History of the Courthouse

Before There Was a Flathead County

Missoula county was organized in 1860, while the area was still a part of Washington Territory. In 1863, Idaho Territory was carved out of it and Missoula county was included in the new Territory. The West was being populated rapidly and just one year later, in 1864, Montana Territory was formed out of Idaho Territory. Missoula county, one of the eleven original counties of Montana Territory, at that time had its boundaries greatly enlarged to include part or all the lands now occupied by the current Ravalli, Missoula, Granite, Mineral, Lake, Sanders, Lincoln, Flathead, and Glacier Counties.[1]Montana became a state on 18 November 1889 as the Union's 41st state.

The Coming of the Railroad to the Flathead

The Flathead valley at the north end of Flathead Lake continued to grow, albeit slowly, but as the Great Northern Railway came ever closer to the valley, the rate of population increased. James J. Hill needed a town in which to locate his division point, and he needed someone with, as he put it, "the capital and the disposition to open up that country".[2] He found his man in Charles E. Conrad of Ft. Benton. Using his own capital, C. E. Conrad formed the Kalispell Townsite Company with three other men (all on the Great Northern board of directors). Conrad spent a great deal of time in the Flathead and actively participated in platting the new town. The town was duly platted and lots began to sell by spring of 1891, and they sold rapidly.[3] With the establishment of the new town, the Great Northern was pushed through from the east and the west, the tracks meeting in Kalispell on 31 December 1891[4] and the division point established at Kalispell. The town boomed.

The move to incorporate the new town was not long in coming, and on 15 Oct 1891, the Missoula County Board of Commissioners granted a petition to incorporate.[5] The proceedings were completed and on 22 January 1892, the Town of Kalispell was officially incorporated.[6]

The Push to Form a New County

The distance from the Flathead valley to the county seat at Missoula had always been a problem, as the route between was long and rugged. There being no north/south railway to link them, it required a long and arduous overland trek to get from one place to the other. A few steamboats eventually began to ply Flathead Lake, but it was still a long way to the county seat, and it was obvious to the valley's leading citizens that something had to be done, and the citizens of the area lost no time.

Led by C. E. Conrad and other leading citizens, the state Legislature was lobbied long and hard to create a county out of the Flathead area. Their efforts paid off, for the legislative act forming Flathead county was passed in the session of 1893. The new county of Flathead - which included what is now Lincoln and Lake counties - was born, and in 1894, the citizens picked Kalispell as the county seat, to the lasting chagrin of the residents of Columbia Falls.

Flathead County Gets a New Courthouse

During the period that the county was being organized, Missoula continued to act as the county seat, and records were filed and recorded there as before.[7] After the county seat had been determined and the county government elected, county functions moved to Kalispell, most likely in 1895, but as there was as yet no courthouse, county functions were scattered about Kalispell in various offices and buildings. Obviously, this could not continue.

In 1902, at the direction of C. E. Conrad, the Kalispell Townsite Company sold land to the county for the purpose of constructing a courthouse. As Mr. Conrad was the only stockholder & corporate officer resident in the Flathead (the others all lived in the Midwest), it was he who had the privilege of signing all the purchase and sale documents for the Kalispell Townsite Company, including this particular transaction. This land was originally part of a homestead patent owned by John Sell[8] of Kalispell who had a number of real estate interests in the Flathead and was later associated with the Kalispell Mercantile Co.

The County purchased lots 1-12 of block 115 and lots 13-24 of block 116 from the Townsite Company, which amounts to approximately 2.75 acres, on 17 June 1902 for $3,000.00, or $125/lot, when the going rate for surrounding lots of the same size was $1800 per lot.

The total land available for construction was increased significantly when the Flathead county obtained from the City of Kalispell the right-of-way for that platted portion of Main Street which separated the two parcels previously purchased from the KTC. The courthouse was built in right-of-way, and the purchased property was eventually converted to gardens and parks. At the time of construction of the courthouse, Main Street had not been extended that far south.[9]

Construction on the new courthouse started immediately, almost before the ink was dry and continued until its completion in 1905. The county Commissioners overseeing the project were W. H. Griffin, David Grief and H.O. Christianson. The building was designed by Bell & Kent and Hastie & Dougan were responsible for the construction, with materials supplied by the Washington Brick, Lime and Manufacturing Company of Spokane, Washington. The project was supervised by William Davidson.[10]

A peculiarity of the courthouse is that while it was designed with a clock tower, a clock was never installed. We do not, at the present time, know why that was, but today we still have the empty holes in the clock tower.

With the restoration, Flathead County Court House will continue to serve the people of the county for many years to come looking much like she used to in her glory days, a veritable Grand Dame of local architecture.


  1. Missoula County, Montana, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missoula_County,_Montana)
  2. James J. Hill. Letter to E. H. Beckler. James J Hill Letter Book, 6/11/90 - 10/21/90, p. 480, James J. Hill Papers. Minnesota Historical Society.
  3. James E. Murphy. Half Interest in a Silver Dollar. Missoula, Mt.: Mountain Press, 1983, p. 147.
  4. ibid., p. 148.
  5. Missoula county. Commissioners' Book "E", page 57. Among the signers were C. E. Conrad, W. A. Conrad (C. E. Conrad's brother), and G. S. Stanford (C. E. Conrad's brother-in-law).
  6. The election was held as directed by the Missoula county commissioners on 18 January. On 22 January 1892, the results were canvassed and found to be 229 for incorporation and 13 against. The Commissioners ordered the county clerk to publish the necessary notice showing Kalispell to have been duly incorporated as a town. (Commissioner's Journal Book "E", p. 66, January 22, 1892; Flathead county Clerk & Recorder Permanent File #183, Articles of Incorporation of the Town of Kalispell, Montana). 22 January 1892 is thereby the official date of the incorporation of the town and should be regarded as its legal birthday.
  7. Missoula county later prepared official copies of these early Flathead county documents and sent them to Kalispell while the originals remained in Missoula.
  8. Land patent #1444. Certified copy obtained from the Bureau of Land Management, Helena Office, Helena, MT 9 Dec 2010. Mr. Sell was awarded the patent on 21 April 1888 for the 160 acres described as the south half of the north east quarter and the north half of the south east quarter of section eighteen in township twenty-eight north of range twenty one west of Montana Meridan in Montana Territory...." This land plus a 94.77 acre lot in Ashley, a total of 254.77 acres, was sold to the Townsite company on 13 Mar 1891 for $9,000.00. That calculates to 254.77 ac at $35.326/ac.
  9. The circular route of the current road was put in place by the State in the 1970's and some of the purchased land was given over to the State for the new right-of-way. The remaining portions of the purchased lots are now the east and west courthouse parks.
  10. A bronze plaque just inside the front doors to the right commemorates the event and names the principals as given here.