Upper Madison School

Buffalo Jump Rd., Three Forks, Montana


Upper Madison School

Photo taken by David Jones in June 2015




"Rancher Steve Hutchinson’s granary acted as the Upper Madison School’s first classroom. There Jennie Rice taught area children during a three-month summer term held in 1887. In 1890, Steve and his wife Katherine donated an acre on the northeast corner of their ranch to the school district, where Steve built this wood-framed gable-roof school. Following the best practices in school design, he placed windows on only one side of the building to prevent “cross-lighting,” which experts believed harmed pupils’ vision. Since all students were required to write with their right hands, placing the band of windows to the students’ left meant sunlight could illuminate their papers without creating shadows. Outside, two privies, placed over 80 feet apart for modesty’s sake, served the boys and girls respectively. In the 1890s, teachers were paid $35 a month for the five-month term. Parents took turns providing the teacher room and board at no charge. Ten pupils attended the school in 1893, the year Upper Madison began to receive state funding. The building also served as a social center. An itinerant minister arrived by bicycle to hold Sunday services. Fiddle dances—usually fundraisers—were also common. During the 1930s, farm consolidation left fewer students in rural areas, while automobiles and improved roads made travel easier. As a result, many of Montana’s one-room schools closed, including the Upper Madison School in 1940. Not long after, the Madison Valley Women’s Club took charge of the building, which continues its role as an important community gathering place." - NRHP/Montana Historical Society plaque

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on January 19, 1983
Reference number
Areas of significance
Education; Architecture
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic function
Current function
Music facility
Period of significance

Update Log 

  • July 17, 2019: Updated by Richard Doody: Added historical information
  • December 2, 2018: New photos from David Jones