28 September, 2022

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The Garden City of Mossmain

BILLINGS — Over 100 years ago there was to be a sprawling city between Laurel and Billings that would intertwine rural and urban living. It was to be called Mossmain and this Western utopia was the brainchild of one of Billings most prominent residents and business owners, Preston Boyd Moss, or P.B. Moss for short.

The story of this dream city lies in the archives of the historic Moss Mansion. Aly Turner, the Fundraising Manager for Moss Mansion, recently revisited the dream.

“Mossmain was P. B. Moss’s idea of what we call a ‘Garden City,’” said Turner. “A Garden City has all the social aspects of a city; churches, schools, businesses, set in the center, and then surrounding the city would be farms for people work. This would give access to farmers to still have social lives and still be able to partake in the community without being so far away.”

Moss thought that this type of city would be prefect here in Montana and that it could grow to over 100,000 residents if done right. Looking at the original blueprints for the city, it is clear that Moss and his architect Walter Burley Griffin, the man who designed the city of Canberra, Australia’s Capital, had thought of everything. From a developed city center, complete with a rail station, to large plots for farms, parks and gardens. Moss even got the ball rolling, acquiring land and building a few temporary structures.

The big question is, after things got put into motion for this new city, why did it all fall apart?

“There could be many reasons,” said Turner. “We think the biggest reason is the Great Depression came in. So, people didn’t have the money to invest anymore. Second, the railroads didn’t come through like he thought that they would. I always say that if it had been 10 years later, it probably would have been extremely successful, but because of the time period that it was in… It just didn’t go as he thought and so it kind of just went by the wayside eventually.”

Though the city was never realized, ironically it still has a small footprint. If you use Google Maps, Mossmain will pop up. Technically it is labeled as a ghost town and there are no structures from the town left, but there it is on the map, right next to an industrial park and the Amusement Park Drive-In Movie Theater. The other interesting thing is that the road leading to the drive-in is called ‘Mossmain Lane.’

And though the project didn’t live on, the legacy of its developer certainty has.

“I think you could say that Mossmain’s legacy was P.B’s,” says Turner. “This idea that we can always continue to build a better future because that was P.B.’s idea. He wanted to build something better for people so they can have a better way of living. And that was his idea for everything he did really.”

To learn more about Mossmain, visit the Moss Mansion here in Billings and check out their display on the town that never was.

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