Fergus County High School by Nancy Watts

The second Fergus County High School building (now the Esplanade condominiums) was built in 1919 at 412 6th Ave. South. It was built in three units, one in 1919, one in 1927 and the third unit (replacing the gymnasium building) in 1937.The County High school law passed by the Montana state legislature in March 1899 required that the school be built to accommodate all high school students in Fergus County which at that time was comprised of all Fergus, Petroleum and most of Judith Basin counties. The 1919 building replaced the original school built in 1899 which was burned on April 30, 1918 by arsonists due to Anti-German hysteria (German was being taught in the school). All of the German textbooks from the school had been burned on Main Street on March 27, 1918. The gymnasium which was a separate building behind the school was not burned.

After the school burned, classes were held in the churches and courthouse. Later “…wooden barracks were built for administrative offices and classrooms on the vacant lot between 7th and 8th avenues. Referred to by the students as the “tar paper palace”, these quarters were used until 1920 when the first unit of the new Fergus County High School was constructed.”  (Zellick, “History Fergus County High School, 1899-1970”).

“From the proceeds of the previous bond issue and the insurance money paid upon the destruction of the old high school by an incendiary fire last year, there is ample means in the treasury at this time to complete the first unit to cost around $150,000… the high school board has already secured plans for the first unit of the new building and will erect it this year. It is hoped that the bond issue to provide for the second unit will be sanctioned by the voters in September, so that there may be no unnecessary delay…there are upwards of 3,000 boys and girls of high school age in the county.” (“Fergus County Democrat,” June 19, 1919).

“The first unit which is now under construction will face Sixth avenue and extend back along Spring and Water streets to a line nearly even with the east end of the gymnasium. The main entrance will be on Sixth avenue and the steps of the terrace will be completely covered so that there will be no danger from slipping because of ice and snow. There will also be an entrance facing the east end of the gymnasium. On the first floor will be found the administration offices, a teacher’s rest room and office for student activities, and library with a capacity of 15,000 volumes. The second unit will be connected with the first unit on Water street. At this point of connection will be the Water street entrance. From here it will extend along Water street to Seventh avenue and along Seventh avenue to Spring street, uniting with the west end of the gymnasium. In the center will be an auditorium seating 1150 with a stage equal in size to that of the Judith Theater. In the balcony there will be a moving picture booth. The main entrance to the auditorium is from Seventh avenue.” (“Judith Basin Farmer,” December 4, 1919).

“The two-story fireproof steel reinforced concrete building was faced with high quality brick from the Lewistown Brick and Tile company. Link and Haire were the architects for the first unit. The second unit was built under the supervision of William S. Divine, designer who worked very closely with J.G. Link, the architect.”  (Zellick, “History Fergus County High School, 1899-1970”).

The second Fergus County High School building at 412 6th Ave South was built in 1919 after arsonists burned the first building on April 30, 1918 due to Anti-German sentiment.
The gymnasium (far left) was not burned and continued to be used until replaced in 1937.

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