New History at the Museum

By Jennette Rasch, Curator

Often during research on items or projects we come across information that proves current information about an item or a person wrong. That is part of the intrigue and fun of working in a history museum.

This quilt, for example, was accessioned into our collection as having been made by P.B. Moss’ sister Mary Belle, with an assumption that it may have been a wedding quilt for P.B. and Mattie, dating it to the 1880’s/90’s. However yesterday, while doing research for a project, we came across information about Mary Belle that contradicts the maker, story, and date of this quilt.

Because we focus on the immediate Moss family and have limited staff, extended family members are often left on the sidelines as far as historical research is concerned. Mary Belle Moss was born in 1856 and died at 5 years old in 1861. She passed away two years before Preston Boyd Moss was even born. Her name is embroidered on the back of this quilt which is why it was originally believed that she made this quilt. [It is now evident] she did not make this quilt herself. She may have been learning how to quilt at five, but she would have been in the early stages of learning how to use needle and thread.

This quilt is more likely a memorial quilt for Mary Belle. It is also possible that this quilt is many years older than the current date on the paperwork. History may seem at times as though it is stagnant, but we are always learning and always cultivating new information. History is alive and you can see it when you come tour the Moss Mansion Museum! Come make history with us!

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A History of Water Damage

There are a few spaces in our lovely mansion that needed substantial restoration before they could be shown to the public over thirty years ago. One of those spaces is the pretty Guest Apartment on the second floor, and once again restoration will be necessary to repair the water damage happening there.

We aren’t sure when the late winter/ early spring ritual of ice dams in the upper gutters began, but we know that for many years in the 70’s and 80’s it went mostly unchecked. Skilled artists and artisans from the area did a wonderful restoration of the space after the property was obtained by the Billings Preservation Society. The room has been open to the public since then, thanks in part to a trend of milder winters and some repairs and modifications done on the gutters and roof to address the underlying cause of the leaks.

Last year the water poured in again. Last winter made an impression on most of us as being exceptionally long and severe, so it seemed a possible fluke that we were having some issues and that with normal weather patterns we would surely be out of harm’s way. But, with another banner winter in the books, those first warmish days came between frigid nights and the ice dams wreaked their havoc once more. We have again pulled wet items out of the room and closed it to visitors while Newman Restoration, a local group of professionals, helps us remove as much moisture from the walls as possible in the Guest Apartment and in the Ballroom above as well.

Peeling and checking in the Guest Apartment on the ceiling, trim, and wall.

While two more (expensive) solutions to the ice dams are being explored, we will consider whether to put the furnishings back in and show the room as it is. It is impressive to see what happens to plaster walls when they get wet, and the visual experience helps us drive home the need to address the problem in it’s entirety. We will be seeking financial help in all forms in the months to come for this particular project in order to make sure that we take the best care possible of this wonderful mansion. Donations of any size from folks like you who have an interest in the Moss will make a huge difference in the speed and efficacy with which we are able to prevent more damage!

You can help: come with friends and family to tour the mansion and see how we meet the challenge of preserving this wonderful building; attend an event or fundraiser; talk about the Moss with people you know and share your interest; become a volunteer in any of a variety of roles; become a member of the Billings Preservation Society by joining the 1903 Club; consider making a donation online or in person to the general fund or specifically for water damage restoration. You make a difference at the Moss Mansion Museum!

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Senate Bill 338 Could Benefit Moss Mansion and Others

Coming up on March 25th is a hearing in Helena for SB338, a proposal that could fund historic preservation efforts across the state. Moss Mansion is named as one specific beneficiary in the first year of the plan, and the benefit is significant. In its original form the initial monies to the Moss would be equal to our all-time largest annual budget – $400,000.00. While that seems like a huge amount, it would only address a few of the numerous projects on our deferred maintenance list. Many, if not all, historic properties throughout Montana are in the same situation, with monies for brick and mortar projects scarce as hen’s teeth. Even so, this bill it would have a significant impact on our ability to extend the life of this grand building.

You can support this legislation, with funding coming from the tourism sector with a 1% increase on lodging taxes, by contacting your legislators in Helena. Please read more about it at

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Architecture and Design

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!

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More Diversification…

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!

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Moss Mining Interests

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.

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Hot and Cold

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.


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March 1882

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.

Town growth:
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.



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Suburban Homes & Automobiles #2

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.

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Suburban Homes & Automobiles

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.

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