For nearly 120 years, the Dana Barn has stood above the Little Blackfoot River as an icon of the Avon Valley.
Easily seen from the highway, halfway between Garrison and Avon, current owners of the property, Jamison and Pam Grover, frequently have passersby stop to talk and tour the barn, marveling at its size and history.
The Danas constructed the barn in two phases starting in 1900 and then in 1910, erecting the 62-foot tall building for livestock and hay storage – the same purposes it is used for today.
“It’s an incredible barn, it really is, they did it right,” Jamison said. “The lumber was taken off of the ranch and built the barn and all the other outbuildings. We have people stop all the time and ask ‘Can we look at your barn?’ and we’re always happy to give them a tour. They’re always amazed at just how the heck they could’ve built this back then.”
It was in 1882 that George and Glaphry Dana first came to the valley by wagon train, wintering in the Avon area along with George’s father Loren and his brother Dennis. The next year, they secured two homesteads, said Ruth Dana, who now lives in Trout Creek with her husband Neil Dana, the last of the family to live on the ranch until the late 1980s.
“It was a good place to raise a family, and for a lot of years it was a good place to make a living,” Ruth said.
George began a dairy operation, including the first milking machine in the state of Montana, Ruth continued, and that led to construction of the barn. In later years the property would support sheep, beef cattle and draft horses, as well as a few goats.
When it became time to sell, it was a difficult decision during an equally difficult economic times for ranchers, and one that has seen Ruth stay away since.
“It was not easy, and Neil and I decided we wouldn’t be here to see what happened,” she said.
The Grovers have been on the homestead property for 14 years and use both the barn for horses and hay as well as live in a house built in 1900. Jamison was out inspecting the area after a major windstorm in late June when he noticed the barn was badly off kilter. Two of the support beams broke under 60 mph winds and all he could do was chain off the roof to keep it from tilting more.
Whether to fix the barn was never a question for the Grovers, but finding a contractor to do it proved challenging.
“It’s stood the test of time for a hundred years and this is the first major issue we’ve had,” Jamison said.
The Grovers began reaching out but had little luck. During the search they learned that the Danas still lived in Trout Creek and Jamison decided to give them a call.
“We didn’t know it had been damaged and Mr. Grover also wanted to know some of the history,” Ruth said. “It’s been there 118 years so we were certainly hoping it could be fixed because it’d be such a shame to have to dismantle it.”
In the 1970s the Danas had the barn reroofed by local Jeff Janke, who is now with Trout Creek Log Homes. After striking out with a number of contractors, both the Grovers and Danas were happy that he agreed to take on the task of stabilizing and repairing the barn. Janke used cables to temporarily stabilize it as custom trusses must be ordered and installed to make the building sound.
“To me that’s a bit special, that he’ll be back to repair it,” Ruth said.
The Grovers are happy to keep the history going.
“It’s been here 120 years and we want it to stand for the next hundred,” Jamison said.
And after 30 years, Ruth says she hopes to return and see the barn after it is repaired.
“Yes we would like to go visit the Grovers,” she said. “We will always love the ranch and what it represents in our family.”