Celebrating History-The Pepin Mansion

Due to the severe snow storm and power outages, I was not able to get copies of The Havre Plaindealer I need in order to create my column, so there wasn’t one this week.  However, here is an oldie but a goody, one about the Pepin Mansion I wrote for the Havre Daily News several years ago.  Enjoy!

The Pepin Mansion was one of Havre’s most unique and elegant edifices. Located at the southeast corner of Third Street and Fourth Avenues, it stood as a testimony to pioneer spirit and determination.

Simon Pepin came to Havre during Fort Assinniboine days from St. Michel, Canada. He partnered with L. K. Devlin and secured a contract with the government to supply meat to the Fort. He also befriended Ed Broadwater and these men’s partnerships would prove beneficial to Havre’s growth.

Simon Pepin provided opportunities for his family, and several family members found themselves settling in Havre. One nephew, Exor, had a homestead that contained Havre’s first home, a log structure built by John Bell, a sergeant at Fort Assinniboine, for him and his beautiful Indian bride. Simon purchased the homestead from his nephew, Exor, and built another cabin near the first one.

After a few years, Mr. Pepin decided to build a five room house on what is now the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Third Street. He also built a barn and a pump house on the homestead. Pepin’s little brick home was the first in Havre to have running water. According to William Wiltner, one of Havre’s most enduring old-timers, the little home was built in 1894 or 1896.

At the time, Havre was a perfect example of a Western town in its infancy. It was not unusual for cattle to be on Mr. Pepin’s homestead. After all, Simon Pepin had the P Cross Ranch in the Bear Paws, and another ranch in the Cypress Hills of Canada of the same name, as well as the Diamond B Ranch, five miles northeast of Havre. It made sense for him to hold cattle for a while on his homestead in what is now Havre.

As Mr. Pepin’s business interests flourished, a bigger home was needed. In an interview with Robbie Lucke, a member of a well-respected Havre family with deep roots and a passion for local history, he stated that there were 2 bay windows on the little five room house, and that the house was enlarged around these bay windows. The brick was made in Havre, and Mr. Lucke recollects it was the same color as the Clack Home on Second Avenue, only “bigger and flatter”. The finished home had a definite French influence and ended up being 14 rooms, a mansion by Havre’s standards at the time.

The Pepin Mansion is featured in Mr. Lucke’s book Historic Homes of North Central Montana (1977), and he states: the “first floor included (a) living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms and Mr. Pepin’s office. Second floor included three bedrooms, bathroom and most unusual was the large second floor parlor where the Pepins preferred to entertain over first floor rooms. The third floor included the tower room and a large room with water storage tank for the rest of the house. Second floor rooms were complete with French doors opening to wide balconies.”

There are copies of Mr. Lucke’s Historic Homes of North Central Montana available at the Clack Museum at the Holiday Village Mall.

I recall a story the late Merle Bosworth told of Simon Pepin’s daughter, Elizabeth and her cat. Seems like the cat was missing and Merle went looking for the cat. It was quite the adventure getting the cat into a burlap sack and bringing it home to her, and he wasn’t paid much to get the cat back. As I recall, he was none too happy about seeing that cat lounging on the front porch with her, after all of the hard work he had done getting it back. I don’t think he cared too much for very many felines, save the one orange tabby Tom he rescued when I knew him.

The Pepin Mansion passed onto his adopted daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband Frank Meyer upon Mr. Pepin’s death in 1914. The Meyers owned the Pepin Mansion until 1921, when it was sold to the Shepherd and Pierson Co. The Shepherd and Pierson Company, according to its Articles of Incorporation, was to “improve, manage and operate real property; build, construct, and alteration of houses and other structures; develop real estate by buying, selling, renting and leasing; make all mortgages, borrow money thereon by mortgage or otherwise, the loaning of money, … Also, to buy and sell lumber, brick, stone, lime and hardware; and conduct general brokerage in real estate and insurance.” The Articles of Incorporation also state the company would exist for 20 years and then be liquidated. The original partners were Oliver C. Shepherd and his wife, Beatrice, and L. W. Pierson and his wife, Maud. Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Pierson each contributed $19,900 each and the wives contributed $100 each, bring its financial holdings to $40,000. Five hundred shares could be issued at $100 for each share.

Over the years, partners came and went and among the partners were C. B. Elwell, who would be a judge in the future; Ed Sundberg, a contractor; J. M. Elmslie manager of the Hill County Abstract Company; H. C. Hall; Chris Fuglevand, also a contractor; and Frank Meyer, who owned the Pepin Mansion previously and now listed as living in St. Paul, where he and Elizabeth were married in 1912.

