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RONAN - Montana's oldest existing building, the remnants of a Hudson Bay trading post called Fort Connah, received a new floor this year thanks to the Fort Connah Restoration Society.

The society is planning on chinking the structure's massive logs and giving them a fresh coat of preservative in the coming year, said George Knapp, longtime president of the nonprofit restoration group.

The society's annual meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at Ninepipes Lodge on U.S. Highway 93 near Charlo.

"All are welcome to attend to find out how the project is progressing," Knapp said. Restoration of the fort has been going on since 1975.

Public access to the fort and the 18-acre historic site surrounding it will have to wait until plans for the reconstruction of Highway 93 between St. Ignatius and Ronan are firmed up, however. Lane configuration and design have still not been finalized for that stretch of highway, although state and tribal officials have agreed that the highway will continue on its existing alignment past the fort. The Fort Connah Restoration Society has been guaranteed access to the new highway, and has built a gravel road to be connected to the route. An interpretive center is part of the long-range plans.

Plans for a black powder shooting range at the 18-acre site are still active, Knapp said. The range of these antique weapons, which are contemporaneous with the era during which Fort Connah operated, is about 150 yards, so public safety won't be an issue on the 18 acres surrounding the historic site.

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Fort Connah can be glimpsed from afar at a roadside turnoff on the eastern side of the highway, four miles north of St. Ignatius on Post Creek Hill. It is the squat log building hunkered down in a meadow several hundred yards southeast of the turnoff.

The trading post was named by agent Angus McDonald, who came from Scotland via Canada, arriving in 1839. He named the post "Connen" after the River Connen in Scotland. But an Indian named Francois Finlay reportedly had such trouble pronouncing this name that Angus contracted the name to Connah. Despite being a British possession on American soil, the trading post continued operating for 25 years.

Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at jstromnes@missoulian.com

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