Dunsire House

By Beacon Staff

People who live in small homes tend to have big hearts. That helps explain why there’s a lot more to a “landmark” home than just grandeur or décor. Taking a look at the Dunsire House at 545 Second Ave. E. in Kalispell can provide a little perspective on this theory.

The home was originally owned as a rental property by Isabelle and David Sturtevant. It was built between 1891 and 1894 (the record books aren’t too precise and list it is an “Old Style” home). However, with a full front porch, columns, a bay window, and a front-facing dormer, the home has many stylish appointments of the late Victorian era. And with two bedrooms and one bath, the home offered ample space, without forsaking economy.

In 1900, the home would assume its namesake and a legacy when Mr. Andrew Dunsire and his wife Isabella purchased it.

Mr. Dunsire was born in Methilhill, Fifeshire, Scotland. Growing up in a coastal town probably helped make it easier for him to immigrate to the Flathead Valley on May 23, 1888. He found work as the assistant post master at Ashley (a bygone town, now part of Kalispell) and later as a clerk in a general store.

He then became a purser on the “Crescent” steamboat, which plied the waters of Flathead Lake between Polson and the once-upon-a-time town of Demersville, and points in between. A purser is responsible for two things that seem to fit Dunsire’s personality: looking after people; and handling money – as he would do both in one capacity or another throughout his life.

Yet in forging a new life in a new land, Dunsire did not forsake his past. He never forgot his childhood sweetheart, Isabella Ritchie. When she left Bishopmill, Elgin, Elginshire, Scotland and arrived at the train station in Missoula, he met her there – and the couple went straight to the Episcopal Church to get married.

The Dunsires later made this cozy house their home for more than 50 years. Incidentally, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the home. It was an occasion when the “tiny house” swelled with flowers, telegrams and friends old and new who came to visit the Dunsires – one of the most respected and appreciated couples of their day.

Despite the modest living space, the Dunsires still made room to accommodate Isabella’s sister, Agnes Ritchie, Andrew’s nephew, and other boarders and guests. The couple was also generous with their time, money, and efforts outside the home, and both Mr. and Mrs. Dunsire participated in many civic-minded organizations.

For example, Mr. Dunsire served as the Flathead County assessor from 1897 through 1904. He also served the Kalispell Volunteer Fire Department, and held the position of secretary in that organization. He was also an accomplished tenorist and sang at many weddings, funerals, church ceremonies and other events.

While forging a legacy of their own, the Dunsire’s seemed to never have forgotten their Scottish heritage. Reminders from Scotland would grace their home, and even were used as gifts, such as Scottish heather that somehow found its way into a bride’s bouquet and other gift arrangements made by the subtle hand of Mrs. Dunsire’s thoughtful grace on more than one occasion.

After years of marriage, and serving the community, Andrew Dunsire passed away in 1947, while Isabella remained in the family home until her passing in 1952, at the age of 93.

In their lifetime, they packed this modest home full with a legacy of life and love – one that could barely fit in a home twice the size.

Jaix Chaix is a writer who appreciates history and architecture. You can share ideas and historical facts with him at [email protected]. Also visit facebook.com/flatheadvalleylandmarks

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