Cabin Fever
A Real Town
Seeley Lake Schools

1989 Mildred Chaffin


The first schoolhouse in the Seeley Lake area was a frame building built at Placid Lake in 1904. Later, a small log schoolhouse was built on the banks of the Clearwater River where the north end of the Boy Scout Road crosses the river. In the early 1920s, the townspeople rallied and moved the schoolhouse closer to the present townsite at a location about four miles north of Seeley Lake. They started with one small frame building there, but soon added several other structures.

At one time a barn used to shelter the students’ horses was annexed. But in a few years even the annex was bulging and the school board began to look about for more room.

A frame building built by the CCC’s and used as a kitchen and dining room during smokejumper training here had been moved to the school site four miles north of town and fitted for a community hail by local residents. It was turned into a supplementary school room.

By now the lumber business and school enrollment were booming. The primary grades were installed in a second CCC structure—the former smokejumpers’ chute packing shed freshly situated on the grounds of the Blackfoot Church.

The sagging floor of the little Parish House, as it was later named, was bolstered up with huge log blocks, its many cracks stuffed with paper and rags. But, patched, painted and heated with oil, it kept the pupils and their teacher from freezing and the school board breathed easier—but not for long.

A lengthy battle ensued and in desperation advocates of a new school took their problems to Washington, D.C. Upon learning that Seeley Lake’s children were attending school in a stable, a legislative member remarked with a southern drawl, “Ah kin just smell those hosses.”

Perhaps that did it. A last a new school was granted...four big beautiful rooms near the townsite, a sink and drinking fountain in each one, and indoor bathrooms yet. Seeley Lake was sitting pretty. In the fail of 1957 the new grade school was dedicated.

Then amid increasing pangs of tax strangulation, four more rooms were added. Next, the hail, designed as a multipurpose room was divided by a sliding partition and the “multi purposes” were squeezed into even smaller quarters—classes, wrestling mats, music, physical education exercises, hot lunches, community meetings, etc., were elbowing each other out.

Overcrowding in the primary rooms brought an ultimatum from the health department and a portable room was set up behind the main building. And still they came, 33 children in the first grade and the other classes not far behind in numbers. Two small bathrooms now served approximately 240 people. Seeley Lake Elementary School was threatened with loss of its accreditation by the early 1960s, but the people once again rallied and the problems were solved.

The residents of Seeley Lake rallied for a new high school in the early 1960s. Until 1964, when the Seeley Swan High School was built, high school students from this area traveled 70 miles one way to Missoula each day to attend classes. C.B. Rich was the guest speaker at a high school graduation in 1986. During his address he said:

 In the fall of 1959, Mary Anna [Rich] began attending high school in Missoula by riding a bus from Seeley Lake and back each day. She rode that bus for four years, and, to the best of our knowledge, was the only child to rid the bus for four full years and graduate.

 As a result of that, Helen and I took a deep interest in getting a high school. Along with a number of other parents form the ares, we met with Bob Watt, who was then Missoula County Superintendent of Schools, and asked for his help. We found that state law would have to be changed to allow a county high school attendance center to be built here. We had the bill drafted and introduced in the state legislature. Then, of course, we had to make a number of trips to Helena to testify, lobby and get it passed. After that we decided that a 10 mill levy, assessed one time countywide, could raise enough money to build the school. We then divided into teams and spoke at every meeting that we could all over the county to get support for our proposal. We also met with officers of the Anaconda Company and dealt for the land. As a result, at election time, the proposal was passed and Seeley Swan High School was contracted for and built.