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(Back to Montana Haunted Index)

Western Heritage Center –
HauntedHouses.com

Haunted Place: Western Heritage Center

Address:

2822 Montana Avenue
Billings, Montana 59101-2305

(406) 256-6809

Western Heritage Center web site

Location:

The Western Heritage Center can be found along one of the main drags in Billings; Montana Street, that runs parallel right next to the railroad tracks. It is near the intersection of South 27th Street and Montana Street, and one block west of South 28th Street. Very easy to find, and not a far walk from other historical buildings along Montana Avenue.

 

Description:

This gorgeous, Romanesque, two story sandstone building, built to last centuries, also has an impressive tower and turret. Architect Charles S. Haire, who had just opened up his own architectural and design business in 1900, is the creative designer behind this building. Inside is equally impressive. It is described as having soaring ceilings, wonderful old oak floors, and turn of the century architectural detailing.

Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, The Western Heritage Center “cares for a collection of over 16,000 artifacts, including over 1,000 photographs that document the social history, architecture, public events and the development of the Yellowstone River Valley.” Needless to say, there are many interesting exhibits in this museum, that tell the stories of the people who lived in the Yellowstone Valley; native people, ranchers, townspeople, railroad times, and others who lived here throughout the eras.

There is something for everyone in the family to enjoy! One review of The Western Heritage Center reported, " is a family friendly museum with small displays, lots of activities for the kids while the parents look at the 'mature' displays and information."

Another review from a visitor stated, "They have four areas full of exhibits that bring the past of eastern Montana to life. A number of their exhibits are interactive, too, with videos and sound, so the kids will enjoy it."

The lower level gallery in the basement has been recreated to look like the lobby/reception area of a 1930s' dude ranch lodge, complete with wood panels, a stone fireplace, and what they call "rustic western furniture," patterned after the designs of artist/designer, Thomas Molesworth.

Paintings of the local artist, James Kenneth Ralston, that depict great stories of the West are on display in this gallery.

In 2005, the actual log cabin that served as James Kenneth Ralston's studio was moved to the grounds of The Western Heritage Center, and his many letters, items of importance and his paintings were donated to the museum that are now see on display in this lower gallery.

Another beloved writer and artist that has his own exhibit, is Will James, a wrangler cowboy turned artist and writer.

In Nevada, James met the love of his life, Alice, and married her in 1920, after a one year stint in the armed forces, before he began to write about what he knew well. Will James wrote and illustrated a total of 23 books;(1922-1942). James is best known for his 1926 book, "Smoky the Cow Horse." He was honored with The Newbury Medal for children's literature, in 1927.

Exhibits that are dedicated to the history of the railroad, and various Indian tribes are also very interesting and educational. Many different programs about a variety of subjects add much to the educational opportunities offered throughout The Western Heritage Center.

 

HISTORY:

Billings, Montana, was a railroad town that sprung up when the Northern Pacific Railroad was built by its location, in 1882. The town was named for Frederick Billings, who was the President of Northern Pacific Railroad at the time. It began with just 4 buildings, but grew tremendously, being the "western railhead for it farther westward expansion." In the first 6 months, 2000 people moved to Billings. Some were homesteaders, who arrived with all their possessions in a freight car, to claim their 40 acres of free land.

Products from the ranches located around Billings, and the other neighboring states as well, were taken by rail to be sold at market. Because of the ample supply of natural resources, and the wise planning by their leaders, the town continued to grow throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st century, becoming the largest city in Montana.

This handsome building was built in 1901, and donated to the city of Billings by railroad magnate Frederick Billings, to be used as a library; The Parmly Billings Memorial Library, in memory of his 25 year old son, Parmly. Parmly was sent to run his dad's businesses in Billings, but died unexpectedly while doing so.

By the mid-1960s, plans for a newer, bigger building to house The Parmly Billings Memorial Library were in the works and finished, in 1969. The Parmly Billings Memorial Library then moved into its new building, leaving what was now a creaky fixer upper opportunity of a historic building empty. The original 1901 historic building was abandoned; a forlorn relic from the past, waiting an appointment with the wrecking ball.

