McGovern/Karcher House

By Beacon Staff

Corner houses, by their very location, often serve a greater purpose far beyond “house and home.” They serve as landmarks for those guided by “turn right at the brown house on the corner” or “we’re the driveway just after the house on the corner” and other means of giving directions (both good and bad).

But a house on a corner – with a turret – is going to serve as a landmark whether it wants to or not, as if references to it were part of some pre-determined “geographical destiny.” Even in a world of GPS and “Google maps,” it’s hard to trump “good, old-fashioned” directions such as “turn right at the turret house on the corner … you can’t miss it.”

Indeed, a turreted Queen-Anne home on a corner lot is going to be hard to miss. Yet, while the McGovern/Karcher House at 546 Second Ave. E. in Kalispell may be an obvious wayfaring beacon in the neighborhood, the unique history of the home is often overlooked.

The home was originally built between 1899 and 1903 by Thomas McGovern. McGovern was an Irish immigrant and a director of the Conrad National Bank of Kalispell. McGovern built several rental homes in the area, and built this fine home for his own family residence.

Aside from the obvious – the nearly three-story turret – at the southeast corner, the home also has many features typical of the Queen-Anne style. The patterned shingle roof and shingle siding are hallmarks of the era, as are the mansard roof and porch of the rear wing (added on in the early 1900s).

A little less obvious may be the way of life that once transpired here. The McGoverns had seven children. In addition to seven children and two adult parents, the house was home to even more people, as the McGoverns still made room to take in “boarders.”

Boarders refer to the people who paid for a room and were provided with regular meals and lodging. And the term “board” refers to the manner in which meals were once served – on a board.

Offering “room and board” was mainly to offset the costs of keeping the home. Aside from the cost of building a grand home, the costs of maintaining and heating a home were considerable, and sometimes beyond even what the more affluent could afford. Renting rooms was also a way for many to have a sense of company and liveliness about the home.

Mrs. McGovern unfortunately passed in 1903. Mr. McGovern and the children remained there for a few years afterward.

In 1907, Mary Karcher purchased the home. Karcher continued letting rooms and taking in boarders of all walks of life within the home.

One of Karcher’s longtime boarders, and perhaps best-known in local history, was Chester Brintnall. Brintnall boarded here from 1907 until 1925. Brintnall worked for the postal service and helped establish mail delivery service for rural delivery routes. He also served as assistant postmaster, Flathead County Commissioner and secretary of the board of Civil Service examiners.

After Karcher’s ownership, the home would later be converted to several apartments, adding even more residents to the list of folks who called “the turret house on the corner” home.

More recently, the home has once again been converted back to a single-family residence. And while we may never know the history of everyone who lived and boarded here, we can fortunately still appreciate the home as a relic of the Queen-Anne era, and one of the few “turret” homes in the Flathead Valley (and a waypoint for giving directions).

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