Step Into Montana History
Soak up the Present by Walking Through the Past in Kalispell
While modern-day Kalispell was founded in 1891, Montana’s history dates back thousands of years to when glaciers carved out the area’s terrain, from high mountain valleys in Glacier National Park to the lakes tucked throughout the Flathead Valley. With deep roots and a rich history made up of American Indian Nations, early pioneers and settlers, fur trappers and more, Kalispell holds many keys to the past while looking firmly ahead to the future and providing experiences to help soak up every moment along the way.
A Place of Continued Education
Housed in an 1894 Central School building, the Northwest Montana History Museum has permanent exhibits that introduce visitors to the rich history of the area. Take time to peruse the museum’s 22,000 square feet of space and meander through exhibits that share stories of Montana’s First Nations who ventured here by land and water more than 10,000 years ago. Whether you’re interested in the history of the Montana’s earliest residents or if you’re ready to learn more about how homesteaders made this valley into one of the state’s most fertile regions, the Northwest Montana History Museum is the perfect place to start. In addition to showcasing the history of northwest Montana, the museum also has space for meetings and events.
Montana’s Own Carnegie Hall
Anchoring part of Kalispell’s downtown core, this classical-revival-style building was originally built to house the town’s first public library. Today, the old Carnegie Library (named in honor of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who gave $10,000 to build the original library) is now the home of the Hockaday Museum of Art, which has one of the finest Western art collections in Montana. While there are rotating exhibits at the Hockaday, one of the most-loved is the “Crown of the Continent” that showcases work from some of Montana’s most well-known artists, like Charlie Russell and O.C. Seltzer. This exhibit also features restored murals that originally adorned the walls of the historic lodges in Glacier National Park prior to being rescued from the trash during a remodel in the 1950s. The museum also offers regular programming and events to help introduce the arts to both residents and visitors.
Kalispell’s Founder, Charles E. Conrad
If you ask an area local, chances are they are familiar with the name Charles E. Conrad. Regarded as Kalispell’s founder, Conrad established this modern-day mountain town in 1891 and built a beautiful Victorian-style home for his family in 1895. Today, the Conrad Mansion Museum takes visitors into the life of the Conrad family and their guided tours show what life was like in the Flathead Valley more than 100 years ago. The museum has done an incredible job of keeping many of the original fixtures, furniture and clothing of the Conrad family in its 26 rooms, including Edison light bulbs, a first-generation automatic dishwasher and other custom-build offerings.
Let’s Get Grand
Sitting on the corner of Main Street since 1912, the beautifully historic Kalispell Grand Hotel has welcomed travelers from every corner of the world to Kalispell. Durings its storied history, the hotel fell into disrepair and after an extensive remodel, reopened in 1991 when it was brought back to its stately former glory, including an oak stairway, pressed-tin ceiling and elegant touches that take you back to a refined time in Montana history through this living landmark.
A Road Trip Through History
While it’s easy to walk along Kalispell’s downtown core and see historic buildings, museums and more, you can also drive through time on the Lower Valley Driving Tour. A 62-mile-long loop tour, this drive leads you past notable landmarks around Kalispell and the lower Flathead Valley. The booklet (made by volunteers from a local nonprofit, History is Posh) shares the historical context of each place, as well as old photos. Pick up a copy at the Kalispell Visitor Information Center, located at 15 Depot Park.
You can also walk through history in downtown Kalispell on a Historical Walking Tour.