"Kirtland Cutter - Architect in the Land of Promise"
by Henry C. Matthews
The Conrad Mansion Museum is located in Kalispell's eastside residential area atop a bluff overlooking the valley and the Swan mountain range. The home sits on three landscaped acres,surrounded by a dry stone fence with iron gates. Six large annual flower beds and extensive ever-blooming perennial beds provide constant color during the summer season, with pruned hedges, evergreens, and spacious lawns serving as a lush background.
In the 1890's, Kalispell was a frontier town with minimal services. There was no one in the immediate area with expertise to design and build the Conrad's dream home. The prosperous and bustling city of Spokane was home to many of the area's mining magnates and other prominent businessmen. Consequently, the Conrads traveled there to search for an architect. They met and commissioned Kirtland Cutter to design their home.
Cutter was one of the most influential architects in the Northwest at the time. He studied in Europe and a passion for architecture blossomed. He designed the Davenport Hotel and many of the homes in the Browne's Addition area of Spokane. He went on to design Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park and the Kootenai Lodge on Swan Lake, MT.
The quarter sawn oak trim and paneling, finished by German immigrant craftsmen, were imported from the Midwest. The original light fixtures are electric with a carbide gas backup system, just in case the nascent electric power failed. Most windows in the home are diamond-paned leaded glass windows, but several rooms contain tinted or clear bottle glass. The second floor reveals interior window panels of Tiffany-style stained glass. Cutter was fond of arches and they are featured prominently throughout the home.
On a more practical and innovative note, the house contains a freight elevator, a dumbwaiter, a radiator warming oven, a unique barrel-shaped pass through connecting the kitchen and dining room, built-in fire hoses on each level, drying racks in the laundry room, and a communication system, including an electric call box, intercom and even a speaking tube. Additional features are two Italian onyx cold water drinking fountains and a wall-mounted 1895 Spaulding exercise machine.
The music room features a hand painted linen border next to the linen ceiling. A second floor billiard and game room boasts a large bank of windows, window seats and oak paneling. Each of the nine bedrooms have their own marble sink and walk-in closet. Several service and recreation rooms are located on the 3rd floor.
Conrad's youngest daughter Alicia Conrad Campbell was determined to establish the Mansion as a museum to her parents. Although no longer living in the Mansion, she used it as storage. She saved all of its contents, including the 1890's receipts for furniture purchased by her parents. Her penchant for saving translated into a home filled with 90% of the original family furnishings.
The home's extensive collections include original family clothing dating from the 1880's - 1940's, the family firearms, artwork, books, taxidermy, and three generations of children's toys and dolls.
Construction began in 1892 and the family moved in around Thanksgiving 1895. The 13,000 square foot, shingle style home with a Norman period interior has 3 floors; 26 rooms, three of which are bathrooms; and 8 sandstone fireplaces.