historic american buildings survey

History of the Moon-Randolph Main House

By Samantha Hofland

My first impression of the “Main House” or “Randolph Cabin” was how old and very run-down it is. However, as we delved deeper into exploring and mapping it, the more evidence you could see of the life it used to have. The patchwork and ingenuity used to build and repair the house over the years is amazing. The Moon family started building the cabin and the Randolph family completed it with whatever materials they could find around the homestead. “The cabin remains a testament to folks who wasted nothing. Not a piece of twine or a single scrap of newspaper…” (Devlin 2014:1).

Randolph House.png


The house does not look like much today, but you can see the care and thought put into the house. From the walkway lined with Dane’s Blood flowers to the front door with decorative door knob, the lilac trees, and bay window, there are small hints that give us the sense of home from when the Randolph family lived here.

In April 1907, William and Emma Randolph and their two boys bought the homestead from George and Helen Moon. Before the Randolph’s took over the property, George and Helen had already started construction on the Main House and completed the living room and attic. The Randolphs added the kitchen, pantry, and bedroom (DeSilvey 2002:58-59). They also planted their own kitchen garden to the north of the house (Hagen 2010). In 1911, the Randolph’s youngest son William was born just as the farm really began to thrive (DeSilvey 2002:20-21).

Even through the Great Depression the family and the farm were able to survive by making do with what they already had, placing further emphasis on the cycle of reuse that was already deeply engrained into life at the homestead.  The cabin itself reflects this cycle with its mixture of salvaged lumber and boxcar wood used as siding for the house. There are obvious areas in which damage to the house was patched with whatever was on hand, such as extra tin and salvaged lumber. When the East side of the house (bedroom) was added they overlapped the siding onto the existing north elevation. “This overlapping was done crudely, apparently in an attempt to visually integrate the addition with the original building” (Hagen 2010).

Randolph House Patchwork.png

When exploring inside the house you can get a sense of what life may have been like for the Randolphs. If you look past the state of decay the house is now in, you can imagine the boys taking off their boots in the mudroom so they could come in and wash up for dinner, while Emma stood cooking at the stove. The attached “cold-storage” pantry would have been full of canned goods and other foods. Some of those still remain. The family might have gathered in the living room to read before bed, perhaps from the quite varied collection of books including National Geographic, or Popular Mechanics periodicals, which we discovered while working in the cabin this summer.

Randolph House Stuff.png

The family moved up to what is now the caretakers house in 1946 after a fire nearly burned down the main cabin in 1945 (Hagen 2010). William and Emma lived in the newly renovated house until 1956 when Emma passed away. William followed just a few months later (DeSilvey 2002:35-36). It is likely that their youngest son Bill continued to live in the main house until his parents' deaths, when he moved up to the renovated house. Bill passed away in 1995.

After his death there were multiple estate sales and it is unknown what objects from the main house were sold. There has been relatively little activity from humans in the house since then and other critters have taken up residence - bull snakes, mice, wasps, spiders, and even a badger who burrowed through the kitchen wall on the west side to make the stove his new home.

University of Montana Field School at the Moon-Randolph Homestead

By Nikki Manning

Back in February of this year when I visited with Caroline Stephens, one of the homestead’s caretakers, I will admit that I didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into as we eagerly planned an archaeological field school for this summer. Yet, five brave students from the University’s Department of Anthropology signed up not only for the field experience but to provide a service for one of the Missoula community’s most beautiful gems. Our mission as we chose to accept it – a full architectural survey of the dilapidated “Main Cabin,” built sometime between 1890-1910, and an inventory of the many artifacts that are stored in there, almost as if the inhabitants went out to the field for the day and might home anytime.

The “Main Cabin” at the Moon Randolph Homestead.

The “Main Cabin” at the Moon Randolph Homestead.

Fast forward to now and we are just beginning our third of five weeks. During our first two weeks we accomplished a lot and what feels like never enough. We have endured drastic changes in temperature – our first day was windy and in the high 50s and today we were pushing into the high 90s with not even a light breeze. The wasps are getting tired of our intrusion and our bull snake friend (how big he really is ranges between 3-5 feet depending on the storyteller and the listener!) is not too thrilled with us poking around in his home either. The spiders – well, we won’t even go there.

Our main tasks so far have been full photographic documentation of the cabin and landscape, a vegetation survey of the immediate cabin vicinity, and SO MANY measurements. We have measured every nook and cranny of the interior (including the “cold room” off the kitchen which has acquired the loving moniker of “the Snake Hole Lounge”) and every surface of the exterior. We are currently working on the drawings based on those measurements and will soon begin the artifact inventory.

The cold storage room off the kitchen – a.k.a. the Snake Hole Lounge

The cold storage room off the kitchen – a.k.a. the Snake Hole Lounge

Caroline graciously offered to add a blog feature to the Moon Randolph website for us to share our experience with you all and is even going to let us stage a temporary takeover of the Instagram account! We already have a few blog posts ready to go about some interesting finds and observations that we have made thus far so check here often for new entries or the Instagram and Facebook page for more photos. We will be sure to keep you all informed, possibly entertained, and may even call on you, the Missoula community, to help us figure out what some of these artifacts are that have us scratching our heads!

Thanks for reading and following our journey!

Nikki Manning, Kate Kolwicz, Genevieve Andrus, Nicholas Densley, Samantha Hofland, Caleb Wilkerson