Architecture has recorded some of the most fantastic visions of the human race. The mother of all arts is architecture. Historical architecture shows us the soul of our own civilization and our cultural footprints. While not as rich in architecture as some other great states, Montana provides enough historical structures to compile a nice list of impressive superlatives.
Billings, Moss Mansion
The Moss Mansion, at 914 Division Street in Billings, Montana, is a gem of opulence, a genuinely ornate castle of red sandstone-block construction and red-tiled roof, which remains nearly unchanged from 1903 when P.B. Moss moved in.
Designed in 1901 by famous turn-of-the-century American architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, designer of the original Waldorf Astoria, Plaza Hotels, Williard Hotel, and Copely Hotel, the Moss Mansion is an exuberant mixture of various architectural forms. From the ornate Moorish entry, to the singular Shakespearean library, to the formal French parlor, the Moss Mansion tenders an outstanding blend of periods and styles.
Preston Boyd Moss first passed through Billings in 1891, and settled there one year later. By 1896, he was president of the First National Bank. As Moss’ finances escalated he became involved in the development of the Northern Hotel (1904), supervised the construction of the B.L.& L. canal, and helped start Billings Polytechnic Institute (now Rocky Mountain College), in 1941.
Industrious and mobile, Moss organized the first dial telephone company in the area, and founded a newspaper that was a precursor of the Billings Gazette, as well as launched a central heating plant and the Billings Utility Company. Moss and a ranching partner even oversaw 80,000 head of sheep, as well a few thousand head of cattle. If his entrepreneurial skills weren’t eclectic enough, Moss too formed a toothpaste factory using bentonite, as well as a meat packing plant.
Moss was also the promoter of a futuristic city to be built approximately 10 miles west of Billings. Although “Mossmain” never materialized, Moss had many other extravagant ideas, fancies, and dreams, including what’s now known as the Moss Mansion.
Indeed, Moss spared no expenditure to gather the finest building materials and furnishings from around the country – and world. At the time the Moss Mansion was built, it stood alone on a wheat field on the far western end of Billings. It cost $105,000 to build the mansion – all at a time when the price for an average house was about $3,000.
Built from 1901 to 1903, the Moss Mansion has 28 rooms, and many of the Moss family’s original draperies, fixtures, furniture, finely woven Persian carpets and artifacts decorate lounge, library and bedrooms of the three story house. Stained glass and woodwork of sleek mahogany, oak, and red birch add warmth and authenticity to this historic home.
The nonprofit Billings Preservation Society offers guided tours of the mansion on the hour from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily in the summer, with reduced hours in winter (1:00 to 3:00 p.m.); admission is $7.00 for adults and $3.00 for children ages six to twelve.
Butte, William Clark “Copper King” Mansion
The Copper King Mansion Bed and Breakfast in Butte, Montana, is a palace fit for a king. Acclaimed as one of the 20 great inns of the Rockies by National Geographic Traveler, the Copper King Mansion of William Clark is a splendid example of Victorian elegance and architecture.
The Copper King Mansion was the extravagant home of Montana senator William Andrews Clark, Butte’s first, last, and richest copper baron. According to the Butte Chamber of Commerce, at the time when Clark chose to build his Butte home, “the cost of the Copper King Mansion, estimated at about a half-million dollars, represented a half day’s income for him. By 1900, Clark had amassed a personal fortune estimated at $50,000,000 and was considered one of the wealthiest men in the world.”
Construction began in 1884, and the mansion was completed in 1888. It took four years for nineteenth-century European craftsmen to put up the home, which showcases white oak woodwork, nine different varieties of lumber, hand-carved stairways, hand-painted fresco ceilings by local artisans, many original chandeliers, and mosaic floors. The price of imported materials alone cost about $200,000, and the total expense swelled to well over a quarter million dollars by the time it was finished.
Loaded with original artifacts and mementoes, the Copper King Mansion radiates elegance and opulence. The master bedroom suite features sycamore woodwork and burled walnut bed and matching dresser. The sitting room is marked by a bird’s-eye maple fireplace; the master bedroom is adorned with stained glass windows and extensive collections of beaded purses and antique combs.
The family suite of Butte’s Copper King Mansion displays a pair of full-sized African mahogany sleigh beds, a handsome fresco painted ceiling, and a hand-carved cherry wood fireplace heightened by a diamond backed mirror and bay windows. With its oak woodwork and popular 1920s Art Deco décor, Andrea’s Room is sumptuously furnished. Huguette’s room features a double bed and matching set of Carpathian burled walnut furniture. The mansion’s thirty-four rooms were completely restored in the 1960s.
