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!
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.
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!
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.
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.