Billings is the largest city in the US state of Montana, and is the principal city of the Billings Metropolitan Area, the largest metropolitan area in over . With a trade area of over half a million people it is the largest metropolitan area between Denver and Calgary and between Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Spokane, Washington.
Billings is located in the south-central portion of the state and is the county seat of Yellowstone County, 2011 population of 150,069. The 2011 Census estimates put the Billings population at 105,636, the only city in Montana to surpass 100,000 people. The city is experiencing rapid growth and a strong economy; it has had and is continuing to have the largest growth of any city in Montana. Parts of the metro area are seeing hyper growth. From 2000 to 2010 Lockwood, a southeastern suburb of the city saw growth of 57.8% the largest growth rate of any community in Montana. Billings has avoided the economic downturn that affected most of the nation 2008–2012 as well as avoiding the housing bust. With the Bakken oil play in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, the largest oil discovery in U.S. history, as well as the Heath shale oil play just north of Billings, the city's already rapid growth rate is escalating.
Billings was nicknamed the Magic City because of its rapid growth from its founding as a railroad town in 1882. The city is named for Frederick H. Billings, a former president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. With one of the largest trade areas in the United States, Billings is the trade and distribution center for most of Montana, Northern Wyoming and western portions of North Dakota and South Dakota. Billings is also the retail destination for much of the same area. With more hotel accommodations than any area within a five state region, the city hosts a variety of conventions, concerts, sporting events and other rallies.
Area attractions include Pompey's Pillar, Pictograph Cave, Chief Plenty Coups State Park, Zoo Montana, Yellowstone Art Museum. Within 100 miles are Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Red Lodge Mountain Resort and the Beartooth Highway which links Red Lodge to Yellowstone National Park.
The Downtown core and much of the rest of Billings is in the Yellowstone Valley Which is a canyon carved out by the Yellowstone River. 80 Million years ago the Billings area was the shore of a Sea. The Sea deposited sediment and sand around the shoreline. As the Sea retreated it left behind a deep layer of sand Over Millions of years this sand was compressed into stone that is known as Eagle Sandstone. Over the last million years the river has carved it’s way down through this stone to form the canyon walls that are known as the Billings Rimrocks or the Rims.
Lewis and Clark Expedition
[During the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806 William Clark came through the Billings area. Clark climbed a Eagle Sandstone pillar 150 feet tall next to the Yellowstone river just East of present day Billings. He wrote about admiring the view all around. Clark carved his inscription into the Sandstone pillar, this is the only remaining physical evidence of the expedition. He named the place Pompey’s Tower, later changed to Pompey’s Pillar, named after the child son of his Shoshone interpreter and guild Sacajawea. Today Pompey’s Pillar is a National Monument with an interruptive center.
Coulson / Billings
Billings was established in 1882 in Montana Territory near the already existing town of Coulson. The city of Billings was a rail hub founded by the Northern Pacific Railroad on a site originally known as Clark's Fork Bottom. The location was steered by a plan to develop freight hauling up Alkali Creek to Ft Benton and beyond into the productive Judith and Musselshell Basins. This inauspicious location was three miles (5 km) from fresh water on the alkali flats above the Yellowstone River, and was far from an ideal location to start a town.
The nearby town of Coulson, five years old and perched on the river's edge just to the northeast, appeared a far more likely site. Coulson was a rough and tumble town where arguments were often followed by gunplay. Coulson's first sheriff was none other than Liver-Eating Johnston. Perhaps the most famous person to be buried in Coulsons Boothill cemetery is Muggins Taylor, the scout who carried the news of Custer's Last Stand to the world. Most buried here were said to have died with their boots on. Settlers moving east from the Gallatin Valley had farmed the flats around Coulson since 1877, and rejoiced at the news that the railroad was coming their way. In the end, though, Billings edged out Coulson, to the great disappointment of those living in the settlement. The town of Coulson had been situated on the Yellowstone River, which made it ideal for the commerce that Steamboats brought up the river. However, when the Montana & Minnesota Land Company oversaw the development of potential railroad land, they ignored Coulson, and platted the new town of Billings just a couple of miles to the Northwest. Coulson quickly faded away; most of her residents were absorbed into Billings. Yet for a short time the two towns co-existed: a trolley even ran between the two. But ultimately there was no future for Coulson as Billings grew. Though it stood on the banks of the Yellowstone River only a couple of miles from the heart of present day Downtown Billings, the city of Billings never built on the land where Coulson once stood. Today Coulson Park sits along the banks of the Yellowstone where the valley's first town once stood.
