Billings, Montana, (population 100,148), situated in south-central Montana, is the largest metropolitan area in the state. Since taking root on the dusty alkali flats of Clark’s Fork Bottom, Billings has been the market hub of eastern Montana and northern Wyoming.
In 1806, William Clark traveled through the region on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and inscribed his name on Pompey’s Pillar, a rock formation 25 miles northeast of what became Billings. By 1817 a trading post and stagecoach station were established in the area, and in 1882 the Northern Pacific Railroad created and marketed the town Billings, named after a former president of the company.
A popular story explains Billings’ nickname, “the Magic City.” Supposedly, when railroad officials were looking for places to build, the townspeople erected false facades to make their tents appear to be wooden buildings and create the illusion of a streetscape. The town appeared so suddenly that rail officials called it a Magic City. Another explanation is the town grew quickly, “like magic,” once the railroad arrived.
Cattle ranching has long been an important part of Billings’ economy and history. As the town grew over the years, oil and natural gas production, mining, agriculture, transportation, and tourism have all played a part in the community’s economic development.
The city of Billings is part of the Yellowstone Historic Preservation Board, a certified local government program representing the cities of Billings and Laurel, Yellowstone County, and the Crow Tribal Council. This joint board promotes public interest in and preservation of historic and prehistoric sites, structures, objects, buildings, and districts by addressing preservation issues at the local level and integrating them into local, state and federal planning, and decision-making processes.
During the past few years, historic properties along Montana Avenue in the heart of downtown have been rehabilitated, and an interpretive walking tour is helping tourists and residents alike understand the community’s history. Billings attractions include the Western Heritage Center, a regional museum housed in the former Parmly Billings Library (1901), the Moss Mansion Historic House Museum (1903), and the Billings Depot (1909).
Nearby recreational opportunities abound, including hiking, fishing, camping, and skiing. Pictograph Caves State Park, one of the most significant archaeological sites in the state, is located just a few miles southeast of Billings.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2007.