The History

It all started when...Henry met Mary


Henry Elling (1842-1900)


Henry Elling was born in Germany December 9, 1842.  At the age of 15, he was orphaned and with his younger brother, immigrated to the United States.  Henry initially lived in Missouri, where an older brother had previously established himself.  By 1863, Henry was working in the mercantile business in Colorado when he learned of the new gold strikes in the Idaho Territory.  He arrived in Virginia City in early summer of 1864, and opened a general mercantile store on Wallace Street.  Henry soon expanded—and prospered—with investments in mining, livestock operations, property acquisitions, the franchise for electrical service for Bozeman and, most notably, widespread banking interest.  By 1876, Henry was well established as one of the wealthiest men in Montana.


Mary Elling (1848-1924)


Mary Cooley was born in Vermont in 1848, but her family soon afterwards moved to Iowa.  In 1868, the family moved again, this time to the Madison Valley of Montana, near Ennis.  After briefly working as a teacher, Mary became the bride of Henry Elling on July 20, 1870.  Mary supervised the building of their elegant home, raised seven children (three others died in childhood), and was a tireless volunteer in community activities.  Mary loved to share the classics in literature with her children and her friends, and was also fond of the visual and performing arts.

After Henry’s death on November 14, 1900, Mary expanded the house to include a ballroom for social, musical, and cultural gatherings.  Mary’s penchant for style was described in The Ties That Bind, as: “[she was] a grand lady who wore long kid gloves on formal occasions [and] had a gold buttonhook to fasten all the tiny, little buttons that graced her formal gloves.”  Mary also provided the majority of funds for the 1902-03 construction of the beautiful St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Virginia City.  She continued to live in the family home until her death in 1924.


The Elling House (1876-current)


Henry & Mary Elling with children in front of the Elling House, late 1890s

(Photo published in The Madisonian in 1901)

The Elling house was built in 1876, upon land purchased for $65, and using stone from Virginia City’s quarry.  After her husband’s death, in 1900, Mary Elling doubled the size of the house by adding the ballroom, sitting room, smoking room, maid’s quarters, and another kitchen.  The ballroom became a popular gathering spot for musical and artistic presentations, which were generously and graciously hosted by Mary.

After Mary’s death in 1924, the house was used as a boarding house for several years before going vacant.  In the early 60’s the property was acquired by Charlie Bovey who used the house for the storage of some of his “treasures”.  Toni James acquired the property in 1996, and began a loving-and laborious- restoration of the house.  With her background in theatre, Toni also dreamed of renewing the tradition of hosting cultural events for area residents.

In November of 2008, the Elling House Arts & Humanities Center was formed as a non-profit entity and negotiated a lease with Ms. James for the use of the Elling House.  The Center seeks to continue the tradition of using this historic property as a venue for showcasing artists, musicians, and authors.