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Pioneer Park in Billings dedicated in 1932, features give it 'historic integrity'

BPL 2013.01.662 Pioneer Park circa 1940 (002).jpg
Posted at 11:57 PM, Jul 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-28 08:18:04-04

BILLINGS - It was 89 years ago that the city of Billings held a dedication for Pioneer Park.

Last year, the park was put on the National Register of Historic Places.

A Billings historian says a big reason for that designation is that the park has retained much of its early characteristics.

Pioneer Park was named in 1918 to honor the pioneers in eastern Montana.

A little after that, the park was dedicated on July 27, 1932.

And while there's very little of an account of that day and no pictures, you can still see a lot of the history throughout the park.

"Being on the National Register means that the National Park Service sees the historic integrity and the historic value that Pioneer Park has," said Lauren Henley, Western Heritage Center community historian. "From the beginning, it's been one of the main focal points of the city."

Hunley says at the dedication in 1932, the mayor made a speech and Judge Goddard, an original Billings resident, spoke on behalf of the pioneers.

"Nobody could decide on exactly which pioneer they were going to honor and name the park after," Hunley said. "So the compromise was to just simply call it Pioneer Park."

Hunley says the city purchased about 40 acres of what was ranch land for a dairy farm, with the idea that homes would eventually surround the park.

"We have an aerial photograph from 1926 and it is the park and there are like three trees," Hunley said. "You have a smattering of houses just to the east of it and then there's nothing. All farmland."

85.06.039 Pioneer Park 1926 North Elevation (002).jpg
Courtesy: Western Heritage Center

Dorothy Gray drew up the plans for the park and the playground, horseshoe pits, and tennis courts all remain.

"Really popular and there were not a lot of places around the state that you could play tennis," Hunley said.

Gray also planned an amphitheater that was never built, but her idea for entertainment has been part of the park's tradition.

"The city continues to use the natural geography the natural layout of the landscape of the park," Hunley said. "And so Symphony in the Park, Shakespeare in the Parks, that is still happening in the original location that Dorothy Gray intended it to be."

Hunley says she enjoys looking at what Gray envisioned for Pioneer Park.

"I love Dorothy Gray," said Hunley. "She really carved out a niche for herself and she wasn't afraid to basically step forward and say there's a better way to do this and this is how I think it should be done."

Western Heritage Center walking tour through Pioneer Park is scheduled for August 18.

"I think that she'd be very pleased with the care and the use that the park has seen," said Hunley.