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After 59 years and three generations of a family's toil, the town of Pray is for sale.

The decision wasn't easy, said owner Barbara Walker.

"I really did want to get the store back operating again," she said. "History is really important to me."

Walker lost her husband and her father-in-law in 2006, and spent several years afterward trying to revitalize the small Paradise Valley burg. She decided last year that someone else might be better at breathing life back into the small collection of buildings.

For $1.4 million, the five acres along Highway 540 and its old store, newer post office, new commercial building and a few other outbuildings can be yours.

"It's kind of a unique property," said Bart Miller, the realtor for Mason & Morse Ranch Co. in Colorado, which has listed the property.

"It's really meant for someone to come in with a vision and make a bed and breakfast or coffee shop or general store," he said.

Moved once

Pray is just 3 miles north of Chico Hot Springs Resort, a popular historic spa in the shadow of Emigrant Peak. Although Chico and about 680 people nearby give Pray as their mailing address, the post office was once located elsewhere.

The town was founded on the other side of the valley, across the Yellowstone River. It was one of several small siding towns along the branch of the railroad connecting Livingston to Yellowstone National Park.

The town was founded in 1907 about five miles north of Emigrant by an entrepreneur named Valentine Eggar, who hoped to name the town for himself. But the Postal Service turned him down, saying that "Eggar" was too close to Edgar, the name of the town already established in Carbon County on the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River.

Being a resourceful guy, Eggar decided to name the town in honor of Rep. Charles N. Pray, who just happened to be in charge of approving new post offices.

In 1936, Postmaster Carl Weymiller moved the post office and store away from the rail line and across the river to capture traffic along Highway 540, known locally as the East River Road. There it has remained, with the Walker family taking over in 1953.

Hardin ties

Eric and Madge Walker were running a dairy in Hardin when they decided to move their family to Pray. The town at the time consisted of the store, gift shop, gas station and post office, all in one building. They ran it for about 15 years before one of their sons, Tavner, and his wife, Ruby, took over.

Ruby became postmaster, a post she held until 1999. When she stepped down, a new post office building was built behind the store. The lease income from the post office is one of the benefits to the property that Walker touts.

After Ruby died, Tavner closed the store. The property sat idle until about 2003, when Johnny Walker revisited his family home and decided to try to revitalize the buildings. In 2004, the store was reopened. Barbara had a gallery for her photography work in the back.

Only a year later, though, Johnny found out he had cancer.

"Everything stopped," Barbara said, and the family moved to Nebraska. It wasn't until 2007, after Johnny and Tavner had died, that she came back and began working again to resurrect the store.

Roughing it

"Oh my God, I hauled garbage for two days," she said.

Walker had the new metal building built, with an apartment in the back as a living quarters. Until that was done, she was staying in an apartment in the old store, showering at Chico Hot Springs and using the construction company's outhouse because the old store's septic and water system weren't working.

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As Walker's photography business grew and drew her away from home, she decided that someone else would be better qualified to commit more time to reopening the store.

"I even kicked around the idea of putting a cigar box out and letting the locals open the store and make coffee," she said, but her attorney talked her out of that because of the liability concerns.

"I kicked around every which way of trying to do it all and decided I didn't want to do it all," Walker said.

When Johnny's uncle, Eric Walker, gave the OK, she felt comfortable putting Pray up for sale.

"Bless his heart, Uncle Eric said, 'I think it's time to close this chapter,'" she said.

The pitch

Walker said being the owner of Pray doesn't have to be a difficult job.

"The town is pretty low-maintenance," she said. "You collect the rent once a month and water and mow the lawn."

She said the valley has grown enough that there are plenty of locals to help support a small store. Everyone still stops by the post office to collect their mail. The store used to be a gathering place for locals to drink coffee and chat. Walker thinks there's still enough tourist traffic along the road to support a business.

Interest in the property has grown but remains sporadic, Walker said.  She remains hopeful, however, and if the property doesn't sell the traditional way, she's considering an auction this summer.

"I'm hoping somebody buys it because they want to do something with it," she said. 

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.