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About the Merc

Polebridge Mercantile - front porch

The Polebridge Mercantile has a long tradition of serving a vast and remote area in the upper reaches of the North Fork of the Flathead River. Originally established by William and Jessie Adair, the “Merc” has been supporting the North Fork community in Northwest Montana for 100 years, give or take. Much as it has from the beginning, the Merc serves as a general store, bakery, base camp and vacation getaway.

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.

From Norton Pearl’s Diary, 1913:  “Thurs Feb 13  Had a fine feed at Adairs for supper . . . l 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.”  (Pearl was a ranger in Glacier National Park.)

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.

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Flannery Coats & Stuart Reiswig, the most recent owners (or as they prefer to be called, “caretakers”) took over management of the Polebridge Mercantile in 2009. Since then, they’ve made a number of improvements (including a significant investment in solar power) while continuing the Merc’s long tradition of serving as one of the focal points of the North Fork experience.