William Swetland Residence

William Swetland was a school teacher in his native Wisconsin and moved to Kalispell in 1904 to serve as the principal of the West Side School, which burned down in January, 1950

By Jaix Chaix

The William D. Swetland Residence is in many ways the quintessential 1920s Kalispell Craftsman in a simple, yet refined form.

The home at 415 Fifth Ave. E. in Kalispell was originally built in 1912 by carpentry contractor Ceasar Haverlandt, who built several other homes and buildings in Kalispell listed on the National Historic Register.

Indeed, Haverlandt left an architectural legacy in Kalispell. And incidentally, he was commissioned to build this house for another man who left a lasting impression on Kalispell history: William Swetland – the home’s namesake, and long-time school superintendent.

Swetland was a school teacher in his native Wisconsin and moved to Kalispell in 1904 to serve as the principal of the West Side School, which burned down in January, 1950. It was a challenging time as Kalispell schools were overcrowded. Many teachers had 40 or more students in their classes. Making matters worse – and despite much protest – students from the east side were sent to the West Side School due to even more limited classroom space on the east side. And while lower grades were teeming with students, upper grades were plagued with high drop-out rates.

In striving to overcome these challenges, Swetland became superintendent and served an unparalleled tenure from 1906 until 1942, when he retired. While he may not have been in front of a classroom every day, Swetland is an inextricable part of the history of education in the Flathead Valley.

Like many others who came to the Flathead Valley, Swetland carried some things along with him when he arrived in Kalispell from his hometown of Mauston, Wisconsin. For one, he brought along his childhood sweetheart, Adilda May (née Robinson), who he married in 1899.

He also brought along an ethic steeped in hard work, a passion for books and learning, and first-hand experience with the virtues of thrift and perseverance – all of which are somehow reflected in the house, even today. Some people often say that after a while, “dogs look like their owners,” or “spouses start to look more alike.” So, perhaps it’s not too far-fetched to say that houses often resemble their owners in a sense (OK, maybe this is a bit far-fetched, but bear with me …).

Just like a schoolbook, the house is in many ways a textbook example of a 1920s Craftsman. While it was originally built in 1912, it was remodeled in the 1920s by Kalispell architect Fred Brinkman. The home has more or less retained its character since then.

Some of the hallmarks of the architectural style include the iconic, gable-roofed front porch, the wide roof eaves with brackets underneath, and symmetry and parallel lines – all formed in a somewhat understated, congenial, and refined manner (much like the approach you’d expect from a distinguished school administrator).

And some of the interior appointments cleverly combined form and function, such as a built-in linen chest that had a hinged seat that combined storage with seating, and a fireplace hearth made of colored cement that combined style with retaining heat (much like a practical man who grew up on a farm, and worked and saved to pay his way through college).

But whether similarities between house and homeowner “make the grade” in your book, the Swetland house nonetheless serves as a dictionary-definition example of a 1920s Kalispell Craftsman house – and one we can thankfully still appreciate today, more than 100 years after it was built.

Jaix Chaix appreciates history and architecture. You can share ideas and facts with him at landmarks@flatheadbeacon.com or at facebook.com/flatheadvalleylandmarks. He is also the author of Death in the Valley: Odd Tragedies in the Flathead Valley, Montana 1887-1917.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.