By KELLYANNE TERRY
Tucked off of Main Street and within walking distance of downtown, The Calvert Hotel in Lewistown, Mont., has proved an anchor of hospitality. What was once a dormitory for early 1900’s high school students now hosts a luxury boutique hotel with reflections of the past.
Like the rural area that is Fergus County, the Calvert had its beginnings in the Federal Homestead Acts of 1901 and 1912.
The unique opportunity of land for settlement, first 160 acres and then 320 acres, brought many people west to try their hand at agriculture and the promise of the American Dream—owning their own property.
A Growing Town
With the rise of settlement came the construction of the Great Northern Railway east of Lewistown. Fergus County saw a spike in economic growth. The transportation of goods was timely and feasible from the East Coast shipyards and Midwest factories.
Estimates of as many as 80,000 people came to Central Montana between 1908 and 1919.
With the influx of families to the region, schools became as important as the goods on the rails between towns. Montana had already passed the Montana County Schools Act in 1899 to establish centralized high schools.
In the large area of Fergus County, it was impossible for students wanting a high school education to travel daily to school.
In 1916, the Fergus County High School principal asked the Chamber of Commerce for funds for a dormitory for those outlying students to stay at during the week.
Bonding had failed to raise money for the construction of a dormitory. A private corporation, the Fergus County Improvement Corporation, was established as a funding source through the selling of shares.
The dormitory was then built in 1917 and served many students over the years.
Students paid $18 for room and board. Those who couldn’t afford that worked in the kitchen, tended the boiler, or cleaned rooms.
In the dwindling years of the land rush, the building was used solely as a girls’ dormitory. By August 1925, Fergus County found itself broke, causing the closure of the facility.
The brick structure was ideal for housing, and Mrs. Emma Marsh saw the potential when she purchased it from the Fergus County Development Corporation in 1928. She and her husband, George, converted the dormitory to a hotel, naming it The Calvert.
For the next 41 years, Mrs. Marsh made improvements, including installing private bathrooms, refurnishing, redecorating, and establishing a dining area in the basement. The hotel ran like a boarding house as people stayed on a monthly basis and ate their meals together in the dining room.
High school students also lived at The Calvert and worked as janitors, night clerks, maids, and maintenance people in order to attend school—very similar to the dormitory days.
The Hotel Today
Today the Calvert is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is still a hotel today, ever since the Marshes converted it and sold it in 1969. In 2007, Steve Duffy purchased the property and made extensive renovations.
Recently, The Calvert saw another transition when Jeff Southworth and Julie Walsh of Allied Steel in Lewistown purchased the property.
For the past 101 years, The Calvert has been a place of rest for many a traveler, a key player in the economic framework of Fergus County, and a reminder of days gone by. It is a historical building with character—a destination to look forward to. MSN