Early railroad town
Billings railroad ancestry is seen in its townsite configuration. Unlike mining towns of the region whose contours traced the haphazard routes of streambeds and ore bodies, railroad towns were orderly geometric affairs. Laid out on rectilinear grids, the rail lines formed the spine of the townsite, with streets for businesses and homes projecting away at right angles. Taking advantage of the unique way that Billings straddled two sections, Clark platted the town to include two main commercial streets, paralleling and fronting onto the rail line. These twin streets, named Montana and Minnesota for the mother company that gave them life, formed the commercial center of the new town.
Meanwhile, work on the approaching NP line continued at breakneck pace. Henry Villard, then president of the NP, was pushing hard for the transcontinental connection. While rail crews built east from Portland, others continued west up the Yellowstone valley. In August 1882, the line was completed to Billings, and on September 8, 1883, spike-driving celebrations at Gold Creek, Montana forged the final link in the NP's chain across the continent.
By May 1882, there were three buildings on the spot destined to become Billings. They were headquarters to lodge railroad survey crews, H. Clark's townsite office and mercantile, and a lone residence. Immediately, the building of town began. Many of the first structures were tents that sheltered hustling new businesses and town residents. Alongside them, cabins of rough-hewn log sprouted in about equal numbers and rapidly replaced the tents. By mid-June the first year, 79 tent shelters were in use, 81 houses were complete and another 75 homes were underway. Buildings to house new arrivals were hastily constructed south of the tracks, while commercial buildings and hotels were planted close to the hub of railroad activities. To keep order in the midst of the flurry, it was decreed that all dwellings be kept off the middle of streets.
The building boom continued, and by the end of 1883, the newspaper reported some 400 buildings, occupied by over 1,500 citizens. Maps of the day reveal that downtown encompassed about a nine-block area, split about evenly north and south of the railroad tracks. However, on the south the buildings were all of wood frame construction, while to the north, brick buildings were already beginning to edge out first generation frame buildings. Beyond downtown, the area south of the tracks became the first large residential neighborhood.
On November 19, 1888, a visiting reporter described Billings' progress through her first half decade.
In January 1882, Billings was a bright prairie. Today it is a sprightly, live, energetic and aggressive town of 1,500 inhabitants. It has certain metropolitan characteristics such as a splendid system of water works, electric lights, graded streets, efficient fire department, excellent schools and churches, good society, an intelligent class of people, wide awake and quick to respond to any demands upon their purses in the interest of the community.
The railroad and the new townsite drew settlers from far and wide. Many of the new arrivals came from other countries (the 1900 census recorded a quarter of the population foreign-born), creating a cosmopolitan mix of people and cultures in early Billings. The Northern Pacific employed many Chinese on their rail crews, and many took up resident status in the new city of Billings. A police officer of the day remembered there were some 90 people, mainly "laundry and restaurant employees, born in China and with families still in China. The Chinese lived close together, primarily at the east end of the townsite near Minnesota Ave. Sam Lee, one of the most prominent Chinese businessmen, owned much of block 189 including the L & L Building which still stands at 2624 Minnesota Ave.
In 1909, the Great Northern Railway built through Montana to Billings and beyond. That same year, Congress passed the Enlarged Homestead Act, allowing people to lay claim to farms (double the previous size). What had been a steady flow of settlement suddenly became a raging torrent. In the heartland of dry farming, Billings was both a farm and rail hub. Outside of town, some were put into cultivation, while greater Yellowstone County reported dry were tilled for homestead farms.
Banks abounded in Billings, each a monument to local prosperity. By 1905, there were six banks in town, with a combined capital of over half a million dollars. Downtown was transformed during this "modern" era, and buildings of the late 19th century gave way to new, larger buildings that reflected the prosperity of Billings in the early 20th century. The presence of the Burlington and Milwaukee Railroad along the 5th Avenue North right-of-way drew downtown development that direction, and northern portions of downtown became increasingly urban. On March 24, 1909, a new downtown "Union Depot" serving the NP, Great Northern and Burlington lines opened to the public. Hotels large and small sprouted at the heart of downtown to serve travelers to Billings. Most prominent were the Northern and the Grand Hotels. Both buildings remain today, and are commanding on the Billings skyline. Smaller hotels also grew up in the shadow of the depot. Along Montana in the depot district, several small hotels were erected during the second decade of the 20th century. The Eagle, McCormick, Rex, Lincoln and Carlin are among those buildings that still remain.
Homes and older commercial buildings in the way of the boom were quick to go. At the same time, desirable neighborhoods rose up on the edge of the expanding downtown. A stone mansion and carriage house ("The Castle") built by Austin North in the 600 block of North 29th St. helped to set the pace in this fashionable northern part of town. On the western side of town, P.B. Moss built a red stone house on Division, and I.D. O'Donnell built a large new home at First St. West and Clark St. in 1904.
