Harmon’s Histories: Spottswood Mansion once graced Missoula’s University District
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
It was Monday morning, July 23, 1912.
Missoula Mayor James Rhoades gaveled the City Council to order. There was much to be done before the mayor headed east to visit towns which had adopted the commission form of government. (Missoula was considering such a change.)
The new garbage ordinance was passed on third reading. Mayor Rhoades suggested, “We place a can on each cross street, (the type) with hinged tops. This makes it easier to raise the top and deposit waste paper in the can.”
That would require hiring a number of “white-jacketed gentlemen, who are to take care of them.”
Up next, Dr. Edward. W. Spottswood, a prominent local medical doctor/surgeon, wanted a few minutes of the Council’s time to discuss paving Gerald Avenue (behind today’s Hellgate High School), where the doctor lived.
He and his neighbors wanted the street paved, but were opposed to bitulithic material (aka, gravel). They wanted macadamized pavement (aka, asphalt), to match other intersecting streets. The council took no action on the matter.
It serves, however, as an introduction to today’s subject: the good doctor’s home, known as the “Spottswood Mansion.”
It was built in 1891 by Edward Bonner, the lumber baron, for his daughter, Lenita. She occupied the home at 910 Gerald Avenue (which spanned the entire city block) until her death in 1959, at which time it was offered to the city of Missoula.
The price was $100,000 – too much for the Council. So, it was sold to Treasure State Industries Inc., an investment firm.
For a brief time, local residents urged the school district to acquire the mansion, which was located directly east of the Missoula County High School gymnasium. But Treasure State’s “fair and reasonable” price was too high. The firm tore down the mansion and converted the property to the Connell Apartments.
In its heyday, Mrs. Spottswood entertained often at the mansion. On May 9, 1912, she hosted her mother, Mrs. E. L. Bonner, and numerous other ladies.
“The rooms were effectively adorned with red snapdragons and foxgloves. The perfectly arranged table was centered with a large birthday cake and all appointments honored Mrs. Bonner’s birthday.”
“As a delightful conclusion of the afternoon, the ladies had their pictures taken for souvenirs of the day.”
In the winter months, the Spottswoods loved to travel. In January 1913, the doctor, his wife and two children boarded a train heading east to New York, Washington, and later Florida, where they would stay until springtime.
Mrs. Spottswood and her mother, Mrs. E. L. Bonner, were known at times to deal in real estate, traditionally a man’s game.
In 1913, they tried to buy the Florence Hotel, but “a mutual agreement could not be arrived at.”
Mostly, though, they played the role expected of them – hosting social gatherings.
Reported a newspaper notice of March 13, 1911: “The ladies of the Four Leaf Euchre Club are devoting their meeting to needle work instead of the customary games of cards during the Lenten season. Mrs. Spottsworth is to be the hostess.”
December 7, 1911: “Mrs. E. L. Bonner and Mrs. E. W. Spottswood were hostesses to a large number of their friends yesterday afternoon at Mrs. Spottswood’s Gerald Avenue home.”
March 12, 1912: “A company of 24 ladies spent a delightful afternoon Wednesday with Mrs. E. L. Spottswood in her home on Gerald Avenue. At tea time the ladies were seated about small tables in the dining room where jonquils in favorite fragrant clusters and tiny bird name cards suggested the spring approaching.”
We can’t, of course, walk the corridors of the Spottswood Mansion any longer. But the photographs taken by Missoula’s Rollin H. McKay (now a part of the University of Montana’s Mansfield Library Archives & Special Collections) provide us with a vision of what it might have been like.
As the French might say, "Exultant: An exhilarating experience."
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.