While the Shepherd and Pierson Company owned the Pepin Mansion, at this time it is unknown if they did business there. According to the Polk Directory of 1929-1930, the Shepherds lived in the Mansion, and the Shepherd and Pierson Company was doing business at 108 Third Avenue. The home was transferred from the Company to O. C. Shepherd in 1930. Because the Polk Directories are incomplete at the Havre-Hill County Library, at this time I’m not sure if the Shepherds had been living in the Pepin Mansion or if Shepherd and Pierson had been doing business in it since 1921; a subject for research in the not too distant future.

The Shepherds lived in the Pepin Mansion until 1945, when it was purchased by Margaret Morris. She and her husband, Joseph, owned the Morris Café. Many people have spoken of the Morris Café and everyone has wonderful things to say about the Morris family and their cooking. The Morris Café was located at 308 First Street and was touted as “Havre’s Best”, and by the looks on people’s faces as they reminisce, there is no doubt that food was good. The phone number for the Morris Café was 165.

Mr. Lucke stated that Joe’s son, Bob, started Bob’s Drive In, where Archie’s Auto Body is located. He said the girls would come out and get the order and bring it back to your car on the tray that hung from your car window, like the A &W. He further stated that it was very successful for some time, but competition from Clyde Thomas’ In and Out Drive In, not too far away from Bob’s, hurt business.

In 1945, Joseph and Margaret Morris sold the Pepin Mansion to the American Legion. Mr. Lucke remembers seeing it as a young child when the Pepin Mansion was the American Legion and he said it “had high ceilings and was dark, probably due to the cottonwood trees out front.” He further stated the building was “huge” and “lodge rooms were in front”, and a bar was somewhere in the building, but he didn’t remember where. He also described the place as “drafty”. When asked about stained glass, he said there were some in panels above the larger windows and they were of a rectangular pattern. He was impressed with the windows, stating they were “fairly large, some 4 feet by 5 to 6 feet long”. What really impressed him were those two bay windows he so fondly remembers. He could not remember seeing a staircase or what kind of light fixtures were in the Mansion.

In 1950, the American Legion sold the Pepin Mansion to the Havre Medical Center to build a clinic, and sadly, in June of 1951, the Pepin Mansion was razed. In an article in The Havre Daily News dated June 12, 1951, Otto Baltrusch and his crew razed the building. The new Havre Clinic’s architect was McIver Associates from Great Falls, and Fuglevand and Son would build the new clinic for $77,400.

There was a wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the Pepin Mansion, and Bill Fuglevand, son of Chris Fuglevand, acquired the wrought iron and placed it around his home on the 600 block of 7th Avenue. That fence is still there today.

As for the cottonwoods, there is now only one remaining at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Third Street.

The Simon Pepin Mansion was the home chosen for the design on the attractive, proportionally correct green banners that grace the Havre Residential Historic District. The drawing of the Pepin Mansion is by Lyle Lossing, and the banners were designed by Emily Mayer. The color chosen was inspired by the 1950’s green tiles on the floor in an office on the third floor of the Old Post Office; it was carpeted over later.

Simon Pepin was a visionary, and entrepreneur and most importantly a builder. Several buildings were constructed under his direction in Havre, among them the Broadwater-Pepin Block, where the Eagles Aerie is today, to the Pepin Block on the northwest corner of Third Avenue and First Street. Among the businesses housed in the building include The Jim, a bar and pool hall, and most famously, the Dutch Shop Café, another restaurant with fond memories of the wonderful people and the great food. Sadly, it, too, saw the same fate as the Pepin Mansion, being razed in the late 1970s to build then First Bank Havre, now U. S. Bank.

Simon Pepin Mansion, located where the current Havre-Hill County Library is today.

The Pepin Mansion serves as a reminder that once history is torn down, it is gone for good. A picture is a poor substitute for the real building, and it is important to preserve the past, in the present, for the future to learn from, enjoy and understand from where we started and how we have progressed. This article is just a brief journey into the history of one man and his wonderful contributions. There is more to tell, but suffice it to say we must be diligent in preserving our history, for it is our foundation, and the stronger it is the longer it endures. Please celebrate National Historic Preservation Month by visiting one or all of our historic sites. We can’t preserve history for the future without your help.

Comments are closed.