In the shadows of the historic Flathead County Courthouse stands a Craftsman-style home at 835 First Ave. E. It’s remarkable as a reminder of early 20th-century Kalispell history in many ways. Indeed, it’s a great example of Kalispell’s Craftsman style. And it was also the home of lawyer, judge and former Montana state Rep. Joseph E. Rockwood, whose work affected the lives and landscape of the Flathead Valley in many ways.
Undoubtedly, as a judge, Rockwood took his work home with him: from home, he could see his work; and from work, he could see his home. And he likely deliberated the fate of many Kalispell residents inside the home.
Rockwood presided at a time when gambling and vagrancy were garden-variety offenses. And vagrants were often escorted to the Flathead County line and told to leave or face jail time. He deliberated cases that found a pinball machine was “a gambling device and public nuisance.” And some less trivial cases included the condemning of land held by the Belton Mercantile for the new entrance into Glacier National Park.
Rockwood had a passion for law and horses. He was a member of the Kalispell Saddle Club. And as a testament, the horse barn that he built still stands on the alley of the residence (although converted as a living space now).
But Rockwood’s passion for horses did more than shape the outbuilding on this city lot. His passion for law and horses passed on to his son Forrest, one of the two children Rockwood had with his wife Minnie Saeger, who he married in 1897. Forrest was also a lawyer, and an avid horseman, and was instrumental in expanding horseback riding in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
The home also hosted some interesting company. Aside from visits from his legal and political circles as a district judge and member of the Montana House of Representatives, Rockwood was a member of various social organizations.
For example, the home was host to the annual Christmas party of The Past Noble Grand Circle in 1940. And Rockwood was also a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (Rockwood’s Odd Fellows jacket can be found at the Central School Museum).
Rockwood hired Frederick C. Mercord, a Kalispell contractor, to build the home between 1922 and 1925. Mercord began working as a Kalispell building contractor in 1908. And he bought and sold properties and built several homes in the downtown Kalispell area.
This home features Mercord’s handwork and several of the iconic Craftsman-style elements. For example, below the large, gabled front dormer, the front porch spans the front of the home. Like other Craftsman-style homes, this one plays with symmetry and numbers (the Anderson House, featured in a previous article, used the number four in its design).
The Rockwood House shows signs of the number three. For example, there are three windows on each side of the front door. And three windows in the gabled front dormer – that has three exposed brackets under the eaves. At the side of the house, there are three sets of windows on each story. And there are three porch columns at each corner.
Also typical of the Craftsman style, the home features hardwood floors and custom “built-ins,” including bookcases and a china-hutch.
So the next time you’re passing the roundabout at the courthouse, glance over to the east at the Rockwood House. It’s a fine example of a Kalispell Craftsman – and a place where many issues of early 20th century life in the Flathead Valley were likely deliberated.
JC Chaix is a writer and certified home inspector and appreciates history, art and architecture.
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