Contributing to the growth of the area north to the Missouri and south to the Yellowstone was the Homestead Act of 1862, later amended to give settlers 320 acres of land, which, if proved up in five years, became their own. The railroad advertised the area as "Freeland" and was responsible for bringing settlers into the area.
Ingomar was also the sheep shearing center to the migratory sheepmen using the free spring, summer, and fall grass. Ingomar became the site of the world's largest sheep shearing and wool shipping point. Two million pounds of wool a year were shipped from Ingomar during the peak years. Shearing pens in Perth, Australia, were designed using the Ingomar pens as a model. Wool was stored in the wool warehouse located adjacent to the shearing pens and shipped out by rail through 1975 when the wool warehouse was sold to William Magelssen. Rail service was discontinued in 1980.
Since potable water could not be found at the townsite, water was supplied by the Milwaukee Railroad using a water tender. The water tender was left in Ingomar as a gift by the Milwaukee Railroad when services were discontinued. In late 1984, a water system was installed for the few remaining Ingomar residents.
Between 1911 and 1917, there were an average of 2500 homestead filings per year in this area. The post office was established in 1910, with Si Sigman as postmaster. Ingomar soon became a bustling town of 46 businesses, including a bank, two elevators, two general stores, two hotels (of which, one remains), two lumber yards, rooming houses, saloons, cafes, drug store, blacksmith shop, claims office, doctor, dentist, maternity home, and various other essential services.
To the northeast of the townsite is what remains of Trout Lake, a body of water impounded by the embankment of the railroad, which provided boating and swimming in summer, skating in winter, and a source of ice that was cut, harvested, and stored in three icehouses to provide summer refrigeration.
Fires, drought, and depression have wreaked havoc on this community over the years. The dreams of homesteaders vanished as rain failed to come in quantities to assure a crop with sufficient frequency to enable them to make a living. A reluctance to abandon the town has kept it alive through the devastating fire of 1921, which destroyed a large portion of it. Some businesses rebuilt, but others moved on.
The first school in Ingomar was a four-month term in early 1912 when classes were held for nine pupils in the old town hall with Mae Costello as teacher. Classes were continued at that location in 1912-13 for a full nine-month term under Miss Stella Lamphere.
The need for classroom facilities grew, and the west wing of the frame building was built in the summer of 1913. The first classes in the frame building were taught by Miss Lamphere for 14 students starting in November, 1913. As more classrooms were needed, the east wing was added in 1915, and two temporary classrooms were rented in 1921. The brick elementary building was erected in 1922 and was joined to the original frame building by a connecting hallway. The brick building was demolished in 1993.
In 1921, the first four-year high school was established with Mr. Emil Peterson as principal. The largest class ever to graduate from Ingomar High School was the class of 1936, consisting of 13 members, with C. C. Shively as superintendent.
In later years, the enrollment declined until the high school was discontinued in the spring of 1951 for lack of sufficient students to maintain accreditation. The elementary school was continued in the northeast room of the frame building, and high school students were transported to Sumatra.
After the Sumatra school building was destroyed by fire on December 17, 1964, the Sumatra High School was moved to unused classrooms at Ingomar, and the students completed the 1964-65 term in Ingomar. Sumatra voters opposed rebuilding the Sumatra School and voted for consolidating with Ingomar. Sumatra High School was reborn as Ingomar High School in the fall of 1965 and continued to operate until it closed in May 1969. The elementary school was continued.
Beginning in 1928, the dormitory facilities were provided at separate rented buildings two blocks southwest of the school for boys and girls where were forced to come from a distance to attend high school. A new dormitory was built in 1931, located just north of the school at a cost of $10 thousand.
When the building was no longer used as a dormitory, it continued to be used as a kitchen and dining room for the hot lunch program with living quarters for the cook located downstairs. It was abandoned entirely in 1987 when cooking, dining, and classroom facilities were moved to the gym. The dormitory was demolished in 1992.
The steel gymnasium was built in 1965. In 1987, a classroom was built in the upper east end of the building to accommodate the few remaining elementary students and save the cost of heating the old school building. The elementary school closed in 1992 for lack of students.
The Ingomar Hotel located at the corner of Main Street and Railway Avenue was built in 1922 and connected to an older dining room which was managed by Mrs. H. J. Broom and by Stena Austin after Mrs. Broom's death. The mortgager, Emil Lura, took over ownership and management of the property, after twice foiling Stena's efforts to torch the hotel. At that time, rates were 50 cents per night, and no women were allowed. After World Ware II, rates were raised to one dollar per night. The building was purchased by Bill Seward in 1966 and is no longer operated as a hotel.
The present day Jersey Lilly had its beginning as a bank in 1914, known as Wiley, Clark, and Greening, Bankers. On January 1, 1918, the bank was reorganized from a probate bank to Ingomar State Bank. It received a federal charter and operated as the First National Bank of Ingomar from January until July 21, 1921, when it closed. On October 13, 1921, the bank went into receivership. In June, 1924, William T. Craig was charged in Federal Court in Billings with misapplying certain funds of the bank. Craig was found guilty and sentenced to 16 months and fined one thousand dollars. In April, 1925, the Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed the Montana decision, and the indictment was ordered quashed. Craig was dismissed. The money lost by the bank customers was never repaid.
In 1933, Clyde Easterday established the Oasis bar in the bank building. Bob Seward took over the bar in 1948 and named it the Jersey Lilly after Judge Roy Bean's bar of the same name in Langtry, TX. Bob's son, Bill purchased the building in 1958, and the Jersey Lilly continued under his ownership, serving as the local watering hole, cafe, and general gathering place for area residents until August, 1995, when it was purchased by Jerry J. Brown. The Jersey Lilly is internationally known for its beans and steaks. The cherry wood back bar of the Jersey Lilly is one of two which were transported from St. Louis by boat up the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers and installed at Forsyth in the early 1900s. This bar was stored at Forsyth during Prohibition, sold to Bob Seward, and installed here in 1933. The other back bar was destroyed in 1912 when the American Hotel burned in Forsyth.
The original fame school building, the Jersey Lilly, and Bookman Store were all placed on the National Registry of Historic places in September, 1994. Both the original frame school building and the Milwaukee Depot are privately owned.
Ingomar retains its post office and one rural route with mail delivered every Friday in spite of snow, rain, heat, or gloom of night.
Area residents banded together to construct a rodeo arena, which has become one of the best NRA rodeos. Rodeos are held throughout the summer and early fall.
Across the street from the Jersey Lilly, the local 4-H club has constructed a park with horseshoe pits and picnic tables for public use.
A campground with hook-ups is open throughout the year. If you are planning to stay in Ingomar, call the Jersey Lilly at 406-358-2278 for information.
From the grazing of buffalo to Texas cattle to early sheepmen and through the homestead era, this land has completed a cycle, bringing it back to is primary use, production of natural grasses. Ingomar survives today because of the social needs of the people of this vast and sparsely populated area.
The town of Ingomar is located between Roundup and Forsyth on US 12 in east-central Montana.