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Conrad Mansion Readies for the Holidays
Historic Kalispell home has hosted holiday tours for three decades
Jim Stanard, left, directs the Glacier Chamber Singers in a mix of holiday classics and Cole Porter music at the Conrad Mansion in Kalispell. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
It’s Christmas time at the Conrad Mansion and everything is hung with care. From the glass ornaments to stuffed bears, to historic toys and festive wreaths, decorating the century-old mansion is a big job.

But after almost three decades, Nikki Sliter and her crew of volunteers have gotten it down to a science. In fact, decorating the interior and exterior of the Kalispell mansion now only takes an afternoon.

“We do it pretty quick,” she said.

This month, the Conrad Mansion’s caretakers are inviting the public to take a look at the mesmerizing holiday display. Tours are available every weekend between Nov. 23 and Dec. 22. Reservations are recommended. Tours start at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, by appointment only.

Located just east of downtown Kalispell, the mansion was built in 1895 by the city’s founder, Charles E. Conrad. The family lived in the mansion until 1974, when Charles’ youngest daughter, Alicia Conrad Campbell, donated the three-story building to the city of Kalispell. The first public tours of the building were offered the following year.

Today, a self-funded, nonprofit group offers regular tours of the building from May until October, according to Executive Director Gennifer Sauter. At the end of every October, it hosts the Christmas at the Mansion holiday bazaar. That’s where Sliter and her volunteers come in.

Over the course of an eight-hour afternoon, 30 volunteers swarm around the building, erecting decorations and a two-story tall Christmas tree. Sliter said thousands of decorations can be found throughout the building and many are glass ornaments. Sauter said the historic glass decorations are similar to what the Conrad family would have used more than a century ago.

For Sliter, the project is a labor of love.

“The Conrad Mansion is such an important piece of our community,” she said. “It’s a pet project and a big love and I’ll keep doing it until I can’t be on a ladder anymore.”

Because of fire codes, the live Christmas tree is replaced a few days after the October event with a smaller, but just as impressive, imitation evergreen. Sauter said the fake tree stands on a tall pedestal and still dominates the mansion’s living room. Around the bottom of the tree are historic toys that once belonged to the Conrad children, including a toy fireman’s hat and a stuffed horse.

Tour groups wander through the Conrad Mansion around the "great hall" during a holiday tour and choral concert. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Sauter said the holiday events are critical for the mansion to survive the long, cold winters. Every year, the nonprofit group spends upwards of $5,000 to heat the building and most of that cost is in the winter.

“It’s just so expensive to heat the place,” she said. “The home tours and teas help get us through the winter months.”

Besides regular house tours, the mansion hosts “Holiday Tea and Tours,” where visitors view the building and sit in the dining room and enjoy a traditional tea time. Sauter said the experience is right out of the 1890s. The tea times are held on Dec. 1, 8 and 15 at 1 p.m. and reservations are $25. On Dec. 13, from 3 to 7 p.m., children can see Santa Claus and get their picture taken with jolly old Saint Nick. Once again, reservations are required. Regular holiday tours cost $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $6 for students and $4 for children 11 years old and under. For more information about the mansion, visit www.conradmansion.com or call (406) 755-2166.
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