February 21, 1941: James A. Talbott And Shellrock Manor

Burning of Famous Talbot Mansion at Columbia Falls Recalls First Movie Studio in Montana and Filming of Picture There.

By E. M. Clipman

With the complete destruction by fire a few days ago of the 24-room Talbot mansion, "Shellrock Manor," on the outskirts of Columbia Falls, one of the state's historical buildings went up in smoke. The fire department of Columbia Falls, however, kept the blaze from spreading to other buildings on the beautiful estate, known far and wide as Shellrock.

James A. Talbott, one of the colorful figures of northwest Montana in the nineties built the rambling old mansion shortly after moving to Columbia Falls from Butte in 1897, where he was a vice president of the First National Bank. Columbia Falls at that time was a typical western town with its dance halls, saloon and gambling games. With Andrew Davis of Butte, Talbott started a banking business. He erected a hotel there, the Gaylord, which would have done credit to a city 10 times the size of Columbia Falls. He sold it in 1921. He never made any money out of the venture, but maintained the hotel as he thought Columbia Falls needed a proper hostelry.

He gave outright to the state 160 acres for the Montana Soldiers' home which adjoins "Shellrock Manor."

James A. Talbott

Scene Of Splendor

"Shellrock Manor" was the scene of much splendor in the gay nineties. Rare specimens of trees and plants graced the expensive grounds to the joy of the pioneer banker's wife and four daughters. There were eight fireplaces in the quaint old mansion and many an old-timer around Columbia Falls recalls the pleasure of the warmth and hospitality of the Talbot household.

The estate, standing in prominence above the Flathead River, was colorful place with its prize orchards and massive barns where experiments in raising blooded stock were tried and failed.

The brick for the mansion was made on the ground near the estate. The interior was richly finished in hardwood with great paneled doors, ornate wainscoating, quaint chandeliers that hung majestically from the ceilings. On the third floor were the libraries and studios where the rich man's daughters went to school to private tutors before going away to fashionable finishing schools and cultural tours to Europe.

Shellrock Manor

Montana's First Movie Studio

After Talbott's death the showplace, which was designed and built by Fred Whiteside, at a cost of $38,000, was converted into a motion picture studio which suffered financial collapse after filming the first motion picture to be made in a Montana studio, "Where Rivers Rise."

The Flathead Producers Corporation, as the film company was named, was originated and financed in its one and only production by Tom Linden and his wife, May Talbott Linden. Mrs. Linden was the daughter of James A. Talbott.

Talbott was well known to the early pioneers of Montana as a builder banker, mining man and picturesque figure. He was born in Ohio in 1838 and traveled to California in 1857, where he made a small fortune in the gold mines. At Virginia City, Nevada, he went broke, however, and came to Montana in 1863, working for wages in the mines at Bannack. When gold was struck at Alder Bulch, where Virginia City stands, he was one of the first there and made a lot of money out of placer ground. He then moved to Deer Lodge, living there and at Butte, where he made a fortune out of the Silver Bow group of mines.

In 1899, while living in Butte, Talbott bought the beautiful Shellrock Estate, as a playground for himself and his family. It consisted of 200 acres lying on the shores of Flathead river, at the mouth of Bad Rock Canyon. Beautiful as is the natural setting of Shellrock, neither time nor money was spared by Talbott in making his canyon home more attractive.

The film, "Where Rivers Rise," was a stirring tale of the forests of Montana. It was a clean play resilient with the life of the woods and camps and rivers; and throughout there was the challenge of the unconquered west, a challenge for red-blooded men to get into the game and pit their strength and ingenuity against the forces of nature.

The location for the picture was in the vicinity of Bad Rock Canyon and the upper reaches of the Flathead river, and no more beautiful surroundings could have been found anywhere in America. The plot of Montana's first motion picture centered around a father and daughter living in an eastern city who had lost all except some timber lands in Montana and had come west to make their last stand.

Movie Production

Shellrock Sold

A few years ago "Shellrock Manor," then deserted, was purchased by Anton Hoerner, who moved his family to Columbia Falls from the drought area of Dakota. In 1927 they had harvested 120,000 bushels of wheat, but succeeding drouths drove them out of Dakota and they sought better farming facilities in the Flathead. Mr. Hoerner came from Russia in 1899.

The newly acquired property thus became the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hoerner and their 18 children, and at the time the family broke into print a few years ago due to an outbreak of trichinosis, the rambling old structure also housed their sons-in-law and daughters-in-law and grandchildren to a combined census of 33 persons. The whole family migrated from Dakota, bringing stock and farm equipment.

A few weeks after their arrival at "Shellrock Manor" some of the porkers brought from Dakota were killed and the meat rendered into various pork products. Trichina infected pork caused trichinosis for 40 persons, including a 10-year-old son, Danney, of the Hoerners, who died. Every one of the Dakota hogs were killed by state veterinarians and each was found to be infected with trichina, the parasite found in the pork products of the slaughtered animals.

The disease did not stay within the Hoerner family, but guests at their home also became ill. Then when half the family became ill, three nurses were secured to help care for the patients at home. The nurses also developed the trichinosis.

--- Whitefish Pilot

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