Great Falls West Bank Historic District
An eclectic cultural landscape has long characterized the West Bank. Separated from downtown Great Falls by the broad Missouri River, the larger neighborhood has hosted a varied mix of industrial, residential, and commercial development since the 1880s. The site of Johnstown, the earliest permanent Euro-American settlement, the greater West Bank area was also home to historic-era Chippewa-Cree encampments. The area began developing an industrial character after 1887, when the railroad arrived in Great Falls and constructed a roundhouse and shops nearby. A Great Northern spur line ran northeast along the West Bank to the Boston & Montana, later Anaconda Company’s Black Eagle smelter, encouraging nearby industrial development. The most prominent West Bank industry of the early twentieth century was the Sunburst Oil Refinery, which operated from 1923 to 1933. Two buildings remain as a tribute to the West Bank’s role in this early oil boom. Non-industrial development also increased in the early 1900s. Attracted by inexpensive land prices and the proximity of downtown, more residents constructed permanent homes. Improved roads and the construction of the Northern Montana Fairgrounds in 1931 drew retail and entertainment establishments. During the Great Depression, New Deal programs sponsored the construction of two of the district’s most notable landmarks: the WPA warehouse, built in 1939 as an operations base for the Works Progress Administration; and the 1940 Cowboys Bar and Museum, home of the Montana Cowboys Association. Today, six well-preserved residential, commercial, and industrial buildings compose this small, historic district, which epitomizes the West Bank’s diverse history.