Friday, October 15, 2021

Keeping the Swan River Hall Alive

by Kay Bjork
| September 29, 2021 12:00 AM

The future of the historic Swan River Hall appeared at stake in March of 2020 when it was discovered that 85% of the foundation joist ends were rotting, most likely caused because the untreated joists sat on a cement foundation, acting like a wick for moisture. After the board called in engineers to evaluate the situation, there was more bad news – the walls were not insulated and the heater needed to be replaced.

It came at the beginning of the pandemic, which worked for and against them. The absence of events made it a perfect time to complete the renovation, but it also cancelled the May pie auction, their annual fundraiser.

The Board of Trustees put out a call for donations to cover the renovation at an estimated cost of $26,200. In April 2020, board member Bill Stewart told the Bigfork Eagle, “If the community doesn’t respond, what that will tell us is they no longer want to see it going.”

The community answered – with donations ranging from $100 to $3000 from individuals and businesses, adding up to $18,085 in a matter of months. They started renovations and when supplemented by savings and donated labor, they were able to complete the needed work in less than a year. Joists were replaced, the floor repaired, the furnace replaced, the paneled walls insulated and replaced with bead board.

They continued the great tradition of community coming together to get things done. It wasn’t the first time the Swan River neighborhood had rallied for this precious gathering place.

In the 1930s the close-knit Swan River community joined together to build the community hall to provide a gathering place. The project was initially financed by several “Home Talent” plays along with donations of time and materials from local businesses and individuals. The first event was a dance held on the new birch floor, before the walls and roof were even raised.

Lumber for the 36” x 60’ building came from salvaged materials from a saw mill and an old grist mill that made moonshine, and timber that was logged from state land near the one-acre site. The building was constructed in a craftsman style with exposed rafter tails, milled trim, lap siding and shingled gable ends and completed in 1933. In 1945 the hall was expanded to include an entry hall, kitchen and a storage area at the front of the building.

It became the community hub for a wide variety of activities including dances, ice cream socials, 4-H, Grange, Farmer Union and club meetings, card parties, weddings, funerals, parties, political rallies, church services and even roller skating as they showed they knew how to change with the times when the sport became wildly popular in the 1950s and 1960s.

The community joined again in 1976 to make the needed repairs when a fire started by an old wood-burning furnace damaged the hall. The hall has always been operated and maintained by the community.

Covid-19 prevented another Pie Auction fundraiser in May of 2021, but they are hoping to schedule the event in 2022. In September they hosted an open house to celebrate the completion of the renovations. Covid-19 has required them to add a $100 cleaning fee to meet Covid-19 regulations, but rent remains the same - $30 for half-day and $60 for a full day for the freshened and improved facility. They want to make sure that the building continues its original purpose of serving the community.

The area has changed and times have changed since this simple structure was built – during more simple times. But one thing hasn’t changed, the Swan River community joins together to make sure they still have a place - where they can join together.

Donations are tax deductible for the non-profit organization. For more information call Gary Wilson at 837-2674.

For rental information call Linda Stewart at 837-5091.


The interior brightened with the replacement of dark paneling with painted bead board. (Kay Bjork photo)