A small crowd gathered on the porch of the Conrad Mansion as the essence of Thanksgiving withered and the Christmas season began to bloom. The air was chilly and the mood was festive as a cheerful tourist spoke to the waiting crowd about historical Boston. Finally, the screen door opened and a middle-aged woman looked us over. She told us that it would be a few minutes before we could enter the mansion and that the party with the reservations would be served first.
David and I were there to see the night clothes exhibit. Not only would we see 100 year old p.j.’s, we would have the pleasure of seeing the mansion decked out in all of its Christmas finery.
The warmth of the parlor felt good as we entered the great hall to pay for our tour. A beautifully decorated mantel caught my eye,
but it was a large ornate Christmas tree that was the focal point of the room.
After listening to the resonance of several bars of classical music, so graciously performed by a guest in the piano room, we were split into two groups to continue with the tour.
Our docent dressed in a long skirt and blouse, fitting for ladies of early Kalispell and the 1900‘s, led us through the study, where she played the Victrola…
and then guided us into the Conrad’s elegant dining room.
The Conrads were well to do, as Mr. Conrad was a successful businessman with ventures in cattle raising, real estate, banking, and mining. To spread their good fortune, each Christmas the Conrads would invite guests, some of them the less fortunate of the community, to stay overnight and celebrate the holidays with them.
Part of the festivities was preparing the traditional Christmas pudding on Christmas Eve – which would be stirred for countless hours until perfection. A large heavy pot cooked the pudding while guests stood at the ample stove stirring away the hours and telling stories of Christmas past.
Imagine the reminiscences of snowy Christmases at Grandma’s, stories of flying reindeer, and smiling faces at the memory of shiny new skates under the Christmas tree.
When the work was done and the guests nestled in their beds, it was said that the sounds of St. Nick could often be heard downstairs. The next day, a meal was served that was fit for a king with a splendid finale of flaming Christmas pudding.
The wealth of the Conrads was evident as the home was equipped with a dishwasher, elevator, and a sophisticated clothes washing and drying system, that I am sure not many in the wilderness would have had in 1895. Dazzling crystal doors graced several of the bedrooms giving the mansion a refinement all its own.
After the upstairs office,
the sewing room,
and the playroom we were led downstairs into the Grandma hallway where both the maternal and paternal grandmothers had bedrooms. A small mailbox was built into the wall where the Conrad children would exchange sweet notes with their grandmothers. An authentic note in a child’s handwriting, expressing affection, was shown to us right before we were shown the exit through the gift shop.
It wasn’t until later that David and I realized there was no mention of the pajamas.
The Conrad Mansion of Kalispell is a fine example of luxurious 19th century living in the Pacific Northwest. Charles and Alicia Conrad were true pioneers who used their ingenuity – took advantage of the abundant opportunities the west had to offer – and reaped the rewards of prosperity in doing so.
Montana truly is the treasure state.
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