The aged buildings of the Gehring Ranch northwest of Helena contain a wealth of history across multiple generations, and now that history has been officially recognized with the ranch’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Gehring family gathered in celebration over the weekend with friends and historians who spent nearly two years working towards the listing. More than 20 structures needed cataloging and researching, but fortunately the family had kept detailed records of several shifts in agricultural practices on the ranch.
“The paper record was incredible,” said Paul Putz, the historian who headed up the application.
Writing the application was an extensive process that required more than 100 pages of documentation.
Bartholomew Gehring left Indiana in 1862 and headed West, entering Montana somewhere around 1865. County records indicate he was ranching in the Prickly Pear Valley northwest of Helena by the following year, according to the application.
The location of the ranch, which includes the present day red barn sitting close to Lincoln Road, would offer the Gehrings a strategic location for business. As an offshoot of the Mullan Road, the family positioned a large watering trough for passing teams of stock, which also allowed them the opportunity to sell products such as grain, hay, berries, eggs and butter.
As early towns such as Silver waned, the Gehrings became known for adapting to the profitable commodities of the times. Cattle, pigs and dairy were just a few of the endeavors the family took on over the ranch’s history.
“There were a lot of uses and transformations,” Putz said, providing a good representation of the early agriculture in the area in line with the historic needs of the time.
David Gehring, Bartholomew’s son with his wife Jane born in 1873, would take over the ranch and shepherd it through economic ebbs and flows and new technologies. Each new commodity or livestock meant a need for new facilities, making up the many historic buildings on the property, and David kept a detailed journal that provided much of the information used in the application.
David and his wife Ann, who took many of the historic photos in the family’s archive, had three children: Ruth, Clifford and Jack, born between 1918 and 1923. Jack’s main interests centered on agriculture and he would go on to take over management of the ranch and build a new home there in 1948. It was during this time period the ranch focused heavily on cattle, including using property they purchased near Lincoln, where they also ran a sawmill.
Jack and his wife Rose, 89, continued to innovate at the ranch. Rose traded a beef calf for a bison calf, and so launched the ranch’s trademark bison herd that her son Bill Gehring still runs on the property.
“I’m very happy and I think about all that Billy has sacrificed trying to keep things going — it’s a 24-hour deal,” Rose said.
Rose came from Marysville and initially missed having the mountains so close. She recalled the isolation of life on the ranch, in particular not having another woman for miles. But as she lived there she concentrated on raising her family and gardening. She recalls that the family spirit has largely been marked by doing things in their own way.
Bill walked through the buildings Saturday, explaining the historic purposes to visitors in between hosting a barbeque.
“Whether it’s development or building, when it’s gone, it’s pretty much gone forever,” he replied, when asked what the Historic Register listing meant to his family.
Bill was interested in hosting the celebration to also honor those who helped bring the listing to fruition, Putz and Lewis and Clark County Historic Preservation officer Pam Attardo.
Bill also credited Prickly Pear Land Trust Executive Director Mary Hollow, who helped place a conservation easement on the property in 2016 which ensures it will stay open space and largely undeveloped.
Hollow said it was the first time in her career that a property has secured a conservation easement and gained historic listing.