If you’re visiting Missoula and looking to explore the city a bit, the beautiful downtown area offers an array of locations rich in historical significance. The Missoula Downtown Association has a self-guided walking tour that’s perfect for those interested in learning more about the historical significance of this former western outpost.
Missoula has a number of places and properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many well-preserved buildings feature colorful pasts and some still bare the remains of painted billboard advertisements of businesses long since gone. Contained within a relatively small geographical area, walking is a great way to experience these historic treasures and discover the past in downtown Missoula’s nooks and crannies.
Here are a just a few examples of what you will find on the walking tour:
The Wilma Building – Built in 1921, this building was referred to as “The Showplace of Montana.” As Missoula’s first modern steel-framed “skyscraper,” the building today houses a 1,000 seat theater, two cinemas, meeting rooms, offices, and residential space. The Wilma is today a popular concert venue and hosts film events throughout the year.
The Gleim and Gleim II Buildings – Built in 1893, these buildings were two of eight buildings owned by Mary Gleim, a colorful entrepreneur during the peak years of Missoula’s “Red Light District.” Mary Gleim’s resume boasts a conviction for attempted murder of a rival and she time spent in Montana’s prison in Deer Lodge. Best known for their history as brothels, the buildings also feature beautiful architecture that once housed a pool hall, cigar shop, and jazz club after their somewhat notorious past.
Northern Pacific Railroad Depot – Built in 1901, this building is a lasting reminder of the significance of the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad reaching Missoula in 1883. The arrival of the railroad
ushered in Missoula’s time as a major commercial and economic distribution hub for Western Montana. The depot was designed by Reed and Stern, notable architects credited with the design of over 100 American depots, including New York City’s Grand Central Station.
St. Francis Xavier Church – Built between 1891 and 1892, the 144-foot polygonal tent roof spire of this beautiful church is an architectural highlight of Missoula’s skyline. The interior of the church features murals painted around 1900 by Brother J. Carignano, who also painted the murals at the St. Ignatius Mission located about 45 minutes north of Missoula.
Find a printable version of the Downtown Association’s self-guided walking tour with addresses and historic buildings on the Missoula Downtown Association website.
So get out of your rental car and explore Missoula’s history. You’ll find an abundance of architectural beauty and get a glimpse of the past while walking the well-preserved and restored streets of beautiful, downtown Missoula.