The Thompson Ranch has been around longer than the town of Alberton. It was one of three ranches that first settled the area before the railroad laid down its iron and steel. Half of its 600 acres is in Missoula County, the other half in Mineral, bordering the eastern half of the town. Travelers who take Exit 77 off Interstate 90 are greeted by an iconic stretch of pastures surrounded by barbed wire fences. The property is sliced in half by Adams Street where a small farm house and big red barn peak through a cluster of tall pine trees.
Sadly, the property owner, Bob Lavelle, passed away, which closes another chapter on this historic site. Bob and his wife, Betty, had been living at The Springs in Missoula. They moved there about two years ago where Betty still lives. Bob had been suffering from a long battle with prostate cancer and passed away on the evening of Dec. 4. Betty can no longer live on her own and will remain at The Springs.
Long-time friend Joe Hanson said it was sad to see Bob go. “He always referred to himself as a gentleman rancher. He represented that old saying that he was “all hat and no herd”. But he did a good job keeping the ranch up,” Hanson said.
Hanson helped out at the place for most of his 45 years living in the area — moving irrigation pipe, taking care of horses, cattle and general all-around handyman for anything and everything that needed fixing.
The ranch was a place where Betty called home. It was owned by her father, Fred Thompson, who had taken it over from his parents who were the original settlers. It was the Thompson Ranch, the Bestwick Ranch and the Eddy Ranch that had put down roots in the fertile, flat valley. The Bestwick property is now a subdivision on the west end of Alberton, down the I-90 Frontage Road.
Fred Thompson was crushed by a bull around 1919 and the ranch eventually fell into Betty and Bob’s possession. Their children, Jeaninne and Joe, live out-of-state with the daughter in Ohio and a son is living in New Jersey. Bob’s remains will be cremated and buried in a family cemetery near Philadelphia, Penn. Neither of the kids are interested in keeping the property and it is now listed with Montana Ranch Properties for approximately $1.4 million.
THE BORDERS run from the rocky ledge of the mountain down to the Clark Fork River across Interstate 90 and borders U.S. Forest Service land. It’s home to herds of elk, deer, bear and other wildlife, and has several springs.
“There are eight water rights on the property,” Hanson said. “Eight springs fed by a large underground lake on the mountain with provides 300 gallons of water per minute. It’s probably the same lake that feeds the spring that supports Alberton’s water supply.” There is also a cell tower on the property, bringing in $200,000 for a 20-year-lease.
Hanson has always been an advocate to keep the ranch intact with perhaps a conservation easement or even to see the town buy the place, “just for the water alone,” he said, referring to all of the developments springing up in the area. “It’s as cheap as you can get because its gravity fed and if people want to expand Alberton, where else are you going to get the water? What a better way to pay back than to keep the ranch a ranch?”
But there has been little interest by conservation organizations, which he has approached over the years, or with town residents. That leaves the fate of the property in the hands of whoever buys it. Whether that will be a real estate company that will subdivide it into a housing development, or someone who will keep the ranch, a ranch.