A Narrative History of the Montana Heritage Project

Estonian Immigrants to Montana

Renee Rasmussen

Chester High School


A community member approached Chester High School English teacher Renee Rasmussen with questions about a house that sits on her land. She wondered whether Renee and her students could look into it. Renee assigned this task to her freshman English class. Students discovered that the house was built by Estonian immigrants. In researching why Estonians would immigrate to the Montana Hi-Line and then leave, students ended up learning a little about the Russian Revolution, the Dawes Act, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and the history of the railroad.

After preliminary research, students visited the house and created a site map. They plotted the buildings, well and natural features of the site complete with dimensions and distances. When the mapping was done, they started research on the house itself. The students spent quite a bit of time taking photos to document site layout and building details, collecting samples of brick and paint, recovering newspapers found glued to the walls, some in English and some in either Russian or Estonian, and taking measurements for maps. Next, they visited the State Historic Preservation Office in Helena to begin a nomination to the National Historic Register. If they are successful, this would be the third building the students of Chester High School have placed on the Register. 

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2000 Montana Heritage Project
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