The “Blasdel Barn” is indeed an icon of the Flathead Valley. It’s located within the Blasdel Waterfowl Production Area along North Somers Road in Somers. And while it is often visited, and often photographed, the history of the barn may seem unfamiliar to some.
The barn was built in 1908 by Frank W. Porter, a pioneer settler of the Flathead Valley and a successful businessman. At any given time, Porter may have owned several hundred acres, farms, ranches and town lots just the same. Indeed, development of Northwest Montana in the early 1900s likely had something to do with Porter’s work as logger, real estate investor, or rancher.
Porter made his home near Kila and kept this Somers ranch as well. On Aug. 29, 1908, Porter hosted an “old-fashioned” hoedown to inaugurate “the largest barn in the Flathead Valley.” Folks came from all over to celebrate as the barn was not just a symbol of Porter’s success and wealth, but a sign of the prosperity of the valley itself.
Aside from pioneering triumph, the barn is also unfortunately the site of tragedy. Just beyond where the old gate once stood, Frank Porter’s brother, James Porter, suffered an accident on Aug. 30, 1921. James was seated behind a team of horses driven by ranch hand Horace Haddow.
Much like a tragic metaphor of the era, a passing automobile startled the horses – and they bolted recklessly. Haddow did all he could to take control, but the runaway carriage slammed into a fence post. James was thrown and suffered terrible injuries. He was taken to the Sisters’ Hospital in Kalispell, where he succumbed to his wounds a few days later.
Despite the early significance of the barn with the Porter Family, it is commonly known by the name of its more recent, former owners: Jesse and Ethel Blasdel. The Blasdels purchased the ranch in 1945 and later sold it to the Creston Fish & Wildlife Service in 1987.
Fortunately, the barn has been chiefly used as a horse/hay barn. Few modifications have been made and many original and unique features remain (although they are quickly succumbing to the elements).
For example, the barn has a massive gambrel roof with cedar shingles and two, eight-feet-tall cupolas (most barns in the Flathead Valley have much shorter ones; but Porter was from Wisconsin where such cupolas were more commonplace).
The center drive used for horses, carriages, and farm machinery runs the width of the barn (center drives typically run the length of a barn; not the width).
Likewise, the “crow’s beaks” – the pointed roof extensions that suspend the hay carrier track – are located at the north/south ends (but without the typical center drive doors below).
Also, most of the timber for the barn’s post-and-beam structure were squared from single tree (something Porter, an accomplished logger could easily accomplish). The framing is joined by trunnels, splices and notches (of a style that was common until the 1880s). Mortise-and-tenon joints and planks cut from the same tree and “page-booked” side-by-side are also common.
Together, these aspects make the barn unique for the Flathead Valley, and western Montana in general. But regrettably, the Porter Ranch Barn is in desperate need of restoration. And it’s unlikely to remain intact another few years, let alone another generation in its present condition.
So, appreciate it while you can.
(If you visit the Porter Ranch/Blasdel Barn, please respectfully mind the “area closed” signs around the perimeter of the barn).
Jaix Chaix appreciates history and architecture. Share ideas and facts with him at email@example.com or at facebook.com/flatheadvalleylandmarks. He is teaching another “Historic Homes of Kalispell” course at FVCC this fall, and guiding “cemetery walks” at the Conrad Memorial and Demersville cemeteries.
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