My Forty Years Scribblin's
Historical Accounts
The Seeley Lake Community Hall

This history was written in the 1980s for a celebration of the Community Hall. A shortened version was published in Cabin Fever(1989).


This building, our Community Hall, has grown from a need that began as long ago as the 1950s, for a logging boom had descended on Seeley Lake bringing people into the area in small flocks and bunches. It was our Bert Sullivan who unwittingly planted the seed. She had gotten a group together for a March of Dimes dance at the "Green Building," one of two that had been built by the CCCs and used by the Smoke Jumpers at the Ranger Station. The building had been moved to a site near the present Eldon Rammel residence, and renovated, ostensibly to be used for community gatherings. But the influx of families soon required a classroom for the area children and the "Green Building" was destined to become a school house. The little dance was an event in the community and the enjoyment lingered on after the door was locked and the dancers had gone home.

In this area it was a long time between crabapples and pussy willows and travel conditions were something to be reckoned with. People were so hungry for entertainment that even bachelors were showing up at PTA meetings because of the social hour that followed. Bert's little dance just would not go away. The participants looked at each other and wondered wistfully if we couldn't have another. To our surprise not many of the newer people knew how to square dance. I had told someone about our farmhouse parties at Arlee where we cleared out everything but the piano and danced until the wee hours making our own entertainment. I must have let slip that Allen had called the square dances. That did it! "Do you s'pose Allen would teach us?" and "Where could we have another one?" I "s'posed" that he might and got his consent. "But we don't know enough people," he said. "Tell them to bring their own crowd and they can meet here Saturday night." "Here," happened to be our living room at the Tamaracks. I was somewhat hesitant since we were still almost strangers in the community. But I moved out the furniture, made a batch of doughnuts just in case, and waited, wondering whether anyone would come. It happened to be Valentine's Day. They came with salads, sandwiches, decorated cakes, and an enthusiasm that would not quit. The festivities ended only when I looked at my mistreated old violin to find that the entire end had come unglued.

But they liked the sample and wanted more. Someone suggested that we form a Square Dance club. And someone else remembered the little building that sat on the hill beside the Blackfoot Church. "Perfect," they said. A date was agreed upon two weeks hence and everyone went home in happy anticipation. This little building had also been used by the Smoke Jumpers and had suffered somewhat in the moving process. It was of the type that anyone with their eyes closed could throw out the cat with the door closed and bolted. Two ladies whom I knew slightly invited me to go along to help them "fix up" the parish house, as it was called then. They came armed with a pile of newspapers and an armful of rags which we tore into strips and poked into the more obvious cracks and around the windows. We swept the place out and went home to wait. Again they came—to fill the little building to capacity. The rags and papers took care of the elements but no one had considered the floor. The poor old boards rippled and bounced under the unaccustomed activity and the orchestra had to keep scooting their chairs around to catch up with the piano. Before the second session in the new dance hall some of the men cut several huge blocks of wood and placed them at strategic points under the building. The floor problem was solved and I suspect those blocks are still resting there. Around about the stroke of twelve we set up sawhorses with planks on top and enjoyed our "potluck," cake, sandwiches, and one woman's trademark—a roaster full of spaghetti and meatballs. Thus fortified we could caper the hours away until morning. The non-dancers came and huddled around the old wood stove to look on and laugh at the rest of us.

It filled a need but only for awhile. The families kept coming and soon this building, too, was needed for school. Not that we gave up all that easy! When the first section of the present grade school was built, Marshall Grey, sawmill owner, chairman of the school board and an avid square dance club member, suggested that we move our dancing to the heated hall at the new school house. This was easy living! But still more families were moving in and there was a need for other types of activities. The dream of a community center was beginning to take form and someone asked Mr. Grey for an estimate of the cost of a building large enough for all community events. He came up with a figure that took all the wind out of our sails. Twenty thousand dollars! And we didn't have even twenty thousand cents! But the dream would not die.

Money, or the lack of it, took precedence at any and all discussions and some of us began to conjure up ideas for fund raisings. Mame Baker was then the president of the Home Demonstration club, the forerunner of the present Seeley Lake Women's club. Mame was then the same ambitious soul that she is today and she began to niggle her subjects toward money-making deals for this worthy cause. On a blustery March day in 1968, while many Seeley Lake residents were enjoying some of the first snowmobile races on the lake, Jim Sullivan announced that he and Bert had decided to give this land to the community for a building site. That was a giant leap for Seeley Lake. Now, we who had been agitating felt that nothing could stop us. Jim had given a lot of thought to the matter. He knew what he wanted in the way of rules and regulations and had his lawyer draw them up and included in the corporation papers. The hall was to be governed by a board of representatives from local organizations. It is still governed that way.