The Copper King Mansion is open for tours daily, May 1 through September 30, from 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It operates year-round as a bed and breakfast, with four rooms ranging from $60 to $95 nightly. The mansion is located at 219 West Granite.
Daly Mansion, Hamilton
Marcus Daly was a colorful mining tycoon known as the “Copper King.” An industrious Irish immigrant, Daly (1841-1900) made his immense fortune in the mines of Butte during the 1880s, and created the Anaconda Mining Company. Daly established the towns of Anaconda, to boost his smelt mines, and Hamilton, to strengthen his lumber industry.
In the late 1880s, Daly built a summer residence for his family in present-day Hamilton, the center of the marvelous Bitterroot Valley. Daly purchased the existing Anthony Chaffin homestead in 1886, including the farmhouse, and had it completely remodeled into a majestic Queen Anne style Victorian mansion. To this day, the manor remains a riveting symbol of abundant wealth and lavish adornment.
The Daly Mansion, aka known as “Riverside,” due to its closeness to the Bitterroot River, served to entertain and delight guests. Foreign plants, a swimming pool, and a children’s playhouse were all added to Riverside after the Daly family arrived.
Marcus Daly, a blunt and reclusive man, had a tremendous love for horse racing, and came to the Bitterroot Valley for two compelling reasons: to purchase enormous acreage for timber and to establish a breeding homestead for thoroughbreds. The Copper King eventually obtained several large ranches and farms. While Daly lived, 1,200 head of horses were kept on the 22,000-acre holding he named the Bitterroot Stock Farm.
During the late 1880s, Daly bought up little sawmills in the surrounding areas and very quickly established a lumber producing industry on the grounds beside the Bitterroot River. Marcus Daly’s next big idea was to bring in a pair of men from out- of-state to design and develop his fantasy town.
After Marcus Daly’s death in 1900, Margaret had the home remodeled into the present structure. The Georgian Revival style Mansion was drafted by noted Missoula architect A.J. Gibson and finished in 1910.
The building occupies 24,000 square feet on three floors, with twenty five bedrooms, fifteen bathrooms, and seven fireplaces, five of which are faced with imported Italian marble.
Some of the primary rooms include a broad living room, a formal dining room, a music room, a sun room, an upstairs sitting room, a third floor billiard hall, and a trophy room which was annexed in 1914.
Mansion grounds showcase fifty species of trees, a tennis court, a greenhouse, a boathouse, and a laundry building. Following Mrs. Daly’s death in 1941, her elegant abode was boarded up until 1987, when it was opened to the public. The Daly Mansion, recognized as a National Historic Site, is owned by the State of Montana, and operated and maintained by the Daly Mansion Preservation Trust.
Helena, Original Governor’s Mansion
Montana’s Original Governor’s Mansion is located at 304 North Ewing Street, near downtown Helena. Entrepreneur William Chessman built the estate as a private residence in 1888. The three-story Queen Anne-style structure was acquired by the State of Montana in 1913, serving as its first official governor’s residence. The home then housed a string of nine First Families until a new governor’s residence was built in 1959. The Original Governor’s Mansion Restoration Society and the city of Helena started refurbishment in 1969. Since 1981 the Montana Historical Society has managed the Mansion; the building’s authentic appearance shuttles visitors back to the bygone days of yesteryear.
Kalispell, Conrad Mansion
No visit to Kalispell seems whole without a visit to the lovely Conrad Mansion. Standing on the edge of the original Kalispell town site, on a bluff surveying the valley and the Swan range, the Conrad Mansion radiates history and elegance. When Charles E. Conrad arrived in the Flathead Valley in 1891, Kalispell was but a dream. While in search of a superior investment opportunity and a permanent residence for his descendants, Conrad founded Kalispell. In addition to establishing the Kalispell Townsite Company and, later, the Conrad National Bank, Conrad built the splendid Victorian abode for his beloved family. That was in 1895, the year American frontier murderer and outlaw John Wesley Hardin was killed by a policeman in a saloon in El Paso, Texas, and George B. Selden was granted the first U.S. patent for an automobile.
Alicia Conrad Campbell, Charles Conrad’s youngest daughter, lived in the home until 1964. Ten years later, as a means of honoring the memory of her adventuresome parents, she chose to donate the Conrad Mansion to the city of Kalispell. Although the Conrad Mansion Museum is owned by the city of Kalispell, it relies wholly on earnings from tours, donations, and special events to stay open to the public.