Toward the end of the homestead boom, oil production began on the outskirts of town. The Elk Basin oil field on the Montana-Wyoming border was located in mid-1915, and by the following year, the first well near Billings was drilled. Soon the Montana-Wyoming Oil Journal was in print to report on the latest developments from the oil fields. Just 6 years later, natural gas was also discovered in the basin, and plans for a pipeline to the city were discussed. In the 1940s and 1950s, this industry helped pull Billings into a new era and became a lynchpin of the local economy. </div> After World War II, Billings boomed into the major financial, medical and cultural center of the region. Billings always experienced rapid growth from its founding, in its first 50 years growth was at times in the 300 and 400 percentile. Billings's growth has remained robust throughout the years and at times almost unmanageable as in the 1950s when it had a growth rate of 66.0%. The 1973 oil embargo by OPEC spurred an oil boom in eastern Montana, northern Wyoming and Western North Dakota. With this increase in oil production, Billings became the headquarters for energy sector companies. In 1975 and 1976, the Colstrip coal fire generation plants 1 and 2 were completed; plants 3 and 4 were operational in 1984 and 1986.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Billings saw major growth in its downtown core; the first high-rise buildings to be built in Montana were erected. In 1980, the 22-floor Sheraton Hotel was completed. At the time, it was the tallest building from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington and from Denver, Colorado to Calgary, Alberta (Canada). Upon its completion it was also declared "the tallest load-bearing brick masonry building in the world" by the Brick Institute of America. During the 1970s and 1980s, Billings also saw the completion of other important buildings in its downtown core; the Norwest Building (now Wells Fargo), Granite Tower, Sage Tower the MetraPark arena, the TransWestern Center, many new city owned parking garages and the First Interstate Tower, now the tallest building in a five state area.
With the completion of large sections of the interstate system in Montana in the 1970s, Billings became an even bigger shopping destination for an ever increasingly larger area. The 1970s and 1980s saw new shopping districts and shopping centers developed in the Billings area. In addition to the other shopping centers developed, two new malls were developed and a third mall redeveloped and enlarged, Rimrock Mall on what was then the city's west end, Cross Roads Mall, no longer in existence, in Billings Heights, and West Park Plaza mall in midtown. In addition, several new business parks were developed on the city's west end during this period. Billings was affected by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in May; the city received about an inch of ash on the ground. The Yellowstone fires of 1988 blanketed Billings in smoke for weeks.
In the 1990s, Billings saw further enlargement of its service sector with the arrival of new shopping centers built around stores such as Target, Wal Mart and Office Depot, all of which built multiple outlets in the Billings area. With the addition of more interchange exits along I-90, even more hotel chains and service industry outlets are being built in Billings. Development of more business parks and large residential developments on the city's west end, South Hills area Lockwood and the Billings Heights were all part of the 1990s. Billings received the All-America City Award in 1992.
In the 21st century, Billings saw the development of operations centers in the city's business parks and downtown core by such national companies as GE, Wells Fargo and First Interstate Bank. It also saw renewed growth in the downtown core with the addition of numerous new buildings, new parking garages and a new MET Transit Center and in 2002 Skypoint was completed. Downtown also saw a renaissance of the historic areas within the downtown core as building after building was restored to its previous glory. In 2007, Billings was designated a Preserve America Community. With the completion of the Shiloh interchange exit off Interstate 90, The TransTech Center was developed and yet more hotel development as well. In 2010 the Shiloh corridor was open for business with the completion of the Shiloh parkway, a multi-lane street with eight roundabouts. Even more shopping centers were developed in the 21st century. Some of the new centers are Shiloh Crossing which brought the first Kohl's department store to Montana. Shiloh Crossing has also announced that Scheels will be constructing what is being billed as the second largest sporting goods store in the western United States and the second largest Scheels in the world. Other new centers include Billings Town Square with Montana's first Cabela's, and West Park Promenade, Montana's first open-air shopping mall. In 2009, Fortune Small Business magazine named Billings the best small city in which to start a business. Billings saw continued growth with the largest actual growth of any city in Montana. On June 20, 2010 (Father's Day), a tornado, dubbed by the media the Fathers Day Tornado, touched down in the downtown core and Heights sections of Billings. The Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark and area businesses suffered major damage. While the nation has been feeling the effects of a recession, Billings's economy has been strong. Construction and housing starts have been up has well as large investments in the community by national companies and major new road construction projects. The state's economy is healthier than most states but as western Montana is suffering from a crash in real estate and the near demise of its timber industry, eastern Montana and North Dakota are experiencing an energy boom due to coal and the Bakken formation the largest oil discovery in U.S. history. Billings is Montana's oasis of economic growth.