Meetings were held at Chaffin's home, with Allen as chairman, to make decisions and further plans. And I wish to say here and now that Herb Townsend has worked with him all the way. In May of 1968, actual work began with volunteer labor and machinery, burning a chicken coop and small barn, and clearing and leveling the ground. A small and rather dilapidated dwelling was retained for storage and was used to serve meals to the workers when the crew was large enough to warrant lunch at the building site. The hall was not built without some dissensions. There were doubters and a few who were downright negative. But I will admit, it must have seemed more than a little irrational to attempt such an ambitious project without one red penny to underwrite the cost. But as progress was made, donations and fund raisings began to mount up. Our first bank deposit was money received from the disbanded Saddle Club. We now had money, one hundred and sixty-nine dollars of it! From that we wrote our first check in the amount of $155.40 to Pyramid lumber for cement to pour the footings and foundation. It was sold to us at their cost. The foundation was poured in September with two mixers and a crew of volunteers. Butch Townsend cooked hamburgers at the site to feed the workers at lunch time. Pyramid cooperated with the Community Hall board in every way, sawing and furnishing logs and lumber, often at cost or by donation, to get us started. We also borrowed their heavy equipment when it was needed.

We heard of a mill in Eureka called "The House that Jack Built." It was owned by a Mr. Jack Stevens and son who agreed to mill our logs and deliver a part of the tongue and groove timbers and put up the walls. The price was settled at $900.00. The timber had been donated to us by the N.P. Railroad, ACM Co. (now Champion), the Forest Service and some small local mills. A volunteer crew went to cutting logs and volunteer trucks got busy hauling them to Pyramid Mill. Four or five loads went to Eureka, hauled by Allen Chaffin and C.B. Rich, who then hauled back a load on part of the trips. The milled logs were soon all delivered and the walls of our building were put up in October 1968. Meanwhile we had been holding various small fund raisings and donations were coming in but the $900.00, paid to Mr. Stevens depleted our treasury plus $150.00 loaned by the Sullivan's, which was later repaid. After the foundation was poured and the walls in place, we were told we had to have a building permit. That meant plans and blueprints which were drawn by Larry Osbourne, N.P. Fieldman and Bernard Lea of the Forest Service, who were both engineers.

The plans were approved by the Fire Marshall who was to notify the Missoula County Commissioners to send us a permit. After about a month's waiting and no permit, Allen contacted the commissioners and was told that he did not need one. Upon running from the commissioners to the Sec. Treas. with the Fire Marshall's letter in his hand, the Sec. Treas. decided that for ten dollars she would give him the paper in question and he paid it so the building could proceed. Besides our flattened checking account, winter set in and the walls stood waiting a year—maybe two—until we garnered enough money to continue operations. One neighbor remarked that if we didn't get a roof on the place pretty soon he was going to put sheep in it!

Sometimes long intervals passed without any visible progress but the issue was not dead. We were holding auctions, bake sales, rummage sales, carnivals, bazaars, you name it. We also held two dances at the Double Arrow Lodge. About the only way we didn't raise money was to stand in the rain with a tin cup. When we weren't building we hunted bargains. We bought and received donated materials all the way from Columbia Falls to Great Falls, from Polson to Missoula, from Bonner to Seeley Lake, as fast as we could gather money for one more development. The support was amazing considering that our population was perhaps one third of what it is now. I would say that ninety-nine percent of those living and working here through those years, plus a number of the summer people, contributed in some way. And I will not attempt to name everyone for fear of leaving someone out. Even some of the women wielded hammers and wrenches and without looking too hard, it would be possible to find a few "bang tracks" left by those inexperienced but willing helpers. We received one bad blow. The back door of the little dwelling would not close tightly, and twenty-seven of our valuable sheets of plywood disappeared.

