Knowing the past is “a wonderful way to enlarge the experience of being alive.”
WATCH: Bozeman Extreme History Project oral history of the Story Mansion with FOSM President Felix Spinelli
The Story Mansion: Echoes from the Past and A Glimpse into the Future!
History is storytelling – a larger way of looking at life. What better way to begin the tale of The Story Mansion than with Nelson Story, the founder of the Story clan in Bozeman?
Early Family History
The epic life of Nelson Story became the basis for the novel “Lonesome Dove,” a TV series, and the film, “The Tall Men.” In 1866, Nelson at age 28 rode his horse from Montana to Texas, and then led a 1,000-head herd of cattle on a 1,500-mile drive from Fort Worth to the Gallatin Valley. He foresaw big opportunities in nourishing Bozeman’s growth and the nearby gold fields of southwestern Montana. With the help of 20 Tejano drovers, 2 carvery, and 3 bullwackers, he outsmarted Jayhawker ruffians in Kansas and Sioux in Wyoming. He soon had a Montana fortune in merchandising, ranching, milling flour, and real estate. He left Bozeman in the late 1800s for Los Angeles, where another fortune amassed. Nelson Story died at age 88 in 1926.
One of Nelson’s sons, T. Byron Story assumed the Montana business mantle, prospered, and with his wife, Katheryn Ferris, built the Story Mansion in 1910. There, they raised 5 children. While fortune flourished prior to and during WWI, when a need for wool and flour where high, the Story fortune slumped after the war. T.B. Story consolidated by moving the family to the majestic Nelson and Ellen Story mansion. Now, generations after Nelson and T.B. lived there, their Story progeny reside in Bozeman, as does the Story Mansion.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity
By 1922, a nexus of national fraternities was established at Montana State College, including Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). Housing for students was in-town; none on campus, so fraternal groups sought large residences for growing membership. Although T.B. Story’s house was at $30,000, then a mighty sum, the SAEs met the asking price, garnering much of that sum from the community. The boys held their prize for the next 80 years!
The fine craftsmanship, materials, and design of the T.B. Story Mansion are credited with its remarkably good condition during 80 years of fraternity occupancy from 1923 to 2000. It survived heavy use for cramped sleeping quarters in the Carriage House and the 3rd-floor “ballroom” (elegant under T.B.’s ownership). Credit should be shared between generations of actives who cherished their fine quarters and the presence of a House Mother who promoted decorum. House mothers resided in one of 8 bedrooms (study rooms) on the 2nd floor. Throughout the years, fellow students came to know the terrain on the 1st floor and grounds. The Chapter Room in the basement still flourishes the colors purple and white of SAE. Memories abound among the frat boys who lived in the Story Mansion.
City of Bozeman
By the 21st century turn, the alumni and active SAEs faced the economic reality of dwindling membership. The house had to be sold! It was a prime target for development; some ventured offers for keeping the house, subdividing adjacent lots, and constructing townhouses. Some suggested razing the Story Mansion. “Whoa,” responded the community, including historians, preservationists, architects, the Montana Preservation Alliance MPA, and the National Trust. The Story was one of three remaining block-sized mansions in Montana yet to come under public ownership.
In 2003, a courageous move by the Bozeman City Manager brought over $323,000 of city general funds to reuse the property. The SAEs sold the property to the City of Bozeman and hoped to identify a long-term, non-profit occupant that would be appropriate to R1 residential zoning. The City appointed a Task Force. Their due diligence produced negotiations and an offer to Montana State University MSU. Only seven blocks from campus, it seemed a needed and desirable match. However, MSU could not assume long-term maintenance costs. Four years had elapsed.
Friends of the Story Mansion (FOSM)
In September 2007, a rough business plan by an ad-hoc group, “Save the Story Mansion”, was presented to City Commissioners, outlining how a restoration of the 1st floor could, with rentals as public space, cover yearly operation costs; restoration of the 2nd and 3rd floors, and the Carriage House for anchor tenants, could meet maintenance costs. Restoration into a gracious public gathering space was a concept endorsed by most commissioners in November 2007.
The concept blossomed in 2008. A budding “Friends of The Story Mansion” gathered increasing community support, alongside a City Commission that voted to match the Department of Interior waning offer of a Save American Treasures Grant. With each part of the $394,000 match, totaling $800,000 finally in place, restoration began for the 1st floor, and on elements of code requirements for the two upper floors and the basement.
FOSM VISION AND MISSION FOR THE STORY MANSION
Our mission is to preserve and restore the Story Mansion and its grounds as a historic community gathering place.
From its start in 2008, Friends of the Story Mansion has envisioned a fully restored mansion and carriage house providing critical space for cultural, educational, and social use by the community.
In collaboration with the City of Bozeman, we offer community activities and events that showcase the current and potential uses for the Mansion and grounds. These gatherings help ensure that the Story Mansion is maintained and on the path of restoration and reuse.
Friends of the Story Mansion seeks to match tenants with potential space at the Story Mansion as we continue to raise awareness of the value of restoration for reuse of our nationally recognized landmark.
Photos courtesy of Gallatin Historical Society and Pioneer Museum