A building with an unusual name, the Christmas Gift Evans House is one of the oldest homes in Helena and one of the few examples of Second Empire architecture in Montana.
In 1864, the year of Helena’s founding, John B. Sanford and Christmas Gift Evans (named after his birth date) arrived in Montana from the East Coast, beginning a friendship on their cross-country journey. In 1865, they formed a business partnership, establishing Helena’s first water-powered sawmill, and they later founded the Sanford and Evans Feed Store, where they sold animal feed, lumber, coal, and heavy-duty farming equipment. When Sanford married in 1877, to celebrate he designed and built a new home, though he later sold it to Evans in 1883. The Christmas Gift Evans House, built at the height of the Second Empire period, embodies the style through its symmetry and ornate exterior.
Second Empire architecture emphasizes symmetry because of its necessary mansard roof, which curves downward from a rectangular top, resting evenly above the walls. Mansard roofs, besides standing out visually, also make practical sense, as they allow more living space upstairs, unlike sloping roofs, which form a triangle, providing minimal room.
The Christmas Gift Evans House replicates this design: a mansard roof tops the residence with elegant supportive bracketing below, all alongside arched windows, inlaid on each side. The inclusion of cresting on the roof—the ornamental cast-iron fencing—further confirms the home’s Second Empire design. The cresting, with its curves and free-flowing lines, while ornamental, exists to break up the proportional façade below it, providing variation in the symmetrical exterior. Another notable element is the presence of three stone-carved floral friezes on the side tower. Friezes, often found in Second Empire, are decorative horizontal carvings intended to provide more ornamentation and depth to buildings.
Like most Second Empire homes, the Christmas Gift Evans House is quite large at 3,500 square feet, containing three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms within its walls. The whole property rests on 12,600 square feet with spacious front and backyards, including a rear carport, added decades after the original construction. The old landscape did not contain trees, providing an unobstructed street view, unlike now, when trees cover most of the house’s exterior. Requiring little restoration, the Christmas Gift Evans House remains well-preserved, though two notable alterations occurred over time. Originally, a bracketed porch topped with a miniature mansard roof occupied the entrance, lining up with the covered doorway on the side of the house. At some point, the Evans family decided to remove this feature, instead opting for a humbler entrance with minimal decoration. The subsequent owner, Eric Myhre, restored the porch to its initial condition in the 1980s. The domed tower also is not original.
Christmas Gift Evans lived in the house until his sudden death in 1915, caused by complications from a leg amputation. The Evans family, however, continued residing there, and his daughter and son-in-law inhabited the home until the late 1970s. The Christmas Gift Evans House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, continues serving as a private residence and is not open to the public for visitors.