Great Falls Central Business Historic District

Great Falls began with an act of imagination. In 1882 entrepreneur Paris Gibson looked at the broad flat plain near the cataracts of the Missouri and envisioned a booming metropolis. By the next year, Gibson had convinced railroad magnate James J. Hill to help him found a town. When surveyor Herbert Rolfe laid out Great Falls’ original 160-block plat, he made the streets wide enough for freighters to easily turn their wagons around. “Grass and sagebrush grew, and nothing indicated that here would rise a city,” Rolfe’s wife recalled. “Piles of rocks were placed at the corners of streets and avenues to show their location.” Yet within six years permanent buildings—including several still standing in Central Avenue’s 100 block—dominated the business district. As the city grew, the heavy architectural styles popular in the 1890s gave way to brick commercial buildings. Many of these, including the 1920 Beaux Arts Liberty Theater, sported elaborate terra-cotta ornamentation. Forty percent of the district’s buildings were constructed before 1920, but unlike many Montana communities, Great Falls continued to grow despite drought and economic depression. The 1931 Art Deco S. H. Kress building and the Moderne one-story 1948 Bus Depot and Garage reflect that expansion. Today 103 buildings constructed between 1886 and 1951 contribute to the historic business district. Schools, banks, commercial blocks, hotels, and apartment buildings enliven the district, reflecting an eclectic mix of architectural styles while testifying to Great Falls’ layered development.

Victor Ario Building #2 / Belmont Hotel

A small wooden dwelling stood on this site in 1888. As late as 1900 the street was still relatively undeveloped, with the exception of a large brick business block at the corner of South Third. Between 1910 and 1920, however, over thirty business…

Bungalow Bakery

Edward and Celia Harberson constructed this building for their bakery in 1946. Its simple plan and design, typical of the period, reflect the post–World War II boom as the work force returned and small businesses, like the Harbersons’ bakery,…

Bus Depot and Garage

Streamline Moderne architecture celebrated America’s engineering prowess. The style—which offered an optimistic response to the woes of the Great Depression—promised a better future through technology. Its celebration of speed and efficiency provided…

Dubbs Block

A shortage of steel and limited purchases of nonessential goods during World War II caused the automobile industry to skyrocket after the war ended. As the troops came home and the economy recovered, Montana experienced this boom as well. By the late…

F.W. Woolworth Building

A close look at the Woolworth Building’s upper floors makes evident that it was originally two separate, but closely related edifices. Connecting arches over second-story windows, a decorative metal cornice, and a crowning brick parapet distinguish…

Great Falls Building and Loan Association (Demolished)

Prominent early business leaders founded the Great Falls Building and Loan in 1916 for a dual purpose: to provide loans to aspiring homeowners and to pay regular dividends to shareholders. Unlike banks, building and loans were non-profit corporations…

Great Falls Gas

A used car lot occupied this site before contractor John Sletten decided to build this commercial structure in 1941. The timing for the speculative project was right: the worst of the Depression was over, and civilian contractors still had access to…

S.H. Kress and Company

S. H. Kress and Company prospered by selling quality merchandise at high volume and low prices. During the Depression, people found affordable luxury at its five-and-dime stores. Business boomed, and Kress took advantage of the era’s inexpensive…

Lee Forest Garage

Winged automobile wheels frame the word “Garage” above this building’s center bay. Two other terra cotta panels, reading “Lee Forest” and “Machinists,” offer additional clues to the building’s original owner and use. Ford distributor Lee Forest hired…

Lemon Boarding House

Beneath the façade of this solid-looking building stands a much older wooden boarding house. In 1891, only seven years after the founding of Great Falls, a two-story dwelling stood on this lot. Mrs. S. H. Lemon ran the boarding house in 1896 and…

Liberty Theatre

Thirty-six hundred people watched Nomads of the North at the grand opening of the Liberty Theatre in August 1921. A musical score, played on a $47,000 Wurlitzer organ, accompanied the silent film. An overflow crowd of two thousand toured the…

Murphy Maclay Hardware Store

In the 1880s Murphy, Maclay and Co. sold everything from flour and fine teas to window glass and blasting powder. Edgar Maclay and John Murphy established the firm with stores in Helena and Fort Benton in 1882. Two years later they sent Worden Wren…

