Our country is close to 250 years old at this point, which means that there are a lot of older institutions, including many schools and universities. The state of Montana was the 41st state added to our country, and it has a vast number of ancient schools, some of which are over 100 years old. The schools have a lot of history and many amazing facts, so let’s talk about the oldest schools in Montana and the great elementary schools, high schools, and colleges in the state.
Oldest Schools in Montana – Elementary Schools
There are 582 elementary schools in Montana at the time of this writing: 493 public schools and 89 private schools. The state is ranked 40th in terms of total schools in the state. Many of these schools have been around for decades, and they produce very bright students.
Philipsburg Elementary School
The oldest continuously operating school in Montana is Philipsburg Elementary School, which was built in 1896. Back during its origination, it served secondary and elementary students, and it became a school just three years after Philipsburg, Montana, became a seat of Granite County. The first year saw 200 students come through the doors, and students are still going to school there until this day. The school is built in a classic, granite style, and it has amazing circular windows.
Blodgett View Christian School
The oldest school in Montana that is a private institution is Blodgett View Christian School. Located in Hamilton, MT, this Christian school is relatively small, only serving about 34 students for grades kindergarten to 8th grade. Although it’s a Christian school, the school’s religious affiliation is Seventh Day Adventist. The school continues to produce bright minds to this day.
Oldest Schools in Montana – High Schools
As of today, there are 367 high schools in the state of Montana – 335 public schools and 32 private schools – and many of them are quite ancient. Many of these schools are still in operation, and they have a lot of great history.
Helena High School
Without a doubt, the oldest high school in Montana is Helena High School, which was founded back in 1876. As the name suggests, it’s located in Helena, Montana, and it serves grades 9-12. The original building was built and stood strong until 1935 when a new school was constructed.
However, it was almost destroyed by the famous 1935 Helena Earthquake. That earthquake was a 6.2 scale out of 10 on the surface wave magnitude scale of that time, and it caused $4 million in damages, which was a lot for that period. The school teaches all major subjects, including the languages of Spanish, Latin, German, and French.
This high school is old enough to have many notable alums, including:
- Max Baucus – Senator
- Steve Bullock – Montana Governor
- Dan Carpenter – NFL Buffalo Bills placekicker
- L. Ron Hubbard – founder of Scientology
- Ian MacDonald – Actor
- Colin Meloy – Singer (The Decemberists)
- Maile Meloy – Author
- Gary Cooper – Actor
Located in Missoula, Montana, Hellgate High is one of the oldest schools in Montana as it was founded way back in 1908. The school started with the name Missoula County High School, but it was soon renamed to the bold name Hellgate. The name Hellgate comes from Hellgate Canyon, which is a passage that goes through the mountains formed by the Clark Fork River. It had that name because that was a dangerous spot where travelers could be ambushed by either the Blackfeet or Flathead tribes.
It’s an old school building complete with brick, large windows, and even tunnels that help the students from place to place. In the beginning, it was the only school in Missoula, and today, it’s not one of the largest high schools in the entire state. It currently has about 1200 students and a large staff of 100.
Hellgate High was the location of a famous speech by former President Richard Nixon, where he told the kids there to get involved in politics and to try to clean up the system. The school has grown until this day, and the school now has a choir, band, and many famous alumni, including:
- John Engen – Former Mayor
- Steve Albini -Musician
- Blaine Taylor – College basketball coach
- Forrest O'Connor – Musician
- Allen Vizzutti – Musician
- John Morrison – Politician
Oldest Schools in Montana – Colleges and Universities
Montana is an old state but, it’s not as ancient as some of the other 49 states in the nation. It’s also less populated than many other states, so there are fewer colleges. However, there are still many long-standing universities to review. Here are the oldest schools in Montana for higher learning.
Rocky Mountain College
The oldest four-year university in Montana is Rocky Mountain College, which is a private college in Billings, Montana. The school offers classes in the liberal arts and professional majors in 24 different disciplines. It’s not the largest college in the world, often bringing in just over 1000 students.
The history of Rocky Mountain College goes back to 1978, to a school called the Montana Collegiate Institute, which eventually became the College of Montana. That school changed names and owners and went through a merger until Rocky Mountain College became what we see today. The college has had 10 different presidents until the current day, and they have shaped it into this institution which offers many areas of study and a stellar basketball and skiing program.
