McClaren 1895 Classroom

A program continues a deep commitment to Flathead Valley education

The Central School building opened its doors to students in 1895.

Over nearly a hundred years, it has served as a high school, a junior high school, and a grade school, as well as an incubator for Flathead Valley Community College.

The building was boarded up and threatened with demolition in 1991, but the City of Kalispell renovated the structure at a cost of $2.4 million, and since late 1999, has leased it to the Northwest Montana Historical Society for exhibits, performances, and community meetings.

An important part of the school’s history includes Mr. John White, who served as custodian and bell ringer for more than 30 years. He knew and was beloved by all of the early students. Students tell the story of how Mr. White watched out for them. He would look out from the attic windows at arriving students in the morning and would hold off ringing the late bell until the tardy students were in their classrooms.

It seems only fitting a museum that started out as a school, should create and provide an educational program that carries out the time-honored tradition of ringing the historic school bell to welcome students from around Flathead County to learn what school was like in the 1890s.

The classroom in action

An enriching cultural experience and important history lesson
for thousands of Flathead County students

The McClaren 1895 Classroom Program started in 2007 as a hands-on cultural and historical experience for Flathead County third-graders. Since then, more than 6,000 students have had an opportunity to take part in living history.

As the students arrive, they are welcomed by the old school bell which is still rung by hand. Once inside the school, students begin to experience what life was like in the classroom during the 1890s. Students are taught subjects of the period using 19th-century teaching tools and are introduced to early classroom social skills.

As part of the learning experience, students are given a tour of part of the museum where they have a chance to learn more about their community, region, and state. The tour gives the students a look at how people lived, dressed, and worked.

When students leave the 1895 Classroom and the Northwest Montana History Museum, they go back to their 21st-century classroom with a better understanding of what it was like to be a student attending school 128 years ago.

Help Fund Our Work

Your donation will help us support the ongoing development, maintenance, and expansion of this program, including:

  • Expanding the program to in-classroom visits by trained docents
  • Contributing to the transportation fund, which allows students from all over the Flathead Valley to attend the McClaren 1895 Classroom Program
  • Ensuring everything in the program is in usable condition – chalkboard slates, McGuffey’s Readers, games, and toys, etc.