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Book review: Book recaptures some Magic City magic
By Chris Rubich   - 08/16/2009

Billings Gazette

More Info on This Book: Billings

Working on centennial and other special historic stories for The Billings Gazette and its sister paper in Missoula has meant scouring photos in university archives, museums, libraries and personal collections.

And the hunt usually pays off with one or even dozens of treasures from the past.

So, too, does "Billings," a new entry in the Postcard History Series from Arcadia Publishing.

Billings resident Jim M. Reich compiled the volume and researched history to create rich captions that take readers on a journey through the city's birth and development.

He has many interesting bits of trivia that give an appreciation for the changes that have come to the area over the years.

From early shots of the Billings Sugar Co. plant to railroad stockyards and agriculture, the book shows the business roots of Montana's largest city. Shots of the Commercial Club and an early Chamber of Commerce building and the hospitals in their early days are included along with street scenes and retail businesses.

Transportation images range from the early depot to Billings' first bus depot with a vintage bus in front, to folks watching a 1913 plane flight marking the opening of the then-new South Park.

Churches, schools and homes are featured and show the variety of architectural design found in the city's early years.

Get a glimpse inside banks or view an early parade. A fun shot is of people sitting in the Northern Hotel's lobby after it was added to the original 1903 hotel. The photo shows the huge, ornate stained-glass skylight that stretched atop the lobby. The structure later was destroyed in a fire.

Fire hit many early Billings structures, including ones that gutted the Babcock Theater and the Elmo Club, shown in several photos along what originally was called Holling Lake and now is Lake Elmo.

One of the book's photos showed the rubble from a blaze that I'd not seen referred to over many years of exploring the city's history. The high-angle shot reveals the gutted Vaughn-Ragsdale clothing store and businesses on North 29th Street in 1932.

I also found especially interesting a 1938 postcard of the Log Cabin Tourist Park, which once sat at 511 N. 20th Street.

Folks who were kids in Billings in the 1950s and early 1960s will enjoy seeing photos from Wonderland, the amusement park and museum once located west of the Muzzle Loader Café. The false-front museum had American Indian relics and many items of fascination to young ones, while the amusement park had a merry-go-round, tiny roller coaster and more.

As always, people make the book special - from photos of cowboys such as artist/author Will James' Rocking R Ranch to a "rare posed death photograph" of early Sheriff James T. Webb, who was killed in the line of duty by a horse rustler.

For decades, no Rose Bowl Parade was complete without an entry featuring Monte Montana, the trick roper and rider born in Wolf Point as Owen Mickel. And the book honors him with a shot standing atop his speeding horse during a demonstration at the Midland Empire Fair, now known as MontanaFair, in Billings.

For those who want to send a piece of Billings history to others, some of the book's images are featured in a packet of 15 mailable postcards that's a separate purchase.

Also check out another Arcadia Publishing offering, "Little Bighorn," by Vincent A Heier, who started collecting postcards about the battle between Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry and American Indians after visiting the battlefield in 1974.

Another entry into the Postcard History Series, the book includes photos from years right after the battle as well as portraits of tribal members and military personnel involved in the battle.

As with the Billings book, the battlefield book has a separate packet of postcards with some of the historical images.

All are available in book stores and from Arcadia Publishing at arcadiapublishing.com or 888-313-2665.

Buy It Now: Billings $21.99

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