By Jo-Anne Bowen
I love history and travel and combining them is my ideal trip! Let me share with you one of my latest…
I’ve heard stories of hardship that many early settlers faced. When I heard about luxury in the 1890’s, I was curious. Who were the wealthy? Where did they live? How did they live? A visit to the Conrad Mansion Museum in Kalispell, MT answered all my questions.
From the exterior, I was impressed with the massive size. Whereas many early settlers lived in tiny 3 room shelters, the Conrad home is a giant 13,000 square foot structure over 3 floors and includes beautiful woodwork, styles of the period, 8 fireplaces, and 3 kinds of glass work. Where did the money come from? Charles Conrad made his wealth in shipping and trading on the Missouri River. Looking for additional opportunities, he moved his family to Montana and was one of the founding fathers of Kalispell.
I entered the home into the Great Hall- open beams two stories high. I could picture myself entertaining here! Entertaining was an important part of daily life and the home was designed to facilitate this. The family often invited musicians to perform in this Great Hall. Mrs. Conrad loved Christmas and filled the Great Hall with a massive 2 story high Christmas tree decorated with hundreds of beeswax candles.
Several servants “guarded the tree” in case the candles burnt out of control. Today, the museum recreates this Christmas celebration in weekend events throughout December– just minus the beeswax candles! In several ways, the home was ahead of its time. It was wired for electricity and had one of the first flushing toilets- many who grew up in rural areas didn’t have indoor plumbing till the 1950’s! The Conrads also had one of the first electric washing machines, had running water in each bathroom, electric doorbells, walk-in closets, and even an elevator connecting the 3 floors. And this was all in the 1890’s!
Amazing also is the quantity and quality of the period furniture. The Chippendale table in the dining room, Eastlake style double bed in the Grey Room, and Queen Anne Table with braided edge in the Music Room are all in beautiful condition. See also an original fainting couch in the library. On the second floor, step into the charm of the master bedroom with Tiffany style glass doors leading to a private balcony. A massive fireplace, original style Russian sleigh bed and leaded windows complete the picture. The guest bedrooms are also sights to behold and “tell” various stories – both of the furniture and of the guests! Included are several canopied beds with ornate headboards, marble top dressers, and an Eastlake-style double bed. These guest rooms were often occupied by artists and political leaders of the day including President Roosevelt, Charles Russell, Charles Davenport and James J. Hill.
Over 90% of the contents are original – known because the family kept immaculate receipts and records! The family home is recognized as one of America’s best preserved historical homes of the period. Whether you are a connoisseur of antique furniture, a lover of history or a curious traveler, a visit to the Museum will delight you!
If you go: The Conrad Mansion Museum is located in Kalispell, MT and offers guided tours from mid-May through mid-October. Cost: $15 for adults. There is also a special Christmas festival beginning the day after Thanksgiving through December.
Address: PO Box 1041, Kalispell, MT 59901.
Photography by Karen Weyer
Permission to use granted by Conrad Mansion Museum Board of Directors. Photographs:
- Conrad Mansion Museum Exterior
- Great Hall1
- Great Hall2
- Tiffany Style Window
- Bottle Glass
- Chippendale Table
- Mahogany Breakfront
- Mansion Electricity
- Canopy Bed
Additional Reading: Half Interest in a Silver Dollar The Saga of Charles E. Conrad by James E. Murphy.