The concerned citizens of Billings, however, came together to save this lovely building. They restored and renovated it into a fabulous museum, The Western Heritage Center; specializing in the history of Yellowstone River Valley. It was added, in 1974, to the National Register of Historic Places, giving the building federal protection. Being an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum means that The Western Heritage Center offers a variety of high quality exhibits that promote education opportunities for the community of Billings, and many visitors as well.

 

HISTORY of Manifestations:

People who love their items of art, or former possessions that mean a lot to them, sometimes like to come and visit them.

( Breakers House Museum * Minneapolis Institute of Art * Speed Art Museum * Lilly Library * Willard Library * Belcourt Castle )

The elderly male entity could be James Kenneth Ralston, who may like to sit in the chair and gaze on his paintings on display.

The elderly male entity could also be Will James, who also loves western art, and would also love to hang out at a replica of a dude ranch lobby, being an ex-wrangler himself.

The elderly male entity could just be a former library patron who loved the basement displays.

When a structure or items are given to a party for a specific purpose, and the items are mistreated or the structure is deserted, but in the end are retrieved and restored, sometimes becoming something else, in some cases the entities who made the original donation like to supervise or help the living, perhaps a little concerned.

( The Hermitage * Redwood Library and Anthenaeum * James Allison Mansion - Library * The River Inn )

Perhaps the elderly male entity could be Frederick Billings, who likes to visit and see this museum. While upset that the library was moved and his building deserted, he must be pleased to see it now being used as a Western Heritage Museum.

The elderly woman could be Mrs. Frederick Billings or a female descendant, or an enthusiastic past patron who lets the living know that she is on the job as well, and perhaps loves the work of Will James.

The elderly female may perhaps be Will James wife, Alice, who comes to visit her husband's display.

The elderly woman could also be a head librarian, retired from this world who didn't get the memo that the library was moved. She may decide to help the living keep an eye on things, especially the Will James books and artifacts on display in his exhibit.

Children who die from an epidemic outbreak, Cholera, accidents, etc., like to stay in this world where they felt most happy.

( Stranahan House * Collingwood Art Center * Orpheum Theater * The River Inn - Lulu Marshall )

Little Priscilla is comfortable in The Western Heritage Center, because she probably loved the books that were here, and the cool stairs to go up and down on. As a spirit, the attic may be her special space in the building.

Manifestations:

Except for the child entity, Priscilla, it is not known or hasn't been released who is visiting or staying in this structure.

The Entity of an Elderly Man:

WAS SEEN by witnesses, enjoying himself, while sitting in a chair, near the fireplace in the basement where the western paintings of James Kenneth Ralston are displayed.

The Entity of an Elderly Woman; who is partial to the first floor, and the Will James Room.

In 1976, Tom Posey, the new director of the museum, was sitting at the desk, alone in the building. He heard a rustling sound of a long skirt. He looked up in time to see an elderly woman, dressed in a long dress float along the floor into the Will James Room.

Mrs. Posey also felt a cool something brush against her on the first floor.

The Entity of the Female Child, Priscilla

Foot prints of a child were seen in the dust on the floor in the attic, just above the top of the tower.

Priscilla also likes to play on the steps of the tower, and

Probably moves around the other parts of the building as well.

Paranormal Findings:

Personal experiences have been reported since the restoration/renovation of the building.

Paranormal classes have been held in the building since 2010 with local paranormal investigators. Hard evidence has been caught on equipment by the living.

The Montana Paranormal Research Society investigated the spirits of the Western Heritage Center, in 2012.

They caught several EVPs suggesting that at least three spirits reside there: A little girl;Priscilla, an older man, and an older woman. They posted a small sample of their investigation. They are selling DVDs of their investigation to interested parties for 10 dollars a piece.

still haunted?

A big yes indeed!! The hard evidence that was collected by The Montana Paranormal Research Society and other paranormal investigators backs up the personal experiences people have had with these friendly, benign entities.

Sources Include:

Haunted Montana
by Karen Stevens
pg. 31-36
Riverbend Publishing
2007


The Ghost Hunter's Field Guide
by Rich Newman
Llewellyn Publications
2011


Western Heritage Center Ghost Investigation by The Montana Paranormal Research Society on Billings Gazette.com

United States Cities – Cities of the West – City-Data.com * Artist Will James on Wikipedia

Western Heritage Center web site * National Register of Historical Places – Montana, Yellowstone County

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