Rocky Mountain College also boasts some impressive alumni, including:
- Kasey Peters – Football player
- Todd Reed – Author
- Michal Wisniowski – Artist
- Bob Bees – Football player
- Bill Bowers – Mime and actor
- Arlo Guthrie – Folksinger
- Jill McLain – Miss Montana USA 2005
- J. Timothy Hunt – Journalist
- Chris Horn – NFL wide receiver
Rocky Mountain College in the News
On June 28, 2023, Montana Sports reported that Rocky Mountain College's youth football camp had wrapped up. The camp took place over three days, with roughly 200 athletes attending. Several athletes from the college helped assistant coaches run the camp. The camp involved various drills and competitions to keep kids learning and moving. The hope is that the camp will inspire some attendees to eventually attend Rocky Mountain College.
On June 1, 2023, KULR reported that Rocky Mountain College had brought Steve Keller on as assistant basketball coach. He is a Rocky Mountain College Hall of Famer and one of the most awarded coaches in the entire state of Montana. He was brought on by the men's basketball team's head coach, Bill Dreikosen.
Montana Technological University
Often referred to simply as Montana Tech, Montana Technological University is the second oldest university in the state. It’s a public university located in Butte, Montana. This school has gone through amazing transformations over the years. Montana was bought into the United States by the Enabling Act of 1889, which also allotted land for the construction of a school of mines, which was important at that time. It was officially founded in 1900, and it was called the Montana State School of Mines.
In 1965, the school had another name change, and it was called Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology. It moved beyond education about mines and began to focus more on engineering and the applied sciences. In 1994, the college officially became affiliated with the University of Montana, and the name was changed to Montana Tech of the University of Montana. In 2018, the Montana Technological University split and started to handle its own affairs and received the name it has today. While the primarily focus is science and tech, the university does have a great athletics program that includes football, basketball, golf, and track and field.
There are several notable alumni of Montana Technological University, including:
- Ryan Lance – CEO of ConocoPhillips
- Amanda Curtis, member of the House of Representatives
- Craig Kupp – NFL player
- Jim Deming – Football coach
Montana Technological University in the News
On March 31, 2023, Government Technology reported that Montana Tech students are hoping to develop what's called “green concrete”. Their goal is to combine concrete with waste products to reduce concrete's carbon footprint. Concrete production produces a lot of carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. If someone can find a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced by this process, they can directly impact one of the greatest threats facing humanity today. All of the students participating are Montana Tech seniors.
On May 2, 2023, ABC reported that Montana Tech received its largest donation in the campus's history. A single alum donated a whopping $31 million to the school. The main provision of the donation is that the school will establish a permanent $4,000 scholarship for its students. The school is hopeful that the donation will be able to allow them to continue supporting the community and innovating.
The University of Montana and The University of Montana Western
The next of the oldest schools in Montana are the University of Montana and its Western counterpart. In 1881, Congress passed an act that dedicated 46,000 acres of land for the creation of a university in the Montana Territory. In 1889, Montana became a state, and the construction of the school began in Missoula, Montana. Today, the University of Montana is the state’s second-largest campus, and it boasts close to 11,000 undergrad and graduate students.
The school is unique with its central oval shape that’s surrounded by university buildings, which was a design produced by one of the first professors there. Construction began in 1895, and today, the campus consists of 220 beautiful acres. The school is also famous for its “M” trail, which is a ¾ mile-long trail that goes almost straight up. You’ll start the trail at 3,200 feet above sea level, and at the end, you’ll be 3,820 feet above sea level. The school also has an impressive athletics program with football and basketball teams that have competed in the NCAA championship.
