Shelby Town Hall

May 1923 saw some five hundred buildings under construction in Shelby, according to the Great Falls Tribune. “Main Street resembles a freight yard, [with] lumber and material being strewn about,” it reported. The cause of the boom? The upcoming 1923 World Heavyweight Championship Fight between titleholder Jack Dempsey and challenger Tom Gibbons. Shelby’s mayor—a real estate developer, rancher, and oilman named Jim Johnson—secured the fight by advancing $100,000 of his own money and raising $200,000 more, paid as an advance to Dempsey’s manager. Johnson also convinced the city council, the Great Northern Railway, and local businesses to build the necessary infrastructure, including a forty-thousand-seat stadium (demolished within the year), miles of sidetrack for the special trains they anticipated would deliver the fight fans, and this town hall. The city council hired Havre architect Frank Bossuot to design the hall in April 1923; the building was completed in time to serve as press headquarters for the July 4 fight. The actual event was a financial disaster—only a small fraction of the expected fans showed up—but the fifteen-round match went down in sports history. In later years, the hall provided space for city offices, public meetings, and even a jail. In the 1950s, residents constructed an observation tower on the building’s roof, which members of the Shelby Ground Observer Corps used from 1954 until 1959. Women made up the majority of these Cold War volunteers, who scanned the skies for enemy aircraft as part of the U.S. Air Force’s Operation Skywatch.

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100 Montana Avenue, Shelby, Montana ~ Public