The Western Heritage Center kicked off its walking tours with Celebrities and Scandals in downtown Billings Friday morning. The tour was led by the museum’s collections manager, Cecelia Gavinsky.
A crowd of close to 20 people came to explore historic Montana Avenue, hearing stories of building origins on and near the street. Several celebrities have made appearances in the Magic City, as Cecelia explains. Former President Theodore Roosevelt was among the stars, as well as Tom Cruise, Charles Lingberg, and American frontierswoman and sharpshooter Calamity Jane.
Members of the tour also heard the history of the Billings depot neighborhood near the train tracks. Director Ron Howard filmed a scene at the Billings Depot for his film, Far and Away. The current Billings Depot is listed on the National Register of Historic places and has been for over forty years. The building remained vacant for years and was even close to being demolished. Now, the building hosts many events and has become a great place to have a lovely wedding.
The depot neighborhood also had its fair share of scandals in the past. One famous historic spot in Billings is the Rex Hotel which German Immigrant Alfred Heimer owned. Heimer also had a bar in the hotel during the prohibition era and would move it from room to room so it could remain hidden. Police officers were supposedly some of Heimer’s best customers at the bar!
There was also the Third Degree Committee, where members would go on hunts to find people who were against supporting war efforts. The committee tarnished the reputation of a local architect for the town for not contributing to war bonds, and their actions even made national news.
Cecelia says the tours are a great way to learn more about the history of Billings. It is a chance to learn about things newcomers and locals of Billings may not have known before. Don’t miss out on any of the exciting tours the Western Heritage Center offers! Upcoming walking tours include Bars, Brothels, and Bok Choy: Exploring Minnesota Avenue, The Lights of Broadway, Southpark Stroll, and Historic Moss Mansion neighborhood. Those who pay for the walking tours also get access to the Western Heritage Center’s museum until 5 p.m.
Go to the Western Heritage Centers website to find more walking tours and exhibits to learn about the rich history of Billings.