By Justin Franz, 12-01-12
||Caption: Angie Friedner, Brad Nelson and Robert Miller converse outside the Somers Mansion. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
SOMERS – Walking up to the third floor of the empty Somers Mansion, the smell of mold wafting from abandoned rooms is palpable. Tarps line the floor in this iconic home that has loomed over Somers for more than a century.
“It continues to deteriorate,” says real estate agent Angie Friedner. “But the bones of the house are in good condition.”
Three weeks ago, the 7,982-square-foot mansion was put up for sale. The asking price is $399,900, shockingly low considering the 14-bedroom home sits on 5 acres of land overlooking Flathead Lake. But a walk inside explains why.
And that’s what worries Brad Nelson, who grew up in Somers and is now leading a grassroots effort to save the mansion. In recent weeks, Nelson, a local therapist, has started a Facebook page to bring awareness to the old home’s plight.
Built in 1903, the mansion was owned by the family of John O’Brien, the first manager at Somers Lumber Company. The family moved out three years later and, in the proceeding years, the building served as company office space and a hotel, aptly named the Mountain Inn. In 1946, it was purchased by the McDevitt family and remained closed to the public for the next six decades.
Nelson remembers the mansion as the mysterious house on the hill. Up until just a few weeks ago, all that he had seen of the inside was from the front porch when he went trick-or-treating as a kid.
“(McDevitt) put up extra ‘no trespassing’ signs, but he’d always have a bowl of candy, because he knew kids would show up anyway,” Nelson said.
Growing up in the neighborhood just below, Nelson said he often passed the mansion during the summer when walking to the lake. For many in Somers, the mansion was always a “beacon on the hill,” as Nelson put it.
But that beacon has gone dim in recent years. In 2005, the mansion was sold to Christin Didier, who planned to restore it. Then the storm came.
According to Didier, a microburst formed along the shores of Flathead Lake in July 2007 that significantly damaged the home, especially the roof. Unknown to her, it also cracked the stone chimney, which led to a fire six months later. The home, especially the third floor, fell into disrepair.
Angie Friedner walks the long hallway on the second floor of the Somers mansion, an iconic building on the hill between Flathead Lake and the village of Somers. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
The mansion was foreclosed on in April 2011 and Didier was evicted in September of this year. The mansion was listed for sale on Nov. 9.
“In seven years it went from being a beautiful and valuable home to what it is now,” Friedner said last week.
The air’s temperature changes little when walking into the house on a cold November morning. While the first and second floors look like any other empty home, it’s the third floor that has suffered the most. Walls are stained with water damage and pieces of the celling have fallen onto puddle-covered tarps. Nelson says on rainy days, water cascades to the floor.
“When I walked upstairs (the first time) and saw the water raining onto the floor it was very upsetting,” Nelson said.
Friedner said contractors estimate it would cost anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 to repair the home. Therein lies the problem. Because a scenic piece of land overlooking the lake is so valuable, she believes the property would be an attractive buy, but mostly for developers.
“This house is in jeopardy because there is no zoning, no covenants and it’s not on any historic registry,” she said. “Someone could come in here and knock it down.”
Bradley Nelson walks from a porch into a large living space on the second floor of the Somers mansion. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
Since the home was listed for sale, Friedner said realtors have shown it about 40 times. She suspects most of the interest is based upon curiosity. So far, two offers have been made, but both were well below the asking price.
Nelson said he plans on doing everything in his powers to make sure the property doesn’t land in the wrong hands. In late November, he set up a Facebook page and began calling local historians and newspapers to let people know the mansion was for sale.
“There is a lot of history, a lot of our heritage in the building,” Nelson said. “You can tell how beautiful this home was.”
Looking beyond the damage inside, the home’s former grandeur is still recognizable. With a little work, the old brass hinges and wood floor could shine again.
That’s Nelson’s vision. He hopes the right buyer comes along and restores the mansion, possibly opening it to the public, so another generation can appreciate its place in local history.
“It’s a discount property and that’s what worries me,” Nelson said, as he walked toward one of the windows with views of the small town below. “It’s just too important to Somers’ history.”
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