Masonic Temple, Great Falls

Freemasons trace their history to the stonemasons of Medieval Europe, an association referenced in the design for the Great Falls Masonic Temple. Constructed in 1914, the three-story building features a dramatic central tower and steep gable bays…

New Park Hotel

Town founders Paris Gibson and Herbert Chowen built the original Park Hotel in 1892 to serve travelers disembarking at the nearby Great Northern Depot. When the hundred-room hotel burned in a 1913 fire, Park Hotel owners hired prominent Great Falls…

Rainbow Hotel

Architects George Shanley and John Kent designed the 1911 Rainbow Hotel for the Great Falls Townsite Company. The Townsite Company’s board included two of the most powerful men in America: Anaconda Company president John D. Ryan and Great Northern…

315 Fourth Avenue North

Great Falls’ premier residential street, Fourth Avenue North, gained 24 new homes between 1900 and 1910. Among them was this substantial residence, constructed in 1904 for bookkeeper Edgar Newlon and his wife Anna. The home is a classic American…

305 Third Avenue North

A graceful wraparound porch with square posts, a central entry beneath a projecting gable, and transomed windows distinguish this charming vernacular example of the Greek Revival style. Inside, a rounded hall ceiling adds lovely period elegance. The…

Anaconda Company Manager's House

The Boston and Montana Consolidated Copper and Silver Mining Company, later acquired by the Anaconda Company, chose a treeless bluff overlooking the river to locate its smelter and refinery in 1892. Among the seventeen managers’ houses built at Black…

Boyd House

By 1910, the Queen Anne style had lost much of its allure. Once admired, its artistic jumble of angles, textures, and colors had become reviled as cluttered and artificial. This rejection of complexity was gradual, and many houses—like this…

Cascade County Courthouse

Spirited revelry in the streets of Great Falls greeted news of the creation of Cascade County in 1887. Named county seat, Great Falls grew quickly, with county offices located in various downtown buildings. In 1891, voters approved the visionary…

Clark Apartments

Newcomers flooded into Great Falls in the 1910s as the mining industry boomed and businesses grew. Waiting lists for apartments, hotels, and boarding houses encouraged building on speculation. Joseph Bullock, a retired laborer for the B & M…

C.E. Davis Residence

Charles E. Davis, “expert watchmaker and jeweler,” arrived in Great Falls with his wife, Grace, in 1900. With Charles’ two brothers, the couple opened a store on bustling Central Avenue, selling jewelry, watches, cut glass, gifts, and eyeglasses.…

W.K. Floweree House

A grand home on a large corner lot, this Colonial Revival residence bespeaks the prominence of its first owners. Banker, rancher, and state senator William Floweree and his wife, Norma, built this brick two-and-one-half-story home in 1916. Its…

Abe and Carrie Kaufman Residence

A dramatic living room fireplace, crystal chandelier, and boxed-beam dining room ceiling are among the original fixtures continuing to decorate the interior of the Abe and Carrie Kaufman residence. Neoclassical, Craftsman, and Victorian detailing…

A.W. Kingsbury House

Pictured in 1909 in the Great Falls Tribune under the headline “A Great Falls Residence,” this Queen Anne style house was hardly typical of its day. An imposing two-and-one-half-story structure, the elegant home was built in 1901 for Adkin W. and…

Quigley House

By 1908, Montana’s agricultural boom was in full swing, and real estate agents like John Quigley, whose firm offered farms “on 20 years payments,” seemed poised to make a fortune. That year forty-eight-year-old Quigley built this large Colonial…

St. Ann's Cathedral

Shortly after Pope Pius X established the Diocese of Great Falls in 1904, Great Falls’ first bishop, Matthias Lenihan, hired Montana architect John Hackett Kent to design a cathedral equal to those in Europe. Kent, who helped design the Montana state…

Terrill Apartments

Apartment buildings were good investments in rapidly expanding communities like Great Falls, which grew from 17,000 to 26,000 between 1910 and 1920. Owners reported waiting lists for units, which ranged from rooms in old-fashioned “apartment hotels”…

Toole Residence

The front canted bay window hints at the modest one-story Queen Anne style residence that lies at the core of this elegant home. In 1891, the house was one of only two on the block. A small back addition had been added by 1900, when Mandeville…