Great Falls, Montana: Wikis


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Great Falls, Montana
—  City  —
Great Falls, Montana at dusk

Nickname(s): The Electric City
Location of Great Falls, Montana
Coordinates: 47°30′13″N 111°17′11″W / 47.50361°N 111.28639°W / 47.50361; -111.28639Coordinates: 47°30′13″N 111°17′11″W / 47.50361°N 111.28639°W / 47.50361; -111.28639
Country United States
State Montana
County Cascade
 - Mayor Michael Winters
 - Total 19.9 sq mi (51.6 km2)
 - Land 19.5 sq mi (50.5 km2)
 - Water 0.4 sq mi (1.1 km2)
Elevation 3,330 ft (1,015 m)
Population (2000)
 - Total 56,690
 Density 2,909.1/sq mi (1,123.2/km2)
Time zone Mountain (MST) (UTC-7)
 - Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6)
ZIP codes 59401-59406
Area code(s) 406
FIPS code 30-32800
GNIS feature ID 0802113
Aerial view of Great Falls and the Missouri River

Great Falls is a city in and the county seat of Cascade County, Montana, United States.[1] The population was 56,690 at the 2000 census. It is the principal city of the 'Great Falls, Montana Metropolitan Statistical Area', which encompasses all of Cascade County. Great Falls takes its name from the series of five waterfalls that the Lewis and Clark Expedition had to portage around over a ten mile stretch, requiring 31 days of arduous labor, in their 1805-06 exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. Two undeveloped parts of their portage route are included within the Great Falls Portage, a National Historic Landmark.

The city is home to the C. M. Russell Museum Complex, the University of Great Falls, Giant Springs, the Roe River (world's shortest river), and the Montana School for the Deaf and the Blind, as well as the Great Falls Voyagers minor league baseball (formerly known as the Great Falls White Sox) team. The local newspaper is the Great Falls Tribune. Great Falls is known as the "Electric City" due to the five hydroelectric dams that are in the nearby vicinity along the Missouri River.

A Coldwell Banker Home Price Comparison Index listed Great Falls as the most affordable area of 348 markets in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico.


Geography and climate

Map of Montana showing Glacial Lake Great Falls.

Great Falls is located at 47°30′13″N 111°17′11″W / 47.50361°N 111.28639°W / 47.50361; -111.28639 (47.503657, -111.286299),[2] near several waterfalls on the Missouri River. It lies near the center of Montana on the northern Great Plains, about 100 miles (160 km) south of the Canadian border.

The city of Great Falls lies atop the Great Falls Tectonic Zone, an intracontinental shear zone between two geologic provinces of basement rock of the Archean period which form part of the North American continent.[3] The city lies at the southern reach of the Laurentide ice sheet, a vast glacial sheet of ice which covered much of North America during the last glacial period. Approximately 1.5 million years ago, the Missouri River flowed northward into a terminal lake.[4][5] The Laurentide ice sheet pushed the river southward.[4][6] Between 15,000 BCE and 11,000 BCE, the Laurentide ice sheet blocked the Missouri River and created Glacial Lake Great Falls.[6][7][8] About 13,000 BCE, as the glacier retreated, Glacial Lake Great Falls emptied catastrophically in a glacial lake outburst flood.[8] The current course of the Missouri River essentially marks the southern boundary of the Laurentide ice sheet.[9] The Missouri River flowed eastward around the glacial mass, settling into its present course.[4] As the ice retreated, meltwater from Glacial Lake Great Falls poured through Highwood Mountains and eroded the mile-long, 500-foot deep Shonkin Sag—one of the most famous prehistoric meltwater channels in the world.[10]

Great Falls is also situated on a fall line unconformity in the Great Falls Tectonic Zone,[11] as well as atop the Kootenai Formation, a mostly nonmarine sandstone laid down by rivers, glaciers, and lakes in the past.[12][13]

Thanks to the chinook wind, winter in Great Falls is relatively mild, but when the wind is absent, extremely cold temperatures lower than −20 °F (−28.9 °C) are common. Great Falls receives an average of 12 inches (300 mm) of precipitation, mostly in the form of summer thunderstorms and winter snow.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 19.9 square miles (51.6 km²), of which, 19.5 square miles (50.5 km²) of it is land and 0.4 square miles (1.1 km²) of it (2.21%) is water.