Each new development was a milestone. The roof was finally put on at a cost of $868.00. Hubert Hanson, a Forest Service electrician, stayed with Allen throughout the wiring job. The first floor of tongue and groove plywood was truly an inspiring sight. Eventually we wore it out and had to have a new one when the time came to lay the hardwood. When we had a chance to get paneling at a bargain price, of course we had no money. But Jim said, "We're going to have that paneling!" so away went the Chaffin truck to Polson again. This meant buying the insulation also. We warned the Sullivans that they might never get their money back but they said, "We don't care," and sorry to say, that loan is still on the books. I believe it was Dan Cainan who found that the Treasure State bowling alley was selling their used theater seats. They wanted $95.00 for approximately ninety-five seats and who could pass up an opportunity like that! Of course we had no place to store them so the men were obliged to move them hither and yon while they worked around them. Allen and I started to put up the ceiling but after one whole day with scarcely one row of particle board sheets installed, we could see that it was going to be an all summer's job. So Allen asked Bob Scott to contact Ole Olson, then a Great Falls contractor if we might borrow his stapling gun. Of course, being Ole, he said "Sure." He furnished the staples and sent his machine and air compressor. Bob and his son stayed to help along with our local men and the whole ceiling went up over a two day weekend. Bob, who was then a Great Falls-Seeley commuter, also helped immeasurably with lights and wiring materials, bathroom fixtures, hardware for the doors and finally obtaining the hardwood flooring at a reduced price.

The fireplace was to be the crowning glory, the frosting on the cake. Merle Gratton, a high school teacher, had volunteered to build it. I had been collecting special rocks for a couple of years as a preparatory measure, some from as far away as the old ghost town of Garnet, some with the glint of mica, and some even with broken crystals and tiny red garnets imbedded in them. Also, in one of my huckleberry ramblings I had found a formidable sized boulder along the Cottonwood Lakes road and I knew that I had to have that rock! I persuaded Allen and Mame to go along, with a twenty-pound maul which we managed to raise and let fall until the boulder was broken into pieces that we could lift and scramble up the bank with. We and the twenty-pound maul were showing wear and tear by the time we got those chunks of rock into the car and added to my precious rock pile at the corner of the hall. But the colors were worth it. I could close my eyes and see all those beautiful rocks with the light reflecting off them when our lovely fireplace was finished. I had a few anxious thoughts, what if someone else decided to build a fireplace and my rocks would follow the disappearing plywood? By now the fireplace appeared to be in the not too distant future and Mame and I were hunting rock in earnest. "We should get that new Mrs. Kerbs and take her along to get acquainted," Mame said, so we took the new Mrs. Kerbs and ranged along the old logging roads and up and down banks, lifting and tugging at all acceptable stones. Tex was seen to shudder at what was happening to his new pick-up, but he was outnumbered. Finally, we three on the rock detail judged that we had at least enough rock to cap the Great Wall of China. Also, we had enough money for materials and volunteers to do the work.

On the day that the base was poured I stayed at home, cooking lunch for the workers and dreaming. Later I went to admire the job, only to be told that the men had frantically gathered every rock within carrying distance and threw them into the cement base for filler! Well, if at first you don't succeed, try, try, again.

Mr. Gratton moved away before the job was finished so Lee Draeger of Salmon Prairie was hired to finish the work. The $250.00 he charged and the $900.00 for the log walls was the only money paid out for labor until the store room was added in 1985. Before the debris from the fireplace was cleared away, some prospective renters walked in the door looking for a place to hold a wedding reception. We didn't know whether we could use up the sand still piled on the floor but they were so taken with the remainder of the building that they said we could cover the sand and they would rent it anyway! Well, we were now paying for water and electricity and it was time to get some revenue coming in. But that was hardly the way to begin operations. We took their reservations and attacked the sand pile with brand new zeal.

We were really determined that the local people would be the first to get to use this place, so a few days before the wedding reception we put up posters around town inviting the community to come and inspect their new community hall. The sand was taken care of, the floor was cleaned and waxed—more volunteer work—and I don't suppose there will ever be more pride and satisfaction among any group of people. There was one regret, the Townsends were away on a trip to Alaska and could not be included.

There has been no tax money involved in the project. We inquired and were granted $5000.00 in revenue sharing money but we turned it down because we would be required to operate for five years under the county's jurisdiction. The title on the corporation papers reads, "Sullivan Memorial Community Park." The word park was by reason of intent to place some picnic tables where the old dwelling was torn down. We haven't yet made a decision concerning that phase of the operation.

In thanking all who helped with this small giant of a project, our community should also remember some Swan Valley friends. Bob Seaman who furnished sand and gravel, John Stark who was once a member of our square dance club and who worked several full days to help put on the roof. Also some Swan Valley and Ovando musicians who donated their time for our dances. We feel that the building should be a matter great pride to our town and its people and a credit to the names of Jim and Bert Sullivan, who gave so much to the cause.

Let's remember to keep it that way!