Karen Leigh watercolor
Visitors to Montana's Historic Kootenai Lodge are captivated by the spirit of this great place, laid gently in a valley between the Mission and Swan
Ranges and softly blended into its forested surroundings along the shores of Swan Lake and Swan River.
In earlier days the property enticed the Kootenai, Flathead and Blackfeet Indians to camp, hunt, fish and conduct spiritual ceremonies
One of the distinguished guests on a Swan Lake
Then came the adventurers who arrived in the 1800s to settle the wild
west. The first cabin was built by a trapper and the property
changed hands several times before the arrival of attorney Orvis Evans in 1905.
Swept away by this magical spot he invited his friend and partner Con Kelley to the fishing camp. Shortly afterwards the pair bought the 1880s homestead, which included
three rustic cabins and 170 acres.
Rising stars with The Anaconda Copper Mining Company, the two men created the magnificent summer retreat for their family and friends as an escape from the fast pace
of the business world.
At first the two families shared a lodge but the retreat continued to grow with the burgeoning careers of the men. Kelley eventually was named president and Evans,
chief counsel of Anaconda Copper Mining Company.
Intricately fashioned log buildings reminiscent of the Great Camps of the Adirondacks, sprouted like mushrooms, blending into the shore of the pristine Swan Lake.
The Kootenai Camp - as the Kelleys and Evans liked to call it - grew to include sleeping cabins, two large lodges, a 31-stall barn for thoroughbred horses, a six-car
garage for the limousines, greenhouse, powerhouse, workshops, a polo field, two tennis courts, gardens and a children's play area.
14,000 sq.ft. Main Lodge
The Kelley main lodge was designed by architect Kirtland Cutter, whose portfolio also includes the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier Park and the Conrad Mansion in
Kalispell. Craftsmen Ward Whitney and Fred Kitzmiller headed the construction and Billy Moose headed the stonework of the huge project. Enormous cedar timbers
were handpicked and cut locally. The smooth, reddish larch logs of the majestic 50' x 70' building complement the unpeeled gray cedar logs used for trim and beams.
Servants, Maids & Children
During the Kootenai Camp heyday a 70-member staff included cooks, butlers, maids, nannies, chauffeurs, gardeners, carpenters and a man to attend over 20 fireplaces.
The biggest boats, the finest crystal and the best parties were all found at the Kootenai Lodge as the opulence of the Copper Kings merged with the rugged wilderness
of the Swan Valley.
They entertained the rich and famous, including John D. Rockefeller, Charles Lindbergh, Will Rogers, actress Dorothy McGuire and western artist Charles Russell. Fabulous
parties were hosted for company V.I.P.s who built five other estates on Swan Lake.
Charles Lindbergh at
The Kootenai Lodge remained with the Kelleys until 1968 when it was sold to Stoltze Land and Lumber Company, logged and subdivided. The Kootenai Lodge buildings and 42
acres were kept intact and placed for sale.
Purchase by Sigurd and Mary Brekkeflat marked a quieter era for the Kootenai Lodge. It was placed for sale and advertised around the world. After his wife died in
1981, Sigurd decided to place the property for a token amount into a trust for the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch, which houses young victims of neglect and abuse.
It was again placed for sale and lay silent.
Neighbor Dennis Thompkins took long, dreamy walks through the Kootenai Lodge, envisioning it alive with people and laughter again. This vision became reality when he
joined with four partners to purchase the property and established the Kootenai Lodge Club, an exclusive membership resort.
The club existed long enough to complete restorations, place the site on the National Register of Historic Places, and to
stage some memorable events.
A wild game feast and a Great Gatsby Bash were just two of the imaginative parties held, recreating scenes from the grand days of Kelley and
Kootenai Lodge also provided an inspiring backdrop for art workshops and musical concerts.
Parties offered a special charm when held at the Kootenai Lodge. During long summer evenings, diners on the terrace of the dining room enjoyed gourmet food as the yellow
sun sank into pools of a pink sunset on a sparkling Swan Lake.
Winter months brought the Christmas card vision of log cabins nestled in sequined snow where groups settled in to enjoy the warm of a crackling fire, a hot toddy and
the company of friends.
The Kootenai Lodge fell into slumber once again, like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her prince to come.
Winter at Kootenai Lodge
Then just like a fairy tale - Mark and Debi Rolfing arrived and brought with them a new era of Camelot.
It was love at first sight for Debi when she saw the Swan Lake property in 1990. Just two hours afterwards, after a phone call to Mark,
they bought the Kootenai Lodge.
Mark had never seen the lodge, but he trusted Debi's intuitive knack for business.
The handsome golden couple with a golden touch exemplified the American dream. Mark has found success in the world of golf. He is currently a golf commentator for NBC
Sports and has his own golf show on the Golf Channel, Golf Hawaii with Mark Rolfing. Debi has seen phenomenal success in real estate sales and development.
They have always shared this special place with family and friends.
During their ownership from 1990 to 2005 Mark and Debi Rolfing
shared this special place with family and friends. They also graciously welcomed
members of the Kelley and Evans families to return for a nostalgic walk through
their family history. Family members were delighted to see the restorations
completed under the Rolfings, whose timely purchase rescued several buildings
Touched by the past and kissed by the present, the reaction to this spectacular place is always one of childlike wonder. Transcending time and space, the Kootenai
Lodge offers a once in a lifetime experience.
Early visitors to Kootenai
Lodge were provided with
plenty of fish and fishing stories.