Jefferson County Museum, Montana

Mark Barnett
Last Updated: February 27th, 2023

The Jefferson County Museum is in Clancy, Central Montana, around ten miles south of the capital Helena.

Clancy has been alive with an air of nature, community, and history since the late nineteenth century when the area became a hotbed of the usual activity and chaos that surrounds silver and gold ore strikes.

Once a camp was set up around the burgeoning mining activities it was named after William Clancy, a prospector who gained the respect of the other camp members.

Fast forward to today and the Jefferson County Museum, on Clancy’s Main Street, has on display or within its inner archives items from that time and beyond.

The non-profit museum has been operating for more than two decades now and is proud to collect, collate, and display items and information relevant to the area’s development throughout the last couple of hundred years or so.

The main purpose of the museum is to make the items and information available and accessible for all, with some of it already having been made available online.

The museum opens on Fridays from 1 pm-5 pm and Saturdays from 10:30 am-4 pm. You can get to Clancy and the museum off Highway 282, not too far from the region of Prickly Pear Creek.

History of the Jefferson County Museum

jefferson county museum
Image: Jefferson County Museum

The Jefferson County Museum first opened its collections and displays to the public in 2001, from one of Clancy’s historic buildings—the Old Red Schoolhouse.

Built in 1898 and opening for classes the following year, this was the second of the town’s educational facilities to be constructed around that time. It actually functioned as a primary school for Grade 1 to Grade 8 students until the early 1990s when a new building was constructed.

Incidentally—the first school to be built in the town was known as the ‘Little School on the Hill’. It operated from 1874 to 1898, and today the very same building also still exists and is in fact home to both the St. John’s Catholic Church and the All Saints Lutheran Church.

The museum came about through more than two decades of the efforts of various volunteers, board members, donors, and other staff–a true labor of love.

Susie Lindsay was the museum director when the facility first opened,  she had little by way of alternatives at that time when it came to location or alternative options for premises.

The museum initially rented the space directly from the Clancy School District, even though this building was no longer in use and had already been replaced by a new location. Rooms were painted and minor repairs were undertaken by volunteers.

Some of the first ‘official’ displays came about due to various donated or borrowed items, such as a historic cast iron kitchen stove being a fine example of a borrowed item from a local with roots going back to the early settlers.  

Points of Interest in the Museum

Many of the items and much of the information kept within the museum include collections of archived, historically-important artifacts, photographs, and documents.

Two of the more obvious, major components of the museum include the two large galleries within the facility. One focuses on the historical aspects of Jefferson County such as the mining, ranching, and railroading that went on in the 1800s.

You can see images of children in log cabins, as well as original old postcards of the town’s Main Street. On top of that, you can browse the journals and letters from the mines in the 19th century. The second gallery is more connected to the development of travel in the region.

Past exhibits have included items and photographs related to the Jefferson County Railroads. Then there is the theme of the judicial district and of course ranching–cowboys, cowgirls, and rodeos–exhibited as some of the key components within the region’s development.

Contributions to some of the past museum exhibits have come by way of such esteemed institutions as the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Architectural Museum, and a wide range of local artists and other contributors.

The main exhibits are typically rotated a couple of times per year and are sometimes discontinued for a while or even permanently. The website gives details of current displays.

Jefferson County Museum – Final Thoughts

The Jefferson County Museum has some rich and deep historical information and displays to share with you.

The museum is non-profit and the staff consists of volunteers who give their time to do their bit in proudly preserving the heritage and culture of the area from its first settlers and beyond.

Not only do they work to preserve the physical historical records of the towns and the county, but also to make sure they can be accessed by anyone with an interest in the region.

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About The Author

Mark Barnett

Mark Philip is a writer and lifestyle enthusiast from the Midlands in the U.K. With a background in martial arts and fitness, Mark headed out to Bangkok, Thailand where he now lives and works. Mark has authored e-books, articles, and blogs across a wide range of topics for commercial, educational, factual, lifestyle and leisure-based purposes.

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