Miles City, Montana, (population 8,000) was founded around the Tongue River Cantonment in the fall of 1876. The first town, “Old Milestown,” developed to entertain the soldiers located at the fort. In 1877, a more permanent military establishment, named Fort Keogh, formed two miles away from the original site. Milestown disbanded and reestablished itself closer to the fort, but across the Tongue River, at the request of General Nelson A. Miles, who wanted the town and its disreputable elements to remain as far as possible from the army’s young soldiers.
In 1881, the Northern Pacific Railroad made its way into the area, helping to spur growth in Miles City. Buffalo hunting and cattle established an agricultural base, which continued through the Homestead era into the early 20th century. During World War I, Miles City boasted the largest cavalry remount station in the United States. Today, agriculture remains a viable economic asset, as do the thriving commercial and healthcare sectors.
Miles City takes an active role in maintaining and converting historic buildings into low-income housing. The largest project thus far is the conversion of the abandoned Holy Rosary Hospital, built in 1910, into the Cornerstone Building. The building now features 21 low-income housing units. The first hospital built in Miles City had been vacant since the late 1990s, after serving as medical offices. A partnership between the Miles City Housing Authority, Wal-Mart, HGTV, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, USDA Rural Development, and the use of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit resulted in the rehabilitation of the hospital. The project included the removal of non-historic additions and lead-based paint, and the installation of an energy-efficient heating and cooling system.
Each year, the Miles City Preservation Office hosts the Ghost Tour, a walking tour in which volunteer actors play the part of historic characters. The actors discuss local architecture and history with members of the community. Although the event is free of charge, donations are accepted to help support historic preservation in Miles City.
Historic District designations protect much of the turn-of-the-century downtown and inner-city neighborhoods. Much of the downtown still reflects the early western character of Montana and many other western states.
The Range Riders Museum, founded in 1939, focuses on western cattlemen, military, railroad, Native American, and women’s history. The museum hosts “Pioneer Day,” which features demonstrations of frontier technology, historic re-enactments, and folk craft activities from the 1800s. Since the 1950s, the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale has commemorated the day of the cattlemen with a rodeo, horse racing, and street dances.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2009.
For more information
Miles City Historic Preservation Office