Once in a while the bored Montana resident, tired of the same old routine, stumbles upon a hidden treasure—a place that flies below the radar, but holds great tidbits of history and peculiar artifacts. The Headwaters Heritage Museum in Three Forks is just such a place, providing an enjoyable exploration of Three Forks and the surrounding area’s rich history and local color.
The museum building itself is chock-full of history. Built in 1910, it originally housed numerous banks, dentist offices, physician’s practices, and other local businesses. Visitors can still see the vintage bank vault as they’re perusing the museum. In the 1950s, an earthquake (the one that formed Quake Lake) left the building with major structural damage and a portion of it was deemed unsafe. When the last bank vacated, the Historical Society was able to purchase the building, re-build and remodel it appropriately, and open the museum in 1982.
The museum holds a variety of fascinating memorabilia. One of the more valued artifacts is a small anvil, the only merchandise remaining at the old Three Forks trading post in 1810. Another prized possession is the 29 1/2-pound German Brown trout, the largest caught in Montana. A dream of former curator Ruth Myers, two stained-glass windows celebrating Hollowtop Mountain and the Tobacco Root Range illuminate the museum.
The museum’s upper level contains several small replica practices mirroring those that formerly inhabited the building. Visitors can see how price may have compensated for the pain of extracting a tooth with enormous pliers (a tooth-pull cost a mere five bucks). There is also a beauty salon, schoolhouse complete with dunce cap, and blacksmith shop. The upstairs has two important rooms that pay homage to the people of Three Forks: a military room, which remembers the local veterans of past wars; and a room full of Milwaukee railroad station mementos, which reminds visitors that Three Forks began as a railroad town in 1908. On the way outside, visitors can’t miss the 701 different types of barbwire on display.
The back yard takes museum visitors further into Western history, to a time reminiscent of Lewis and Clark and their memorable adventures in the area. There’s an original Gallatin City fur-trapper’s cabin as well as the replica canoe built for The Discovery Channel’s movie The Search for Lewis and Clark. The museum also offers many activities for children, so it’s a great choice for a family daytrip. Just ask Robin, the museum’s curator—she’s always happy to show visitors of all ages around the facility while providing fun and interesting commentary.
The Headwaters Heritage Museum is located on Main St. in Three Forks; admission is free.