Charles Conrad was born in 1850 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia near Front Royal. The name of his family home was the Wapping Plantation, and he was raised in the refined tradition of the Old South. He was one of thirteen children born to James and Maria Conrad; he was the third oldest child, the second oldest son.
The Civil War interrupted this gracious way of life. Charles fought with his older brother, William, with Mosby's Rangers of the Confederate Army. They returned safely from the war, to find that the plantation couldn't adequately support their large family.
Like many young men, William and Charles worked at odd jobs around the country; and finally in 1868, four years after the war was over, the brothers decided that the only way they were ever going to prosper was to go West.
They traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, boarded a steamboat there, and traveled upriver to Fort Benton, Montana Territory, the head of navigation on the Missouri River. They arrived in Montana with a silver dollar between them; and flipped the coin to see who would stay in Fort Benton and who would travel to Helena, the territorial capitol, to look for work.
Charles stayed in Fort Benton, unloading boxes and crates on the docks. He was noticed by a man named I.G. Baker, owner of the local mercantile and grocery establishment. Mr. Baker hired Charles to work for him doing odd jobs. Eventually William came back to Fort Benton and also went to work for Mr. Baker.
Four years after their arrival in Fort Benton, the brothers were offered partnerships in the I.G. Baker Mercantile Company, and very soon thereafter they bought the company outright. They owned their own steamboats and ox-drawn freight wagons and plied their trade all over the region and up into Canada. They lived and prospered in Fort Benton for more than 23 years.
During his early years in Fort Benton, Charles met and married a Blackfeet Indian woman whose name was Sings-in-the-Middle. While Sings-in-the-Middle eventually returned to her father's tribe in Canada, where she died of influenza, her union with Charles produced a son: Charles Edward Conrad Jr. Charles Jr. remained with his father in Fort Benton, eventually attending Canadian boarding schools and Canadian institutions of higher learning.
He settled in the Montreal area, and though he never came to live in his father's Kalispell home, he was supported by his father and was also named in his father's will. When the Great Northern Railroad was built across the United States, the Conrad brothers could see that land transportation would soon supersede that of the river, so they sold their river freighting business to the Hudson's Bay Company, their main competition.
William moved to Great Falls, and Charles came to the Flathead Valley and founded the city of Kalispell in 1891. He and William continued to be partners in cattle raising, real estate, banking and mining.
One of Mr. Conrad's projects when he arrived in the Flathead Valley was establishing the Conrad buffalo herd. As a Missouri River freighter and trader, Charles Conrad saw millions of buffalo hides being shipped down river to St. Louis. It concerned him that the buffalo were fast-disappearing from the American plains, so when he moved to the Flathead, he purchased about 50 animals and pastured them on what is now Kalispell's Buffalo Hill golf course.
In 1908, his farsightedness paid off; his widow sold 34 head of the best breeding stock to the American Bison Society. Those animals were taken 80 miles south to Moise, where they formed the nucleus for what has become our national bison herd.
Charles met his future wife, Alicia Davenport Stanford, in 1879. Her brother, James Stanford, was a member of the Northwest Canadian Mounted Police; he was also a friend of Charles Conrad, who operated trading posts in western Canada. James introduced him to his sister Alicia who had moved west from Nova Scotia with her widowed mother.
A romance ensued, and Charles and Alicia were married in Fort Benton in January 1881. Their first two children, Charles Davenport and Catherine, were born in Fort Benton (1882 & 1884 respectively). Alicia Ann was born in Kalispell in 1892, and came to the new family home as a three-year-old toddler. It was she who would own and live in the mansion, and eventually give the house to the city of Kalispell in 1974.
Charles Conrad lived in his beautiful home for only seven years. He died in 1902 at age 52 from complications of diabetes and tuberculosis.