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Preserve America is a national initiative in cooperation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; the U.S. Departments of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Education; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities; and the President's Council on Environmental Quality.

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Preserve America Community:
Great Falls, Montana

Great Falls, Montana, (population 56,503) was founded as the result of an act of inspiration. Upon reading the descriptions of Lewis and Clark, Paris Gibson journeyed to view the falls himself and set out to found a city there. The town site plat was filed in September 1884, and by the end of the year Great Falls had 200 citizens. Within six years, the Black Eagle dam was constructed to provide power for industry and agriculture and by 1890 the population had already reached 4,000.

Great Falls, currently Montana’s third largest city, has four National Register-listed Historic Districts and a dozen individually listed properties. One of the most notable landmarks of the city is the Vinegar Jones Cabin, the first house built in Great Falls. W.G. “Vinegar” Jones was a cousin of Paris Gibson and got his nickname partly because he made vinegar and partly because of his personality. The house was built when there were no streets in the city and Jones protected it until his death. The Vinegar Jones Cabin has survived fires, demolition permits, and 122 years of use and has been almost completely restored by volunteers.

In 2005, Great Falls hosted a Lewis and Clark Signature Event, one of only 15 in the nation. Called “Explore the Big Sky,” the event took years to plan and featured 180 events over a 34-day period. The events included a ballet, “A Tremendous Journey,” an opera “Poia,” and a powwow that drew 300 Native American dancers.

Each summer since 1989, Great Falls has hosted a Lewis and Clark Festival. Festival-goers can take advantage of children’s “discover camps,” bird watching tours, historical interpretations, and an art gala.

For more information

High Plains Heritage Center: www.highplainsheritage.org

Great Falls History:

National Register Travel Itinerary: www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/lewisandclark

Posted March 13, 2009

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