Filed Under Great Falls

Great Falls Railroad Historic District

Great Falls founder Paris Gibson envisioned his young city becoming both “a great industrial center” and “a city of unsurpassed beauty.” These twin goals converged in the Railroad Historic District. Like other “City Beautiful” advocates, Gibson believed that parks could help promote civic virtue. They were also good for business. Beauty, according to Gibson, would attract growth. Even more essential to growth, however, were railroads, and in 1887, the city welcomed the Great Northern’s decision to lay its tracks through Gibson’s original Cascade Park Reserve. Soon hydroelectricity from Black Eagle Dam powered large smelters, built to refine the silver and copper ore delivered by rail. The 1890 stone Arvon Block remains a legacy of the city’s first boom. Construction slowed after the Panic of 1893 only to rebound in force when the 1909 Enlarged Homestead Act brought an influx of settlers to the region. The railroad most closely associated with homesteading in Montana—the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul—arrived in Great Falls in 1910. To accommodate the line, the city ceded a right-of-way through Riverside Park and required the removal of businesses in the railroad’s path. The years that followed saw construction of numerous commercial blocks, warehouses, and railroad-related buildings, many designed by the city’s leading architects. The railroads’ rival passenger depots are the era’s best-known landmarks. Private construction slowed after 1929. To create jobs during the Great Depression, the federal Works Progress Administration invested in park improvements, road and bridge repairs, and new construction, including the monumental Civic Center, built in 1939.

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Great Falls Railroad Historic District
Great Falls Railroad Historic District Great Falls Railroad Historic District. Front to side view of the Great Falls Milwaukee Railroad Depot, facing east to northeast on River Drive North near the corner of River Drive North and 1st Avenue North near the Missouri River. Source: Montana State Historic Preservation Office Creator: Photographer unidentified Date: Date unknown


Park and River Drives, Great Falls, Montana | Private


The Montana National Register Sign Program, “Great Falls Railroad Historic District,” Historic Montana, accessed June 17, 2024,