Saturday, May 19th, during my hosting event at the Moss Mansion for the annual Heritage Home Tour, I had questions from three guests about the design of the Moss home. One question was exceptionally poignant: “what kind of Victorian design is this place?” It is interesting because the design is really not Victorian; it is Renaissance…English Renaissance to be specific. The Victorian Era can be described as the Second Renaissance, hence the common confusion with Victorian architecture.
During Queen Victoria’s reign, architectural and social norms changed in a dramatic fashion. While Renaissance architecture is stoic and uncompromising…castles and fortiments as examples, Victorian architecture is appealing and welcoming, fancy is a better term, but less enduring. The design of the Moss Mansion is lasting; it will always be a dominant, enduring and socially accepted structure of prominence. It was the perfect choice of architecture for a family who contributed so much to the development of Billings and Montana. It is something that will last!
The Waltz & Reese Company (a heavy construction company) was incorporated on May 28, 1902 in Billings, Montana. P. B. Moss was a small shareholder. The original partners were P.L. Reece of Billings and J.B. Waltz of Nicholson, PA.
In 1899, Waltz & Reese put a lien on the Yellowstone Park railway company to recover $5,293.47 owed to them for work on the railroad. They were best known for their work on the Lackawanna Cut-off in New Jersey.
That $5,293.47 (1899 dollars) would be approximately $150,000.00 today!
Over the years, P.B. and the family had investments in several mining developments or active mining enterprises. Among several others, these are interesting because of the stock holdings:
On February 17, 1922, P.B. Moss incorporated the American Gold Mines. Stock certificates were issued to each of the Moss family members: P.B., Mattie, David, Kula, Melville, and, P.B. Jr. on February 26, 1926.
Crevasse Mountain Mining Company was also incorporated February 17, 1922 with certificates of stock issued to Woodson, Mattie, David, Kula and Melville Moss. P.B. Jr. is not mentioned in the documents of ownership of this company.
In the heat of the summer in Montana, P.B. Moss was in the final stages of planning businesses for the future of Billings. Both a reliable source of heating homes and businesses, and the requirement for cold storage for food safety prompted P.B. to continue his business enterprises locally.
Billings Mutual Heating Company was incorporated July 27, 1907; and, Billings Cold Storage Company was incorporated August 3, 1907. Eventually Billings Mutual Heating Company was providing steam and hot water for many of the business in downtown, and all the way to the Moss Mansion! A series of tunnels throughout town allowed for the access, installation and maintenance of the system for the businesses and homes served. Some of the tunnels still exist today.
Billings Cold Storage Company provided warehouse space as well as commercial ice for home ice boxes, now becoming standard household requirement. Delivery of ice was also available to the town.
Billings was founded as a railroad town in March of 1882 and was named after Northern Pacific Railway president Frederick H. Billings. The railroad formed the town as a western rail head for its further westward expansion. Billings was nicknamed the Magic City because of its rapid growth and quickly absorbed the townsite of Coulson which was formed in 1877.
77.90 acres of land originally issued by The United States to Anton Manderfeld for homesteading, likely in 1877, was outside the western outskirts of Billings. He apparently did not act upon his homestead rights, as was required by the Homestead Act, and he quit claimed the parcel to his attorney, George Hulme on 10 November 1881 in Minnesota. Hulme in turn sold the parcel to Frederick Billings on 2 March 1882 for the sum of $1.00; ironically this is the month and possibly the day that the town of Billings was founded!
That 77.90 acres is a square block of land that today lies between Division Street & 4th Street West, and Broadwater Avenue and Grand Avenue. It was platted and filed on 17 May 1882 and designated the West Side Subdivision. There are 28 original city blocks in the plat, and it contains some of the most historic houses in Billings. The original grants and many land transfers for these city lots are in a file that includes Frederick Billings’ Last Will & Testament.
This section of land contains the original 2.5 acre site for the St. Vincent’s Hospital on Broadwater & Division Streets in block #1; and the Moss Mansion on Division Street between Clark Avenue and Yellowstone Avenue in Block 3. The hospital property was torn down many years ago and replaced by Central Catholic High School. The Moss Mansion originally had 2.5 acres of land in block #3. Over one acre was re-platted by the Moss family and several lots created for sale east of Moss Lane access road.
The West Side Subdivision plat recorded after P.B. Moss acquired the mansion property. Note that all of the city blocks were divided by alleyways except for the hospital and Moss Mansion properties. These were important designations for the development of the subdivision.
Suburban Homes also contributed to the change in outbuildings requirement for homes in city development by offering and building garages to house the new transportation popularity of automobiles. By 1910, 48 new garages had been constructed within the city and they were replacing barns and carriage sheds as autos were purchased.
Also, autos became so popular that a new “car club” was formed and I.D. O’Donnell, “a pioneer road builder,” was selected as the first president of the Billings Automobile Club in March of 1912.
The first automobile rolled through the streets of Billings in 1902. P. B. Moss and I. D. O’Donnell of the Suburban Homes Subdivision were two of Billings’ first automobile owners, as well as long time partners and business associates. Suburban Homes Company was incorporated December 16, 1904 with capital stock of $15,000. P.B. Moss ownership was $10,000, and I. D. O’Donnell $5,000.
The arrival of the automobile literally served as a transformative event in Billings’ history. Not only did the automobile literally change how business was done, it also changed how, and where, living was done. By 1907 many of the civic and business leaders of Billings fully embraced the automobile, and residential housing development was occurring on the outskirts of Billings.