This is an impressive school that ranks 17th in the country for producing the most Rhodes Scholars. One alumnus, Harold Urey, even won the Nobel Prize for his revolutionary work in the field of chemistry and isotopes. Other notable alumni include:
- Carroll O'Connor – Actor
- Marc Racicot – 21st Governor of Montana
- Jeannette Rankin – Very first woman elected to U.S. House of Representatives
- J. K. Simmons – Actor
- Aldo Forte – NFL football player
- Dan Carpenter – NFL football player
- Reagan Wilson – Actress
- John P. Grotzinger – Geology professor
- A.B. Guthrie Jr. – Pulitzer Prize-winning author
- Joanna Klink – Poet
- Reynold C. Fuson – Chemist
University of Montana Western
This university is affiliated with the University of Montana, and it’s part of the larger Montana University System. This Western variant is also quite old as it was founded back in 1893. Like many older schools, this was set up as a “normal school,” which means that it was an institution for training teachers on the curriculum and other subjects. After it was built, classes started in 1897 with classes about elementary education. As time went on, academics at the school expanded, and a four-year curriculum was offered. When it became more of a traditional school, the name was changed to Western Montana College. In 2000, it became the University of Montana Western.
The school offers comprehensive education programs in addition to a great athletics program that includes basketball, cross country, football, and of course, rodeo. Notable alumni include Israeli Basketball Premier League player Brandon Brown.
A private Catholic college in Helena, Montana, Carroll College was founded in 1909. It’s a smaller school, but it offers a lot of education on its 63-acre campus. Students can choose from over 35 academic majors and participate in various sports programs. The motto of the college is “Non scholae, sed vitae,” which translates to “Not for school, but for life.”
Back in 1883, John Baptist Brondel, a bishop of Helena started the idea of forming a Catholic college to produce future priests. Sadly, he died before his plan came to fruition, but all was not lost. His successor, a young priest named John Patrick Carroll was able to secure funding for the school. With the help of President William Howard Taft, the foundation for the college was set, and in 1909, what was then called Mount St. Charles College was founded. The name was in honor St. Charles Borromeo. It was supposed to be an liberal arts college that prepared men for various fields, including law, medicine, and priesthood.
In 1932, the school changed its name to Carroll College. The college was also affected by the famous 1935 Helena earthquake, but it only sustained minor damage. However, in 1989, a trainwreck caused more significant damage to the women’s dormitory, which has since been fixed. Notable alumni of the college include:
- Casey FitzSimmons – NFL player
- John Gagliardi – College football coach
- Joseph Monaghan – Congressman
- Jerry O'Connell – Congressman
- Bobby Petrino – College football coach – Missouri State
- Paul Petrino – College football coach – University of Idaho
- Jovan Šljivančanin – Serbian basketball player
Montana State University Billings
Located in Billings, Montana, this university is old and large. In fact, it’s the third-largest college in the whole state. The school began in 1927. However, it didn’t start out as Montana State University Billings. Instead, it had many name changes.
- It began with the name Eastern Montana Normal School
- Then, in 1949, the name changed to Eastern Montana College of Education.
- In 1965, it became Eastern Montana College (EMC).
- In 1994, it merged with the Montana University System, and officially became Montana State University Billings, which is likely how it will stay.
This is a big school and it offers over 100 programs for associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees. The university includes five colleges that shape young minds in the fields of health, science, liberal arts, and more. The school also has an extensive athletics program, and the teams have competed in many college championships.
Notable alumni of the school include:
- James F. Battin – Federal Judge
- Chet Blaylock – State senator
- Kristin Korb – Jazz musician
- Jon Sonju – State senator
- Roy McPipe – NBA player
Montana State University–Northern
The final school in the Montana State University family is Montana State University–Northern, which is a public college located in Havre, Montana. Back in 1913, the Montana State Legislature went to work and established what would be the Northern Montana Agricultural and Manual Training School, six miles outside of Havre. The problem is that there wasn’t any funding. It wasn’t until an act in 1929 when the state legislature gave the green light for the funds, and the college was established.
The school is not as large as the other colleges in this group, but it does have a great athletics program. The students compete in golf, rodeo, wrestling, football, basketball, and more. Like the other universities, this school boasts some cool alumni, including:
- Hunter Azure – Mixed martial artist
- Michael Claxton – Basketball coach
- Ryan Divish – Journalist
- Jerome Souers – Football coach
- James Welch – Novelist
- Jesse Juarez – Mixed martial artist
As you can see, although it’s a less populated state, Montana has no shortage of ancient schools on every level of the educational spectrum. These are the oldest schools in Montana, and they carry a lot of history. Consider a visit if you’re ever in the area, and you're sure to make memories you won’t soon forget.
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