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Billings woman seeks to repair mysterious Smith Mansion, where her father died after years of building

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The Smith Mansion stands in Wapiti, Wyo. (MTN News) The Smith Mansion stands in Wapiti, Wyo. (MTN News)
Sunny Smith Larsen wants to keep her childhood home alive (MTN News) Sunny Smith Larsen wants to keep her childhood home alive (MTN News)
WAPITI, Wyo. -

A Billings woman's childhood memories were made in a home in Wapiti, Wyo., where there were no walls, but wild animals were welcome guests.

The Smith Mansion, perched on the face of a mountain outside the gates to Yellowstone National Park, was built in the early 1990s by a man named Francis Smith.

"When he was younger, he wanted to build a small family cabin," said Sunny Larsen Smith. "It’s not what you see today. He kept building and building, it was always interesting to see what happened next. Nobody knew.”

Sunny Smith now leads people on tours through the home, but she actually lived in the house her father built until she was 12 years old.

The home had a single outlet, which Smith said her father connected end-to-end down the hill to a power pole.

Otherwise, the Smith Mansion was void of electricity and running water.

“We had five gallon buckets where we’d use the bathroom, there was no outhouse," said Smith. "You were just under the stars.”

Smith said she and her brother slept on sleeping bags on the floor, but rarely had sleepovers with friends.

"None of the kids were allowed over," said Smith. "But animals wandered in while we slept. It was really more like a tree house."

Her father build the home without a blue print, adding on wherever his vision took him next.

“All the timbers for this house came off Rattlesnake Mountain," said Smith. "There was a bad fire in the mid to late 50s and the forest service made it free for picking. So he’d go up there in his pickup truck and haul off logs. Then he built it 90 percent by hand."

Francis Smith spent much of 1980s building his 5-story dream home, a project his daughter Sunny said may have never been complete.

“He’s quoted saying that this house would get him before he could get the house, he was never going to be done,” said Smith.

Smith said her father got back up from every fall but one. In 1992, Francis Smith fell to his death.

Where Smith said her father’s blood dripped through the floorboards onto the soil, a rosebush bloomed.

“I’ve never seen a rosebush up here, nothing grows," said Smith.

For Smith, this new life is a sign, a reason to keep her father’s dream alive.

“Our goal here is to keep it standing, keep it open," said Smith. "It’s a lot of work, but it’s my childhood home and it’s become my passion.”

Smith is hosting a fundraiser on Aug. 26 in Cody to raise money to preserve the house. 

Smith said the home is need of repairs to the roof, a retaining wall, and other structural repairs.

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