One of the treasures of our town is the illustrated history of Columbia Falls, as told by murals painted in 2003 and 2004 on the exterior of Masonic building on Nucleus Avenue.
The murals represent periods in the Columbia Falls of 100 years ago and from the 1920’s and were painted by Clark Heyler (Clark’s Signs of Kalispell) and Maria Vekkos of Whitefish. The project was funded via donations to the Columbia Falls Community Foundation.
The 1900s in Columbia Falls
The first pioneer family to settle in Columbia Falls were Robert and Mary Saurey. They camped near the river on the south edge of what would become Columbia Falls.
Robert Sr. homesteaded here with his wife and growing family, worked in the area woods and lived to be 100 years old.
A forest of western larch, cedar and Ponderosa pine enticed settlers to start the logging industry that still contributes living wages for valley families.
In the next scene, you can see Teakettle and Columbia Mountains in the background.
In this scene, skinner Frank Mateka drives his team of horses out of the woods pulling a wagonload of logs.
Cross-cut sawyers, Oscar and Eddie Tetrault stand on springboards to avoid cutting into the twisted grain at the base of the tree.
100 years later, the forests still have some of these tall stumps left over from century-old logging with cross-cut saws.
The E.H. Snyder Drug Store was located north of the first bank, near the present Sportsman Bar on Nucleus Avenue. It also represents brick buildings built by the Berne Brothers’ brick yard.
Mike and Billy Berne provided bricks for many early buildings, including the Oddfellows Building on 1st Avenue West and the old Catholic church on 4th Avenue West.
The woman walking away is Mrs. Nellie LaFrambois, a Native American woman who sold the area for the townsite of Columbia Falls.
All that is known about her is that she probably belonged to the Kootenai tribe and had several children. She lived on land that is now just south of Glacier Gateway Elementary School on 4th Avenue West.
The man sitting on the bench represents one of the founding fathers of Columbia Falls. Mr. James Talbott lived here after establishing the town in 1891. He died in 1923.
The woman shaking the tablecloth out the upstairs window is Mrs. E.H. Snyder. Her husband owned the drug store. They lived in the apartment upstairs.
The little girl pulling the wagon is Dorothy (Jordan) Brading. Dorothy’s father built the first electric run lumber mill located north of Nucleus Avenue. The wagon has A.L. Jordan Lumber Co. written on a side slat.
Dode is about to introduce her baby brother to Mr. Talbott, who liked to meet each new member of “his” town.
The two men standing are Charlie Howe and Joe Cosley. Howe owned one of the first hotels on Lake McDonald. Cosley was a French-Canadian trapper, early park ranger and artist.
Poker players upstairs include artist Charlie (C.M.) Russell, who would come to town for a game with locals when he stayed at his vacation cabin on Lake McDonald.
Other things to look for:
- A handbill advertising a casting call for locals in the movie, Where Rivers Rise. It was filmed in 1922.
- Reflection of the Gaylord Hotel, which burned down in 1929.
- Reflection of a horse-drawn fire engine represents the destruction of most early buildings due to fires.
- Masons meet upstairs notice. A thank you to the Masons for the use of their buildings for the two murals.
- Two items which are not from the 1920s, but are a tip of the hat to long time Columbia Falls businesses: Cal Crouch’s Watch Repair and Randy’s Barber.