The “Frank Conley” Warden’s Residence
Old Montana Prison Complex
Corner of Maryland and Main Street, Deer Lodge, Montana
The ‘Conley’ Warden’s Residence was constructed in 1920 on State property by then-warden, Frank Conley. This “Prairie-Style” two-story house of some original 1,550 square feet was built with the assistance of inmate labor at a reported price of $34,500, a princely sum for those days. The home originally featured a flat second-story bedroom balcony over the north-east corner of the porch.
The initial inhabitants of the three-bedroom, three-bathroom home were Conley, his wife Hilda Higgins Conley, the socialite daughter of one of Missoula, Montana’s founding fathers, and their two daughters; Hilda and Helen.
The structure you see today has been modified to include an addition to the east side just off the original veneer-paneled dining room, enclosure of the south-facing sun porch, the lowering of ceilings in the entry parlor and main living room, and the replacement of the original bathroom fixtures.
A majority of this remodeling was completed in the 1960’s shortly before the residence was adapted to other uses by the State to include most recently, as the Office of the State Board of Pardons. The Powell County Museum & Arts Foundation accepted responsibility for care and operation of the site in 2008.
Conley served as Warden of Montana State Prison from February, 1890 until April of 1921 when he was relieved of his duties by the new Governor of Montana, Joseph M. Dixon. During his 30-year tenure, he introduced the practices of inmate labor, road camps, and the honor system at the Prison. He hired out State inmates for both public and private work, and reportedly retained a part of the income from their labors according to his critics. Conley initiated “good time” during the construction of the majority of the Prison facilities across the street, including the 24-foot high native stone wall. Earned good time reduced sentence length.
Conley was known for his use of prison labor for other public works projects, bridges and hundreds of miles of State roads. Inmates were busy from dawn until dark completing many unfunded projects including buildings at Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs and the State Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Galen.
Conley also served concurrently as the Mayor of Deer Lodge, the Head of the Montana Highway Commission, and as the Provost Marshall of Butte, Montana during that City’s period of labor unrest in 1917-1918
Incoming Gov. Joseph Dixon fired Conley as Warden in 1921. Among the Governor’s bases for termination were questions concerning the use of inmate labor to construct this residence, its cost and opulence, and the amount of State-supplied coal to heat the structure. A State District Judge cleared Conley of all charges in 1922, after which Deer Lodge residents threw a huge party in Conley’s honor.
© 2012 Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation