Why Kalispell first said "no" to owning the historic Conrad Mansion

Feb 12, 2014

Kalispell’s Conrad Mansion Museum is an east side institution, built by a city founder. School children take field trips there, brides have their pictures taken in the summertime gardens, and visitors from around the world take the tour. This year marks 40 years since the city took possession of the Mansion.

But, Conrad Mansion Museum Director Gennifer Sauter says Kalispell was not eager to take on the mansion at first.

Sauter described a picture of the home when the city first took charge of it.

“The debris is such that it’s stacked higher than the hearth of the fireplace. So, you have chairs leaning up against the mantle, you have trash all over the… and not necessarily trash- it looks like trash in the photos, it’s just many various items, and they’re all kind of stacked and piled into one room,” Sauter said.

In 1973 the Conrad Mansion was owned by Charles Conrad’s aging daughter, Alicia Conrad Campbell. She was having a harder and harder time keeping up the house, had in fact moved into a trailer house on the property.

She offered it to the city, but it declined, so did Flathead County. Part of the issue was the disrepair the home had fallen into. The grounds were unkempt, and Campbell had been using the inside for storage.

Mansion Tour Guide Ginny Swan said Alicia was set on preserving the home.

“She was the only one of the three children that actually spent almost her entire life in this house. The others went away to school, she stayed home with her parents, mostly her mother, but she always seemed to have this very strong feeling for the house itself,” Swan said.

The Mansion has importance not just as the home of one of Kalispell’s founding fathers, Charles Conrad, but also as a Kirtland Cutter design. Cutter was also the architect brought in to design Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald Lodge.

Kalispell took possession of the Mansion in December of 1974.

The city provided some money at the beginning, but the selling point for the city taking charge was that the Mansion would pay its own way. Sauter said they still do to this day through ticket sales, the gift shop, and fundraisers.