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Sullivan's Saddlery


The Sullivan Saddlery was originally from Fort Benton, Montana. It was supposed to have been built in 1847, which would make this Montana's oldest wooden building. It stood on Front Street just west of the bank building in Fort Benton on the present site of a modern brick-fronted drug store.

The building had quite a history even before Sullivan. An Indian treaty was signed here, and then it became a saloon known as the "Treaty Saloon." It was one of the first buildings built outside the fort on the present townsite of Fort Benton.


Joseph Sullivan was one of Montana's most famous saddlers. Sullivan and Goss became partners in Deer Lodge in 1880, and their first big order was from Conrad Kohrs. In 1882 Sullivan moved to Fort Benton, dissolving his partnership with Goss in 1883, and continued to operate his shop until his death. His biggest order was 500 saddles for the Northwest Mounted Police. Charlie Russell used to like to sit around the very same stove which is still in this shop and "jaw" about the good old days, before the trains and automobiles.

In September, 1940, Charles Bovey was going to attend a horse sale in Fort Benton. He never made it to the sale, but instead was introduced to the two unmarried daughters of Joseph Sullivan. They showed him their father's shop and he was so interested, they gave it to him. The town of Fort Benton made it known they did not want the shop restored on their progressive Front Street, and so to preserve it, Bovey had his ranch hands disassemble it and re-erect it in a huge barn at the Great Falls Fairgrounds, which became known as "Old Town." Old Town eventually became an indoor representation of a entire Western town of a fast-vanishing era, complete with real, full-scale buildings. It was a unique idea in the museum world, long before other such exhibits such as "the Streets of Old Milwaukee" or similar exhibits in the Smithsonian. All the buildings in Old Town are not only real and full-scale, but were destined to be destroyed when Charles Bovey rescued them.


Alas, the Great Falls Fair Board did not recognize the great tourist attraction potential of Old Town a free "gift" to Great Falls from Charlie Bovey and asked that it be removed in 1959. To preserve the very historic buildings he had collected there, he began the restoration of Nevada City in 1959, restoring the Main Street to the appearance of a picture taken July 4, 1865, and using the back street to rebuild the buildings from Old Town. The Sedman House found a perfect spot between two century-old cottonwood trees at the end of the street.

Everything displayed in the Sullivan Shop came from there. The fence outside has been with it most of its life as well.


Article by: John Ellingsen

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