Missoula Downtown Historic District


In 1865, Christopher Higgins, Francis Worden, and David Pattee constructed grist and lumber mills near where the Mullan Road (now Front Street) intersected with present day Higgins Avenue. Worden’s 1874 Carpenter Gothic home on East Pine, once a quiet residential street, commemorates this early period. Arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883 brought new growth. Soon Western Commercial style hotels and business blocks lined Missoula’s streets, including the brick-paved Railroad Street. Noteworthy architect-designed buildings from the period included the Tudor style Missoula Hotel, the Richardsonian Romanesque style Higgins Block, and the eclectic expansion of the Missoula Mercantile (originally constructed in 1877). The economic Panic of 1893 stilled Missoula’s development. After 1900, economic recovery fostered a new building boom, especially after the 1908 arrival of the Milwaukee Road, Missoula’s second railway. High style façades topped with elaborate cornices signified the city’s coming of age. Classical civic buildings from the era include the A. J. Gibson-designed 1903 Carnegie Library and 1910 County Courthouse. Architects of statewide and regional note designed other landmark buildings within the district, including the 1910 neoclassical Independent Telephone Company, the 1921 Sullivanesque Wilma Theater, the 1937 Art Deco Zip Auto Building, and the 1941 Moderne Florence Hotel. Construction slowed during the Great Depression, but two large public works projects—the 1936 Forest Service Regional Headquarters and a 1937 addition to Missoula’s Federal Building and Courthouse—demonstrated the federal government’s importance to Missoula’s economy. The preservation of these and almost 400 other buildings in the fifty-two block district record Missoula’s history on its streets.

Missoula Carnegie Public Library

A women’s club founded the Missoula library, which grew out of an 1882 ladies’ reading group. By 1894, the city library had 500 volumes and had secured public tax support. Six years later, Missoula residents had access to almost 5,000 books from the…

Free Speech Corner

In autumn 1909, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizers Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Jack Jones arrived in Missoula, soon followed by their comrade, Frank Little. After renting space for a union hall, they took to the streets, determined to…

BPOE Lodge #383, Missoula

Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the U.S.A., Hell Gate Lodge #383, has offered conviviality, community service, and social support since its founding in 1898. In 1911 lodge members contracted with Montana’s premier architectural firm of…

The Palace Hotel

Missoula’s first commercial district developed southwest of the Northern Pacific Railroad depot in the 1880s and 1890s. But as the town blossomed, a new central business district began to take shape. The Palace Hotel, constructed at what was then the…

Missoula Mercantile Warehouse

Established in 1866 under the name Bonner and Welch, the Missoula Mercantile Company quickly grew into an economic and political powerhouse. In 1890, the company handled about 60 percent of the city’s retail trade, worth $1.5 million. At the turn of…

Missoula County Courthouse

The Neoclassical style sandstone Missoula County Courthouse was designed by prominent local architect A. J. Gibson, and erected 1908-1910. Inside the copper-domed clock tower hangs a two-ton bell, and a notable interior decoration is the series of…

Mrs. Lydia McCaffery's Furnished Rooms

At the turn of the century, social critics saw apartment living as morally suspect. Instead, single working men and women who could not stay with their families typically lived in rooming or boardinghouses, where housekeepers ostensibly kept an eye…

Reid Residence

William and Eliza Reid built this elegant home around 1890. Primarily used as a rental, the house began as a much simpler ell-shaped residence. Widow Jennie Thompson, who rented the home in 1900, lived here with her three grown children, one of whom…

John S. Johnston House

Missoula blossomed at the turn of the twentieth century as railroad transportation facilities expanded, securing the town’s prominence as a trade, manufacturing, and lumbering center for western Montana. As Missoula gained importance, this…

Studebaker Building

As the automobile gained popularity in the 1910s, stables and garages existed side by side until motor travel prevailed over horses in the 1920s. The succession of businesses at this address documents the transition that must have been hard on…

St. Francis Xavier Church

Jesuits arrived in the Missoula Valley in 1841 en route to the Bitterroot, where they established the first Catholic mission in the Rocky Mountains. In 1873, they opened a chapel in Missoula, building the first St. Francis Xavier Church in 1881.…

Missoula Laundry Company

In 1915, Nettie and Joseph Hagen expanded their Model Laundry Company by purchasing the Missoula Laundry Company and moving their business into the newly completed west section of this building. That original structure and its later additions…

Lucy Building

John M. Lucy’s furniture store and undertaking business was twenty years old when he had this building constructed for it in 1909. By then, the Irish immigrant (who had arrived in Montana as a workhand building the final leg of the Northern Pacific…

Lenox Flats

Poised on the brink of the homesteading boom, Missoula prospered at the turn of the twentieth century with signs of urban growth evident in the hotels and row houses that began to line this busy corridor. Local contractor/architect Eugene Morin…

Missoula Labor Temple

In 1896, a Union Hall was constructed here on property donated by copper magnate Marcus Daly. That building served as local headquarters for unions affiliated with Federal Union Local 83, the precursor of the building trade unions that later…

Headquarters Building and Daily Company Annex

An exuberant ambassador of the late nineteenth century and its more Spartan complement comprise this architectural duet, whose history spans Missoula’s development. The older and more impressive Headquarters Building, designed by architect John…

Hammond Arcade

The Hammond Arcade Building is an outstanding example of Art Deco commercial architecture, with its polychrome brick work, concrete column construction, and original wraparound metal awning. Its interior arcade, which never has been remodeled, is…

Gleim Building II

Mary Gleim, one of Missoula’s most colorful characters, built this “female boarding house” at the heart of the red light district between 1893 and 1902. It operated as a brothel until progressive reforms closed the district in 1916. The building…

Gleim Building

Built in 1893, this is an excellent example of vernacular adaptation of Romanesque architecture, with its arched windows, checkerboard banding, and rusticated granite sills. Today the building has been restored on its façade and east and west sides…

Florence Hotel

The original Florence Hotel, built on this site in 1888, offered weary railway travelers and settlers a comfortable night’s lodging. When it burned in 1913, the Florence was rebuilt as a major 106-room hostelry and was a longtime regional gathering…

Dixon-Duncan Block

Two Missoula attorneys on opposing sides of the political arena teamed up to construct this attractive commercial building in 1897. Republican Joseph Dixon, who later became Governor of Montana (1921-1925), began his political career as Missoula…

Brunswick Hotel

The Brunswick Hotel, built 1890-1891, is an excellent example of vernacular commercial architecture, with a Queen Anne emphasis. It is one of Missoula’s oldest remaining hotels associated with the beginning of the railroad era here, when hotels arose…

The Atlantic Hotel

The construction of the Milwaukee Road and the reconstruction of the Northern Pacific Railroad through Missoula sparked a second railroad-era building boom in the early twentieth century. The need for accommodations for both railroad workers and…

Apartment Building

Missoula boasted twenty-six manufacturing enterprises by 1909, including such diverse production as candy, bricks, gas, marble, and meat products. By 1910, the Northern Pacific Railroad shops employed over three hundred workers and the town’s role as…