Filed Under Bozeman

Emerson School

Bozeman’s first permanent public educational facility, West Side School, was built in 1877 on these grounds, then described as “out of town, west, on a little hill.” Its successor, City High School, built in 1892, at one time housed the first Montana State Agricultural College classes. When the high school was razed in 1918, Bozeman’s premier architect, Fred Fielding Willson, designed the present school to replace his own alma mater. Completed in 1920 as an elementary and junior high school, this grand Neo-Gothic building is constructed of raked, earth-toned brick with carved limestone trim. It features a central auditorium surrounded by classrooms and a sunken gymnasium. The auditorium boasts lovely imported French chandeliers. Thanks to PWA financial assistance programs during the Depression era, Emerson received a new elementary wing in 1939. Fred Willson’s fine design includes an unusual frieze above the entrance depicting three children reading, writing numbers, and playing music. Originally designed to represent “the three Rs,” music was substituted for finger counting to demonstrate a new, broader curriculum. In 1950, the junior high was moved and Emerson was entirely devoted to elementary education. Bozeman students past and present were saddened when the “cradle of education” ceased its function as a public school in 1992. One of its last small scholars wrote the “Emerson is a piece of joy.” Now the Emerson Cultural Center, a non-profit community arts center, lives up to that statement, educating and enriching through the arts and expanding the broader curriculum sanctioned in 1939.


Emerson School
Emerson School Emerson School. West Side School. Source: Museum of the Rockies Archives from the Montana State Historic Preservation Office Creator: Photographer unidentified Date: 1877
Emerson School
Emerson School Emerson School. View of the south façade toward the southwest corner of the building. Source: Montana State Historic Preservation Office Creator: Linda Best Date: May 1990


111 South Grand Avenue, Bozeman, Montana | Private


The Montana National Register Sign Program, “Emerson School,” Historic Montana, accessed May 26, 2024,