BILLINGS – Since its beginnings more than 100 years ago, South Park has been the center of the community in south Billings.
The Western Heritage Center’s South Park Stroll helped explain some of that history on Saturday.
“Immigrant communities that we have are here because of the sugar beet factory,” said Lauren Hunley, community historian at the center. “South Park created this central, unifying, community grounded space.”
Hunley said the city had big plans for South Park.
“Charles Ramsdell was brought in to draw up a lot of these plans for billings parks,” she said. “The gazebo is in the exact location Ramsdell put it in 1913 in those original plans. It really created that space for gatherings, concerts, speeches. All of that could happen here in the center part of the park.”
Baseball was played in the park and was important for the those living in south Billings.
“It allowed them to strengthen the community ties by creating a unified team,” Hunley said. “It provided something for a community to cheer for and be proud of. Teams were so important to establishing and maintaining ethnic identity and a community identity but was also a way for them to be accepted into the larger American culture by playing America’s game. “
The swimming pool is smaller than when it was originally built and also has had some other changes.
“Southside was very diverse,” Hunley said. “Unfortunately the pool was not as welcoming. People of color could only swim on Sundays for a long time. Even though we have so much to be proud of, there are still some things we can learn from.”
“As a community recreation and gathering place, we can trace those differences and how it developed historically, but there’s still a lot of things going on. And it’s kind of a fun place to be,” she added.
Hunley said the diverse culture of south Billings started with people of German, Mexican, Chinese, African and Native American descent.