Johnnie Walsh Guest Lodge

Big Prairie—beautiful, rugged, and remote—nestles between the North Fork of the Flathead River and timbered foothills. Even today the area is accessible only via an unimproved 1901 wagon road. Johnnie (John J.) Walsh first came to Big Prairie working as a freighter hauling oil from the railhead at Belton, Montana, into Canada. Walsh, born in 1885, grew up on a homestead near Columbia Falls where his parents were among the first settlers. Following their example, he filed a homestead claim here in 1907 and married schoolteacher Mary Harriet Smith in 1909. Like their homesteading neighbors, the couple grazed livestock and cultivated a small garden. Although Big Prairie’s remoteness discouraged visitors, tourism in Glacier National Park may have encouraged Walsh to build this guest lodge as a replacement residence in 1922. Walsh did the framing himself. He cut the timber and then horses pulled the logs through a homemade planing device. Neighbors Charles Schoenberger and Ed, Emil, and Axel Peterson helped raise the walls and finish the lodge. Clapboard covers the frame gable end while massive round logs, hewn on the interior and originally chinked with moss, form the walls. The Walshes occupied the first story, but the second floor interior and the guests’ log privy/shower were never finished. About this time, the park’s efforts to curb poaching may have discouraged local tourism, prompting the Walshes to abandon their hope of guests. Although the lodge and privy were moved from the original nearby homestead site in 1963, the nearly identical setting has preserved the homestead’s historic ambiance.

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10271 Inside Northfork Road, Polebridge, Montana ~ Private