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Twin Bridges, Montana

Home of a Derby winner; a piece of Montana history
By Perry Backus of The Montana Standard


George Trischman; historic Twin Bridges Round Barn
Hamilton Ranch manager George Trischman wasn't too sure the historic Round Barn near Twin Bridges could be saved when his employer, Allan Hamilton, bought the ranch in 1997. Hundreds of hours of hard work later, the barn appears ready to stand for another century.

Montana came close to losing an important piece of its history in the mid-1990s.

Two miles north of Twin Bridges is the birthplace of the state's only Kentucky Derby winner. Locally called the Round Barn, the huge structure has survived more than a century in the shadow of the Tobacco Root Mountains.

But in 1997, when Hamilton Ranch's manager George Trischman took his first look at the building, he wasn't sure it could be saved.

"The roof was pretty much shot and most of the doors were just swinging in the wind," Trischman remembers. "It was in pretty sad shape."

And it may have just continued to fade away had it not been for the ranch owner's love of Montana history and the buildings that helped tame the frontier.

Allan Hamilton was raised in Cutbank and Columbia Falls. He's made his fortune in commercial real estate ventures in a business based in Illinois. Over the last

20 years, he's purchased a ranch here and there in Montana, including property near Twin Bridges.

Hamilton bought the property that included the Round Barn in 1997, and it wasn't long after that when work began to ensure the building didn't fall over.

Trischman hired local carpenter Bob Lancaster because of his "keen eye for detail, and he liked to do the work the same way they did it 100 years ago."

The huge job continues today.

"He spent a year or more just leveling it up," said Trischman. "The posts sitting on the ground had rotted. There are 26 stalls and he had to jack each post up to get it level again."

Another big project was getting a new roof on the building.

"We had this place filled with shingles," Trischman said, standing inside the huge circular barn where so much history was made.

Mining entrepreneur Noah Armstrong built the barn in the 1880s. Armstrong made his fortune mining silver in the Pioneer Mountains near the ghost town of Glendale, according to a history compiled by Byron Bayers of Twin Bridges.

Armstrong had a passion for race horses and he believed that horses raised in the thin air of Montana might have an edge on the racetrack. He purchased the ranch just outside of Twin Bridges in 1882 and renamed it Doncaster Ranch after a favorite horse. And then he went to work having a barn built worthy of his dreams.

The ground floor of the three-story Round Barn contained horse stalls, offices and sleeping quarters for the employees. In the center of the circular structure were harness closets, two hospital stalls, a grain elevator and a spiral stairway to the second floor.

In one of the hospital stalls, a horse later named Spokane was born in 1886. It went on to win the Kentucky Derby in 1889.

Upstairs, on the second floor, were a granary and hayloft, capable of holding

50 tons of hay and 12,000 bushels of grain. Up one more flight of stairs was a 1,000-gallon water tank that was filled by a windmill located on top of the barn.

"This truly was quite a place to raise horses," said Trischman.

Sometime around 1910, Armstrong gave up the operation and moved to Seattle. In between then and 1933, the barn received little care. Arthur and Elizabeth Bayers purchased the ranch and moved their family from the Big Hole Valley. Bayers was a breeder of purebred Herefords and his herd was well known throughout the United States.

Byron and his wife, Pauline, continued the operation after Art died in 1960. In 1985, Bayers sold the portion of the ranch that included the Round Barn.

For Byron Bayers, the Round Barn will always be filled with memories.

It "was the main place to play, especially the upper stories," Bayers said. "There were a lot of places, under the eaves, where kids could crawl in and the grownups couldn't."

Back then, like most ranchers, the Bayers used lots of workhorses during the haying season. As many as

20 teams of horses worked in the hayfields each summer.

"In the fall, we would turn our work horses out in the mountains and they would mix with the wild horses for the winter," Bayers said. "It was a 12- to 15-hour run with our saddle horses to bring the whole bunch in the next spring, usually from daybreak to sunset. We separated our work horses out in the corral and turned the wild horses back on the mountain."

The Bayers did their part to ensure the barn didn't fall apart during their ownership.

"The barn was in very bad repair when my folks purchased it," remembers Bayers. "We were constantly doing repairs, in fact every day something was done to it. We painted the barn every five years and bought the paint by the barrel, not the bucket. This went on for 53 years."

The Bayers used the barn as a sales ring for their purebred Herefords. He estimates that over $5 million worth of purebred Herefords were sold in the barn into 38 states and as far away as Hungary and Zimbabwe over a 48 year span.

"Really, a lot more cattle history was made in the Round Barn than horse history, other than Spokane and the Derby," he said.

Now, fortunately, the barn is in the hands of someone who wants to ensure it will last longer.

Hamilton's' efforts haven't gone unnoticed. Earlier this year the Virginia City Preservation Alliance awarded him its annual President's Award for his part in saving a piece of Montana's history.

"Allen is just a real stickler for these old buildings," said Trischman. "He's plumb rebuilt the old Seidensticker house at the ranch. It was a kind of a 1900s Victorian house that was in pretty rough shape when he bought the place. There was plaster falling off the walls."

"He just has a real appreciation for these old buildings," Trischman said.

Copyright Perry Backus and the Montana Standard, reproduced by permission.


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