Located in Billings, MT, Moss Mansion is the former residence of prominent banker, newspaper magnate, and utility company owner Preston Boyd Moss, operated today as a historic house living history museum open for guided and self-guided tours. Built in 1903, Moss Mansion was designed by New York City architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, whose other design credits include the original Plaza and Waldorf-Astoria Hotels.
It was designed at a cost of $105,000, more than 20 times the national averages for homes at the time. The three-story building served as the residence for Preston Boyd Moss, a prominent Billings entrepreneur, businessman, and politician. Throughout his career, Moss developed the Billings Light and Water Power Company in cooperation with H.W. Rowley, organized the area’s first dial telephone company, and operated a newspaper that served as a forerunner for the Billings Gazette. He was also influential in the city’s irrigation development, sugar production, and educational network, and was involved in local meat packing and toothpaste production plants. Though his bid as the state’s Democratic candidate for the United States Congress proved unsuccessful, he remained a prominent citizen of Billings throughout his life until his death in 1947 at the age of 83.
Family members of the Moss family, including Moss’ wife, Martha Ursula Woodson Moss, their six children, and three servants, resided within the mansion for more than 80 years. In 1984, community efforts were organized to preserve the home as a historic site, and in 1986, the Billings Preservation Society, a community nonprofit organization, acquired the home through a lease agreement with surviving Moss family members. Through the work of the Preservation Society, the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Attractions and Tours
Today, Moss Mansion is operated as a living history museum, offering guided and self-guided tours of the facility’s lower floors. The 28-room mansion is made of red sandstone and features a basement, solarium, and a number of intact modern amenities that were considered groundbreaking for their time, including a heated indoor plumbing system and a servant call button intercom. The home’s interiors highlight wood paneling, marble fireplaces and columns, and gold threaded walls, along with original fixtures and furnishings, including original interiors designed by Martha and quilts, needlepoints, and paintings created by Moss family daughters. Though the home’s ballroom and upper floor have been converted into office space for the Preservation Society, all rooms on the lower floors are accessible for visitors.
As a prominent historic home, Moss Mansion has been featured in a number of period feature films, including Son of the Morning Star and Return to Lonesome Dove. It is featured in a chapter of the Reader’s Digest book Great American Homes and in National Geographic’s Guide to America’s Great Houses, and has also been showcased on the A&E broadcast America’s Castles: The Great Frontier.
Guided and self-guided home tours are offered by the Preservation Society, though guided tours are recommended for a full visitor experience. All tours begin with a 13-minute orientation film, followed by exploration of the home lasting approximately one hour. On docent-led tours, offered on weekends throughout the fall, winter, and spring and throughout the week as part of extended summer hours, the history of the Moss family is narrated through the use of diaries, letters, and other items from the Preservation Society’s museum collection. All visitors may also explore the mansion’s grounds and gift shop at their leisure. Information is also provided regarding self-guided walking tours of the mansion’s historic surrounding neighborhood, including a map of other nearby historic homes.
Though stairs are required to view the home’s second floor, limited wheelchair access is offered within the home’s first floor and courtyard. Reservations for groups of 10 are more are required, including docent-led school tours for elementary and secondary school students, tailored to Montana curriculum standards. Reservations for standard guided tours are recommended during peak times, although self-guided tours may be embarked on at any time during operating hours.
Special Trunks and Treasures tours are offered periodically, providing a unique opportunity for access to the mansion’s third floor, as well as looks inside hidden home spaces such as closets and drawers. Christmas tours are also offered throughout the winter holiday season, beginning in mid-November. Trees decorated by local charities are showcased, and tour participants are given an opportunity to vote for People’s Choice award trees. Themed Murder Mystery evenings are held periodically, offering refreshments and group mystery-solving activities. Several annual special events are also offered, including a Haunted Maze and Midnight Edition Horror Theater event at Halloween and a SpringFest celebration.
914 Division St, Billings, MT 59101, Phone: 406-256-5100