Martinsdale, Bair House
The Bair house, Martinsdale, Montana, was finished to the Bairs’ approval by 1936, just in time for Mr. and Mrs. Bair’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. The Charles M. Bair Family Museum opened to the general public in 1996. The home showcases the possessions of one of the state’s principal pioneer families.
By 1910, businessman Charles Bair was estimated to have the largest sheep operation in North America, running approximately 300,000 head and about 1.5 million pounds of wool. Bair entered Montana in 1883 as a conductor on the Northern Pacific Railroad, and then began ranching in 1893. Among the luminaries Bair counted as friends were Will Rogers, Chief Plenty Coups and several U.S. presidents.
After moving permanently in 1934 to the ranch they had owned for two decades, the Bair family started adding to the existing old homestead, until it totaled twenty-six rooms. The house was finished to their approval by
1936, just in time for Mr. and Mrs. Bair’s fiftieth wedding anniversary.
The daughters, Alberta and Marguerite, who went on to become notable Montana philanthropists and art aficionados (the Alberta Bair Theatre in Billings reflects Alberta’s legacy), loaded the house with paintings and antiques accumulated during their frequent European vacations. The paintings of Charlie Russell, one of Montana’s premier painters, also adorn the lovely abode.
The home has its diverse share of beauty: the dining room is a fortune house of precious silver, most of it Paul Storr, one of 19th century England’s most famous silversmiths. The Bairs called their work space and office the Pine Room because of its tough pine walls and ceilings; the Pine Room was the place most utilized by the family, not just for their own enjoyment, but for entertaining friends and guests. Rustic and folksy, the Pine Room displays the Bair family’s character more than any other spot in the house.
The Charles Bair Room, or Daddy’s Room, contains a big high-backed wood bed and a French bed Marie Antoinette purportedly slept in. The living room is overlooked by a glossy crystal chandelier and the fireplace is flanked by a Wedgewood shell clutching a Sevre porcelain urn. Even the urn has an interesting story, as it is from the Het Loo royal summer palace in the Netherlands.
Alberta, the last of the Bair family, died in 1993. It was her wish to retain the home as a museum. The museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day, and Wednesday through Sunday during the rest of May and September.
White Sulphur Springs Castle, White Sulphur Springs
Lofty and sublime, Byron Rogers Sherman’s 19th century castle stands atop Knob Hill, overlooking the remote canyons of White Sulphur Springs, Montana.
The Meagher County Historical Society of Montana owns and maintains the gray-stone chateau style White Sulphur Springs Castle. The Victorian mansion was completed in 1892, made to order for roaming rancher-businessman Byron Roger Sherman. It is specially built from stout granite blocks that were hand cut in the nearby Castle Mountains, and then hauled to town by oxen.
White Sulphur Springs, population 984, is located central Montana, north of Bozeman, southwest of Lewiston, approximately 100 miles southeast of Great Falls on US Highway 89. The house museum is complete with relics from local ghost towns and county historical sites, as well as period furniture from Montana’s earliest settlements, and mining minerals and clothing, and a bevy of other artifacts. Lofty and sublime, it stands atop a mound known as Knob Hill, which overlooks the remote canyons of White Sulphur Springs. Close to the excellent fishing of the Smith River, it is situated at an elevation of 5,100 feet.
According to his autobiography, in 1872, Sherman and his family, who were itinerant ranchers and thrill seekers, moved to the Smith River Valley in Meagher County. They established a ranch on 320 acres north of the Smith River, where “the soil is so deep one can did a well 30 feet without a pick. The spring [Sherman] filed on is just east of the ranch and the water flows rapidly to the fields. It had never been known to go dry, even in the longest drought in the state.”
In 1890, Sherman began building the castle, according to the Meagher County Historical Society’s pamphlet, as “a permanent memorial to his efforts in helping to develop the hamlet of White Sulphur Springs.” The lavish abode was finished two years later at an expense of $36,000, solidified with granite blocks lugged from “Cottonwood Creek, 12 miles southeast of town by Wesley Curnutt and his crew of men and 16 ox teams.”
The White Sulphur Springs Castle, which also serves as the Meagher County Historical Society’s headquarters, has twelve rooms furnished with dark oak and cherry wood floors and paneling, Belgian and Oriental rugs, as well as a plethora of late 19th-century era accoutrements. Bathrooms showcase stands of Italian marble and light fixtures of attractive gemstone and brass.
The Castle, located at Fourth Avenue and Jefferson is open to visitors daily, 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from May 15 to September 15. Admission is $3.00 for adults and $2.00 for children and seniors. For information on tours call (406) 547-2324.