Billings Old Town Historic District
The homesteading boom was in full swing in 1910, but not all of Montana's newcomers came to farm. With the arrival of three transcontinental railroads, Billings became established as a regional hub of commerce. Many businesses saw opportunity in the region's expanding markets, and the city became the nation's sixth fastest-growing community. The Oliver Chilled Plow Works, which constructed this four-story, 37,500-square-foot business block, was one of many national corporations to build here. Among the largest farm implement dealers in the U.S., the plow works took its name from its founder, James Oliver, and his specially patented method to chill (or harden) plow points to reduce wear. H. B. Sill managed the farm implement and automobile dealership. A four-foot platform made it easy for the railroad to offload merchandise trackside, while the building's street-side façades featured large display windows to entice customers. Upper floors provided apartments as well as warehouse space; in 1920, tenants included a dressmaker, janitor, stenographer, laborer, and "telephone girl." A fire in May 1930 swept through the structure's top floors, causing over $125,000 of damage. The Billings Hardware Company, which by then owned the building, hired architect Chandler Cohagen to oversee reconstruction. Cohagen is responsible for the Art Moderne style banding and geometric brickwork decorating the upper stories. A lasting example of Billings' rail-centered economy, the Oliver Building also reflects the growing popularity of the automobile. Stenciled on the northeast foundation is a sign reading "Glacier-to-Gulf," denoting the building as a landmark along a 1920s tourism "motorway" from Galveston, Texas, to Glacier National Park.