eventually sported more than 80 plywood cutouts of nursery rhyme figures. Begonias lined the trail.
“They were done so tastefully. There must have been a thousand or more,” Holt said of the flowers.
The Funkhousers moved to California for their health in 1955 and the Greenlees were joined in the venture by their daughter, Elizabeth Hornung, and her husband Ed.
Robert Savage of Strout Realty and Lyle Grenager of Lolo purchased Mother Goose Land from the Greenlees in 1967 and added a gift shop and drive-in restaurant.
On Monday, June 1, 1970, a brief ad appeared in the paper. It read: “Mother Goose Land at Lolo on Highway 12 is OPEN. Bring the whole family!”
That summer 50 years ago appears to be the last for Lou Greenlee’s and Lolo's “monument to fantasy.”
The Greenlees still lived in Victor when Emery died at 77 in 1971. Lou moved into Missoula to live with her daughter, Dale Speake, in 1976. She was 81 when she passed away in 1979.
The King Cole Room Teen Center opened at Mother Goose Land in October 1971. While the gift shop survived for a couple more years, there were brief occupancies by Bitterroot Valley Electronics Co. and Marcy’s Mexican Foods before Joe Mandala and Frank Burgess opened Villa Santino Italian Restaurant in 1974.
Villa Santino moved into downtown Missoula in 1979. Later iterations of the property included PJ’s Pizza and Pasta in the 1990s and, closest to its original purpose, the Wiggles and Giggles Daycare that existed at the turn of the century. For the past 15 years it’s been the stable and successful home to Crazy Horse Consignment, purveyor of western wear and tack.
Mother Goose Land is but a memory, a wiggle, a giggle and a smile.
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