BOZEMAN — Before there was a Story Mansion on Willson Avenue, there was an even more ornate Story Mansion on West Main Street.
The first mansion was built by Nelson Story, a pioneer who brought cattle up from Texas in 1866.
Born in Ohio, Nelson came west to look for gold, first in Colorado and then in Montana’s Virginia City, said Dale Martin, an adjunct history instructor at Montana State University.
With the money Story made mining gold, he went to Texas and bought cattle. His first plan was to drive them to a Kansas railhead, but he was stopped at the Kansas line, perhaps because Texas cattle were suspected of carrying a disease, Martin said.
Story changed plans and drove the herd up the Bozeman Trail at a time when the Sioux and other Northern Plains tribes were trying to keep whites out of their hunting territory.
Story’s cattle weren’t the first in Montana. Those had come earlier from Oregon in 1850. But Story’s herd was the first from Texas, Martin said.
Keeping some of the cattle to start his own ranch in Paradise Valley, Story sold others to feed Virginia City miners.
Story stayed in Bozeman and went on to make money selling flour and beef to army forts, including Fort Ellis and Fort C.F. Smith, and Indian reservations.
There’s evidence that Story, in some cases, delivered fewer bags of flour than what he was paid for and delivered substandard meat.
Like the rambunctious Copper Kings in Butte, Story was admired for his energy and drive, but condemned for possibly cutting corners on federal contracts, Martin said.
Story was one of the first people to have a flour mill in Bozeman using water to power the mill.
By the end of the 1860s, he also invested in land and banking.
In 1887, Story built an imposing Victorian mansion on West Main Street across from where the Gallatin County Courthouse would rise.
By 1900, his sons had taken over running the family businesses and Story and his wife, Ellen, spent part of the year in California, where Story invested in real estate. Story would eventually spend most of the year there.
Story’s great-granddaughter, Martha Story Drysdale, stayed in the mansion several times as a child when her grandparents, T.B. and Katherine Story, lived there after moving out of their Willson Avenue home.
Drysdale never knew Nelson Story, who died in 1926, two years before she was born.
Drysdale, who now lives in the Paradise Valley south of Livingston, remembers the three-story mansion as an elegant house with a formal dining room and slate tile entryway.
After visiting mansions in Helena and Butte built by his peers, Nelson Story was to have said that he liked his home much better than theirs, Drysdale said.
At least two of Drysdale’s aunts, Katherine and Winifred Story, were married in the old mansion.
When the mansion became too expensive to keep up, the family sold it to the Bozeman school district. By that time, Gallatin County High School had been built next to the mansion.
Although a women’s group in Bozeman made an attempt to save the mansion, it wasn’t successful, and the building was torn down to make way for the Willson School.
When Drysdale was 9 years old, she watched as a wrecking ball crashed against the mansion, sending up a cloud of dust and brick.
The first Story Mansion is long gone, but the family still watches over the property. Several years ago, a statue of Malcolm Story — T.B.’s son and Drysdale’s father — was erected on the Willson School lawn.
Story, a well-known figure around town during his long life, is instantly recognizable from his handlebar mustache and red-plaid overcoat.