Kalispell Main Street Historic District (Addendum and Boundary Increase)

Tour curated by: The Explore Big – Montana's Historic Places Team

As the tracks of the Great Northern Railway inched westward from St. Paul to Seattle, Flathead Valley towns vied for designation as the railway’s division point. In the spring of 1891, however, railroad officials purchased land from the Reverend George Fisher and other early residents, founding a new settlement. The new town of Kalispell was platted in “T-town” form with Main Street perpendicular to one side of the proposed tracks. Some who doubted that the railroad would ever touch the new settlement dubbed it “Collapsetown” and “Wait a Spell,” but even so lots sold for as much as $1,250. Construction boomed on Main Street with typical first generation wooden frame buildings, while many businesses were moved on log rollers four miles across the prairie from once-thriving Demersville. On New Year’s Day of 1892, the tracks officially reached Kalispell. Banners proclaimed “Kalispell and St. Paul United by Steel,” and “beer and whiskey were as free as the fresh air.” Although the railroad moved its division point to Whitefish in 1904, Kalispell continued to prosper. Designated county seat in 1893 and later bolstered by the homesteading era, the lumber industry, and tourism, Kalispell became an important trade, financial, and service center. Today landmark buildings designed by architects Marion Riffo, Fred Brinkman, and George Shanley anchor the district, but interspersed among them in greater numbers are the simple commercial buildings constructed by local masons and contractors. These form the true heart of this historic district, recalling the time when watering troughs, hitching rings, and wooden sidewalks lined the streets.

Locations for Tour

When the railroad bypassed Demersville in 1891, many businessmen loaded their buildings onto log rollers, hauling them three miles to the newly platted community of Kalispell. This lot became home to a two-story Demersville building, occupied first…

In 1894, the two-year-old Brewery Saloon—then a one-story, twenty-five-by-sixty-foot building—served Kalispell draft beer for five cents a glass. Lunch was free. One of Main Street’s first brick buildings, the saloon featured an oak and…

“New Buildings Show Upward Swing of City,” crowed the Flathead Monitor in April 1936. Charles Cyr contributed to the optimistic outlook by constructing this “modern one-story building, 50 by 100 feet.” Cyr spent approximately $8,000 on the…

Kalispell already boasted its fair share of saloons when August Heller opened this downtown establishment in 1900. Cream and mottled brick with a “reverse stair step” cornice—the hallmark of local brick masons Jack, Art, and Ed Stahl—made the…

Running water, wake-up calls, and doors with locks were just a few of the amenities travelers could expect in this classy and expensive $2-a-night hotel, which opened in 1912. Kalispell architect Marion Riffo designed the three-story landmark built…

W. R. Twining, a Philadelphia construction superintendent newly arrived in Kalispell, collaborated with brother-in-law E. C. Knight on this brick business block in 1908. A reporter noted in June that “Jack Stahl, one of the swiftest men with a…

The opening of this grand opera house, built by John McIntosh in 1896, confirmed Kalispell’s growing regional importance. Traveling theatrical groups brought elaborate scenery that transformed the second-floor theater. When one early performance of…

Seventeen charter members formed Kalispell Lodge No. 42 in 1892. Masons first held lodge meetings in several locations. Work began on this building in 1904, but when the Great Northern Railway moved its division point to Whitefish, the town paused…

In 1892, a year after the Great Northern Railway established Kalispell, a stone foundation stood on this corner. Construction soon stalled, however, likely a casualty of the national economic depression known as the Panic of 1893. An 1894 map shows…

Montgomery Ward opened its Kalispell store on July 27, 1929, just three months before the stock market crash that launched the Great Depression. Kalispell architect Fred Brinkman took inspiration from the Gothic style for his design of the…

A unified second-story façade with distinct first-floor storefronts reflects the unique history of this business block. George McMahon paid $4,000 to have the building’s southern (left) half constructed in 1901 for his undertaking business.…

A confectionery sold candy from a one-story building here in 1892. In 1901, the Theo Hamm Brewing Company replaced the small frame structure with this highly fashionable business block. The second story features a stamped metal façade designed to…

A stuccoed diamond pattern tops this circa 1891 building, masking a classic, wooden false front. The false front disguised a gable roof, making the frontier building appear more sophisticated than it actually was. Later rear additions expanded retail…