By Robert Lucke
When Bob and Sally Siebrasse bought the Buttrey house in 1962, it was not love at first sight but rather a long period during which the house grew on the family.
"I grew to love the house slowly," Sally Siebrasse said. "We had a small house and four children. What I did fall in love with was all the room. We needed more room and this house was available."
The plans of the house state clearly that it was built for Mrs. Frank Buttrey. Old-timers tell of Mrs. Buttrey touring all the new houses in Havre before having Havre architect Frank Bossuot design hers. She wanted to be sure she had the largest living room in Havre. Mr. Buttrey remarked at first seeing the house that she was building a hall, not a house. It was built in 1919.
The Buttreys came to Havre in 1902 and, working as a team, turned a small dry-goods store into a chain of department stores all over the West. Their two sons, Harry and Ted, started stores in Texas and Minnesota. Later they started a chain of food stores throughout the West that bore the Buttrey name until they were bought out by Albertson's a few years ago.
The Buttreys had a bus line to get customers to their stores and a wholesale grocery business. He started what is arguably Montana's first radio station, KFBB, which is still in existence today as a Great Falls television station.
They might have been the dynamic duo at work, but when the doors of their home closed, they were not even close. He was relegated to a second-floor bedroom, and the fact that he could not even share the first-floor sun porch caused him to rebel and have a second-floor sun porch built on top of the original one and a quirky hall leading from his bedroom to the porch.
"That second-floor sun porch is strange," Siebrasse said. "The door to it is so tiny you can't even get a small chair out there. The only chairs that can go out there are folding ones, unless you send things through the windows. We don't use either sun porch except for storage. They are hot in the summer and cold all winter."
The house, which has the distinction of being the first large colonial house built in Havre, has an official style. Called Neo-Colonial Revival, it features large rooms, many multipaned windows and a front facade complete with an entrance porch. That porch is a bone of contention for Sally Siebrasse.
"I always thought with all their money that that little front porch is just blah," Siebrasse said. "I like the fact that it is there but there are cracks I don't think anyone would put up with but I did. Every time I clean it, I get irritated. It is hard to clean and the wind blows everything through."
These days the house has a large living room-dining room combination, kitchen, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, sleeping porch, two sun porches and a recreation room. Five graceful fireplaces are spread throughout the house. When the Buttreys lived in the house, it had a separate large dining room, and an eastern-facing eating porch along with an additional bathroom and maid's room. In the middle 1950s Mrs. Buttrey added on to the dining room and maid's room to build an apartment for herself and rented out the rest of the main house.
The Siebrasses have taken out a telephone room, butler's pantry and hallway to make a larger kitchen.
And even though the Siebrasses have lived in the house just as long as the Buttreys did, it will probably always be referred to as the Buttrey house. That doesn't matter one whit to Sally Siebrasse, who looks back with fondness at her family's own history there.
"It was a good place to raise four kids. The school was close by. Now closed though. The neighborhood is changing a lot. A lot of people are coming and going that didn't used to be here, and when my four kids were here they were the only kids. Now there's a ton of kids," Siebrasse said. "But you know, most of all there was always all this room and the fact that we don't run into each other but even more than that, it is the feeling that this house gives. That feeling is great."
Historical data for this story came from "Grit, Guts and Gusto," published by the Hill County Bicentennial Commission, "Historic Homes of North Central Montana" by Robert Lucke, and "Havre, Her Historic Homes," edited by Robert Lucke.