Friday, April 06, 2007

Why is Billings, Montana called "The Magic City"?

Who's asking: Jen Lechner, Freeport, ME

I was going to give Grace today's question, since she is six years old today, but she didn't have one. (I'm sure she's just saving it for later.)

Jen asks this question because the Lechners have just returned from a trip to Billings. Montana is one of six states I haven't visited; I'll get there one of these days.

Billings, Montana was originally founded in 1877 as a stagecoach stop and trading post called Coulson, in the Yellowstone Valley. The Northern Pacific Railroad surveyed the area in 1882 and renamed the town Billings, after its former president, Frederick Billings.

The railroad made Billings a boom town. People said Billings "grew like magic," which led to the nickname "Magic City." With a population of approximately 90,000 people, it is the largest city in a 500-mile radius. I think of Gardiner as remote, but I'm only 45 miles from Portland; the nearest city to Billings is Sheridan, Wyoming, pop. 16,000, 132 miles away.

What I Read this Week

Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale. Shy, troubled bookseller Margaret Lea agrees to serve as biographer to the legendary novelist Vida Winter, who has never told the public anything true about her background. Miss Winter's story is mysterious and wonderful, and in deciphering it, Margaret learns life-changing truths about her own history. A wonderful, old-fashioned Gothic novel about the power of books, and deserving of all last year's hype.

Mark Haskell Smith, Salty. Mark Haskell Smith's genius is his ability to tell stories about not-very-nice people doing not-very-nice things, and have us like them, root for them, and laugh at their predicaments. Salty is the story of faded rock star Turk Henry, whose wife, Sheila, is kidnapped by pirates in Thailand. Turk's ready to do whatever he has to do to get Sheila back, but a U.S. government functionary forbids him to negotiate with terrorists, and Sheila finds herself more and more fascinated with her captor. Tremendously entertaining, unapologetically outrageous, and surprisingly touching.

2 comments:

LoveHistory said...

Just a small bit of clarification to your post; the town of Coulson was not renamed. Billings was built on a plat to the 2-3 miles west of Coulson. This was decided at the time to have Billings at this location because the Minnesota & Montana Land Company had two partials of land next two each other; creating more room for growth.

In addition to commenting on “Magic City”; although the statement was very correct about how Billings had a great population boom. Many states have their own “Magic City”. This was a common selling tactic to call communities “Magic Cities” to inspire growth.

Anonymous said...

Millinocket, ME is also known as the Magic City as it sprung up out of the woods in the undeveloped timberlands of north-central Maine

RB