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A Glimpse Into Flathead Valley’s Past
Museum at Central School unveils ambitious exhibit that reflects on the rich local history
Geoff Wyatt, with Wyatt Design in Helena, removes the protective sheet from lettering while pasting the text at the entrance to the new Flathead Valley History exhibit at The Museum at Central School in Kalispell. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
Charles Conrad, the 19th century business magnate and eventual “empire builder,” caught the first glimpse of his pioneer dreams from a steamboat in Flathead Lake 123 years ago.

On the way to Spokane in search of greater opportunity, Conrad journeyed the entire length of the translucent lake in the fall of 1890 with his wife Alicia and young child. The utopian beauty of the new land awed the Conrads, and Alicia would later say it seemed as though they had entered paradise.

Author James E. Murphy described this turning point in history in his 1983 book, “Half Interest in a Silver Dollar: The Saga of Charles E. Conrad.”

Gil Jordan, executive director of The Museum at Central School, loosely organizes historical artifacts in the museum’s new Flathead Valley History exhibit in Kalispell.

“The colors of fall marched up the foothills and mountains, blazing in the bright fall sun,” Murphy wrote. “As the Conrads watched the passing scenery, there began a love affair with the Flathead Valley that would warm their hearts and glow within them for as long as they lived.”

A year later, in 1891, the city of Kalispell was born and the budding Flathead Valley realized its destiny as the cultural and economic hub of Northwest Montana.

The exciting story of the valley’s transformation is the subject of the latest exhibit at the Museum at Central School. On Friday, July 12, the museum in downtown Kalispell is unveiling a new “History of the Flathead Valley” exhibition, which pays homage to the early settlers and communities through artifacts, classic photos and interactive features on Flathead Lake, steamboats and other elements that play a prominent role in the local history.

“It’s everything we envisioned when we set out on this project a few years ago,” said Gil Jordan, the museum’s executive director. “We think this will be a more entertaining and educational exhibit.”

The exhibit represents the Northwest Montana Historical Society’s most ambitious and professional one since the museum opened in the central school in 1999, Jordan said. It was made possible by a $32,000 grant from the Montana Department of Commerce’s Office of Tourism. It inhabits the museum’s upstairs room, which has undergone renovations over the past few weeks, including new wooden display cases and large translucent images covering the windows.

Sporting equipment is seen loosely arranged in a display at the new Flathead Valley History exhibit at The Museum at Central School in Kalispell.

The new exhibit incorporates a few of the museum’s popular existing features: a large interactive 3D replica map of Flathead Lake; the oldest brick in the valley, dating back to 1894; and the famous “Little Red Dress,” which Jordan considers the museum’s hallmark artifact.

"We've been working on this project for years and we're very excited to share it with the public,” Jordan said. “It’s been a long time coming, but it is finally here.”

Admission is free for the grand opening of the new museum exhibit, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday, July 12 at the Museum at Central School, 124 Second Ave. E. in Kalispell. For more information call 756-8381 or visit www.yourmuseum.org.
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