Offbeat Adventure

The Smith Mansion Is a Giant, Twisting House in Wyoming That Killed Its Owner

As you travel through Wyoming's Wapiti Valley, you might find a strange sight perched atop a hill among all of the area's picturesque vistas and abundant wildlife. It's a house ... sort of. Made of logs and shaped like the wildest blueprint of an imaginative child, this five-story edifice seems to be standing on the sheer conviction of its architect. Welcome to the Smith Mansion — and watch your step.

A Cabin Without End

Cody, Wyoming is no stranger to big personalities. After all, it takes its name from its co-founder Colonel William Frederick Cody — or as you might know him, Buffalo Bill. It's also where the story of the Smith Mansion begins, in the brain of an ambitious amateur architect with dreams bigger than his blueprints. Francis Lee Smith was a man with an obsession. Born in Cody, he was inspired by an opportunity that he couldn't pass up. After a massive fire on Rattlesnake Mountain, much of the timber in the area was left up for grabs for anyone able to lug it away. Smith had a truck and two strong arms, so he started loading up — and he never stopped.

At first, he just wanted to build a comfortable, livable home for himself and his family out of cheap-as-free wood. But once that was done, the project just seemed to grow. And grow. And grow. Soon, the twisting, towering building was home to a magical dining hall with an enormous stump for a table and several smaller stumps for dining chairs. Its upper stories sprouted viewing platforms; its lower levels developed living spaces with evocative names like "the hot room" and "the cold room." In the winter, the family would hang out by the wood-burning stove of the former; in the summer, they'd relax in the cooler temperatures of the latter room, which was built into the hillside.

Unfortunately, the story of Smith and his fanciful house has a tragic end. Speaking with the New York Times, Smith's ex-wife Linda Mills described how his increasing obsession took a toll on their marriage — and eventually led to their divorce. Which only drove Smith to re-focus on the building. One day, in 1992, the 48-year-old Smith was working on one of his slanted, round roofs when he had an accident, fell (not for the first time), and died. Now in the care of his daughter, Sunny Smith Larsen, the house is still hanging on nearly 30 years later.

The Hot Room, the only source of heat in the mansion.

A Latter-Day Landmark

Today, the house is hard to miss if you're driving to Yellowstone from the east. You'll see it on North Fork Highway just before you enter the park. Although Sunny Larsen doesn't live there anymore — she and her husband reside in Billings, Montana — she's still working to keep the house in as good of condition as she can. It's hard work, as the years (and local vandals) haven't been very kind to the home. However, recent years have seen a resurgence in interest in the house, and the accompanying donations to help with maintenance don't hurt, either. In July 2018, a camera crew visited the mansion for an as-yet-unannounced project, further proving that the mansion's days are far from numbered. If you happen to be driving through the area in the near future, it couldn't hurt to swing by the website and make a donation or volunteer an hour or two to the clean-up — you just might get a tour out of the place.

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There's nothing cozier than a house you built yourself. It's the hyggest thing there is. What's hygge? Read Olivia Telford's "Hygge: Discovering the Danish Art of Happiness" to find out (it's free with your trial membership to Audible). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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Written by Reuben Westmaas August 8, 2018

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