The Beginning and Ownership
William L. “Bill” Adair built the Merc back in 1914, just four years after Glacier Park became a park. He fished, using only one fly (the Coachman), and drank and grew king-sized cabbages while his wife (and later, after she died, a second wife) ran the store and lived in their homestead cabin, which is now the Northern Lights Saloon.
William L. “Bill” Adair built the Merc back in 1914, just four years after Glacier Park became a park. He fished, using only one fly (the Coachman), and drank, and grew king-sized cabbages while his wife (and later, after she died, a second wife) ran the store and lived in their homestead cabin, which is now the Northern Lights Saloon.
He planted the only elm tree in the North Fork, which still shades patrons of the neighboring saloon, and his transplanted hop vines continue to creep up the saloon wall.
The Merc’s interior still bears the log walls that Adair hand-hewed with a broadax so he could adorn them with wallpaper, and the old glass-cylinder gas pump, which used a pump-and-gravity system to fuel vehicles, remains on the complex.
The Mercantile was originally known as Adair’s, while Polebridge was the store and post office a half-mile north, toward the Glacier National Park entrance.
That second store was owned and operated by another homesteader, Ben Hensen Sr., who opened his store in the 1920s because he thought Adair’s prices were exorbitant. When Hensen was awarded the post office contract, his wife May submitted the name Polebridge, which was accepted.
North Fork resident and historian Lois Walker said the Hensens closed the store in 1936 due to the Depression, and the post office moved to Adair’s, where it remained until it closed in 2001.
The Adairs operated the store until just after World War II when Ben and Annette Rover took over.
A brief history of the Merc that hangs in the Northern Lights Saloon quotes an excerpt from former Glacier National Park ranger Norton Pearl, offering some insight into Adair’s colorful personality: “Thurs Feb 13. Had a fine feed at Adairs for supper … Had quite a chat all the way along with Bill Adair I like him … Fri Feb 14. Didn’t get up very early but had a fine breakfast bot a pair of rubbers and sox and started for Belton. Billy Adairs is some fine place to stop.”
Until, 1994 the Merc did not feature a bakery, which today serves as its most popular function. The bakery and most of the recipes are the legacy of Dan Kaufman, a third-generation baker from Idaho who owned the Merc for 15 years. Dan’s legacy and tremendous baking wisdom still live on in every bear claw the Merc produces. The inspiration Dan created continues with a new generation of talented bakers that call Polebridge home.
Longtime resident George McFarland’s family purchased their property on Big Prairie within the boundaries of Glacier National Park in 1942, and his first recollections on the North Fork were as a teenager in the mid-40s. He remembers many of the original homesteaders and the square dances at the McFarland Ranch, and recalls meeting Adair. The Mercantile was then, as it is today, a community center and a grocer of last resort.
A Kalispell native, Will Hammerquist, is the current owner of The Polebridge Merc.
More About the Adairs
Bill Adair had built and operated a store and hotel in what is now Glacier National Park in 1907. After the establishment of the national park in 1910 and the construction of a bridge across the North Fork of the Flathead River soon after, travel patterns changed. So the Adairs moved to the present location in 1912. They built a cabin (the present-day Northern Lights Saloon) as their home on a 160-acre homestead and began construction of a store. The store was completed in 1914. An icehouse and shop were added soon after. A barn, which burned to the ground in the Red Bench fire of 1988, was completed in the early 1920s. Known in the early days simply as Adair’s, the store was later to become the Polebridge Mercantile. From the beginning, it was the social and business hub of the North Fork and a gateway to the new national park across the river. These five buildings make up the W.L. Adair General Mercantile Historic District. The District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 as representative of an early Montana mercantile enterprise.
Jessie Adair died in 1930. After a decent interval Bill married Emma Lacher, the widow of a former business partner. Bill and Emma lived at Polebridge until 1943 when they sold the store and property and moved to town. Emma efficiently ran the store and post office and reportedly did most of the work around the place. Bill is remembered as a good fly fisherman, a lover of fast cars and a man who took the occasional drop. An avid gardener who grew king-sized cabbages and transplanted hop vines for summer cooling, he also planted the only elm tree in the North Fork. This same tree shades patrons today. Bill once offered his property to a former park ranger for $1600 and a cow. This may have been a good price for the time but hopefully Bill ultimately sold out for more than that.
The cabin, known as the “mother cabin” served as the residence for subsequent store owners until the 1950s, when living quarters were built in the store. The mother cabin was then used as a rental cabin until 1976, when it was converted to the Northern Lights Saloon.
Pictured below: The Northern Lights Saloon of today