The Madison Valley History Museum is in the background. Larry Love, President of the Madison Valley HIstory Association and head curator of the museum says it is also a monument to his family. (R.Colyer photo)

‘A History of Love’

For Ennis man, Madison Valley History Museum is story of family

ENNIS—Larry Love’s family moved to Ennis in 1908. His grandfather, W.S. Angle, owned the Angle Forge, which used to be located in the center of “town—” if you could call it town. 

Larry Love is now the president of the Madison Valley History Association, and the head curator at the Madison Valley History Museum. He knows every artifact and image the museum houses, like the photograph of Ennis’s Main Street from just a few years before his grandfather moved to the Madison Valley. But in 1900, it wasn’t really a street at all. In fact, it was little more than a winding wagon track with a few small buildings on either side.

“Ennis was a poor town,” Love says on a museum tour on a Thursday afternoon. “We never had a gold mine or any wealthy buildings. There was only one building that even had any brick, and that was the old Ennis hotel.” The Ennis hotel hasn’t existed for decades, but built in the 1940s, it was one of the town’s grandest establishments.

Much of the history contained in the museum is Love’s own family history; the building next door is an exact replica of his grandfather’s blacksmith shop and forge, with most of the original equipment inside. It’s the forge where Love pumped air with a manual bellows when he was a child, before the blacksmith installed an electric bellows.

Love was born in Sheridan in 1940 and moved to Ennis in 1948, just in time to start the third grade. His father spent three decades as the clerk of the District Court in Virginia City, and the family has been entrenched in Madison Valley history ever since. Love has taken it upon himself to be the steward of that history. He was the president of the Madison Valley History Association for a decade before retiring, only to come back and resume his position when the association found itself in need of a leader once again.

The museum is located just a couple miles northwest of Ennis on Highway 287, but is very often ignored. But with hundreds of artifacts ranging from Sheridan to Cameron and everywhere in between, it warrants a visit.

None of the artifacts have been purchased; everything has been donated or loaned, and the museum is completely staffed by volunteers, like Love. They’ve made it their mission to ensure the history that created the communities in the Madison Valley doesn’t go unrecognized or forgotten.

There’s history like the Madison Monster, nicknamed “The Beast.”

In 1886, I.A. Hutchins shot a creature that had been killing livestock and letting out scream-like sounds that terrified and confused locals. Once the animal had been shot, nobody could figure out exactly what it was, including a team from the Smithsonian, where the creature spent a stint under examination. 

Wolf-like in stature but just a little “off,” it was thought to be part hyena, from an earlier visit that a traveling circus made to the area, but that theory was quickly shot down. An alternative theory posited that it might have been a kind of wolf-coyote hybrid, resulting in its distinctly canine but somewhat stunted appearance. Today, the beast and its full history are on display at the museum, still shrouded in a bit of mystery.

There are also pieces on display that are significantly less mysterious, like the roll top desk that belonged to Ennis’s namesake, William Ennis. There’s the still that graced Oscar’s Bar (now Ennis’s Longbranch Saloon) during Prohibition, when it had likely been stored in the backyard or the basement. 

There’s a room filled with doctors’ equipment that sat in Dr. Losee’s 1950s clinic. It looks much like it did when Love was a young boy, including the doctor’s chair he sat in to receive stitches after a childhood injury. It’s a fitting tribute to Losee’s years of service, since the building that houses the museum was the original Madison Valley Medical Center clinic. The entire thing was loaded onto a trailer and moved to its current location after the clinic donated it and built its new space in Ennis. The museum opened in 2010.

There are natural artifacts like fossils and samples of the natural talc that the Imerys Mine processes, and manmade artifacts like a collection of arrowheads, all found somewhere in the Madison Valley.

Guests learn how to determine the age of farm animals by their teeth from historical pamphlets delivered to ranchers, or how to make and store farm butter.

Or, you can take a guess at the “what the heck is it?” table, which hosts over a dozen whatsits whose identities can’t quite be determined. Love thinks he has a pretty good idea of what they are, but some of them are still up for debate, like some questionable-looking fishing gear.

It’s a museum filled to bursting with important history, each item carrying with it a story of its own. Those are exactly the stories Love wants to preserve, and he intends to do that for as long as he can.

“I just want people to leave with more of a story than they had at first look,” he says. “I’m dedicated to this until I die.”

The Madison Valley History Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday. from 1-4 p.m, and staffed completely by volunteers. Admission is free, and donations are always appreciated.

Add Article to Front Page Categorized News

More Information

The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

Cori Koenig, editor:
Susanne Hill, billing: 
Ad orders, inserts, classifieds: 
Comment Here