Monthly Normal and Record High and Low Temperatures
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Rec High °F 67 70 78 89 93 101 105 106 98 91 76 69
Norm High °F 32.1 37.7 45.3 55.6 64.7 73.9 82 81.2 69.6 58 42.1 34.2
Norm Low °F 11.3 15.1 21.5 29.7 38.3 46 50.4 49.9 41.2 33 22.5 14.4
Rec Low °F -37 -35 -29 -6 15 31 36 30 16 -11 -25 -43
Precip (in) 0.68 0.51 1.01 1.4 2.53 2.24 1.45 1.65 1.23 0.93 0.59 0.67
Source: [14]


Historical populations
Census Pop.  %±
1890 3,979
1900 14,930 275.2%
1910 13,948 −6.6%
1920 24,121 72.9%
1930 28,822 19.5%
1940 29,928 3.8%
1950 39,214 31.0%
1960 55,244 40.9%
1970 60,091 8.8%
1980 56,725 −5.6%
1990 55,097 −2.9%
2000 56,690 2.9%
Est. 2007 58,827 3.8%

As of the census of 2000,[17] there were 56,690 people, 23,834 households, and 14,848 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,909.1 people per square mile (1,123.0/km²). There were 25,250 housing units at an average density of 1,295.7/sq mi (500.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 89.96% White, 0.95% African American, 5.09% Native American, 0.86% Asian, 0.09% Pacific Islander, 0.60% from other races, and 2.45% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.39% of the population.

There were 23,834 households out of which 30.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.4% were married couples living together, 11.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.7% were non-families. 31.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.92.

In the city the population was spread out with 24.9% under the age of 18, 9.0% from 18 to 24, 27.7% from 25 to 44, 22.7% from 45 to 64, and 15.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 94.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.4 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $32,436, and the median income for a family was $40,107. Males had a median income of $29,353 versus $20,859 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,059. About 11.1% of families and 14.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.3% of those under the age of 18 and 9.2% of those 65 and older.


The first human beings to live in the Great Falls area were Paleo-Indians who migrated into the region between 9,500 BCE and 8,270 BCE.[8][18] The earliest inhabitants of North America entered Montana east of the Continental Divide between the mountains and the Laurentide ice sheet.[19] The area remained only sparsely inhabited, however.[20] Salish Indians would often hunt bison in the region on a seasonal basis, but no permanent settlements existed at or near Great Falls for much of prehistory.[20] Around 1600, Piegan Blackfoot Indians, migrating west, entered the area, pushing the Salish back into the Rocky Mountains and claiming the site now known as Great Falls as their own.[20] The Great Falls location remained in the tribal territory of the Blackfeet until the United States claimed the region in 1803.[21][22]

Meriwether Lewis was the first white person to visit the site, which he did on June 13, 1805, as part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.[23][24] York, an African American slave owned by William Clark and who had participated in the Expedition, was the first black American to visit the site of the future city.[25]

1891 bird's eye illustration of Great Falls

Following the return passage of Lewis and Clark in 1806,[26] there is no record of any white person visiting the site of the city of Great Falls until explorer and trapper Jim Bridger reached the area in 1822.[21] Bridger and Major Andrew Henry led a fur-trading expedition to the future city location in April 1823 (and were attacked by Blackfeet Indians while camping at the site).[27] British explorer Alexander Ross trapped around Great Falls in 1824.[28] In 1838, a mapping expedition sent by the U.S. federal government and guided by Bridger spent four years in the area.[21] Margaret Harkness Woodman became first white woman to visit the Great Falls area in 1862.[29]

The Great Falls of the Missouri River marked the limit of the navigable section of the Missouri River,[30] and the first steamboat arrived at future site of the city in 1859.[31]

Politically, future site of Great Falls passed through numerous hands in the 19th century. It was part of the unincorporated frontier until May 30, 1854, when Congress established the Nebraska Territory.[32] Indian attacks on white explorers and settlers dropped significantly after Isaac Stevens negotiated the Treaty of Hellgate in 1855, and white settlement in the area began to occur.[21] On March 2, 1861, the site became part of the Dakota Territory.[33] The Great Falls area was incorporated into the Idaho Territory on March 4, 1863,[34] and then into the Montana Territory on May 28, 1864.[20] It became part of the state of Montana upon that territory's admission to statehood on November 8, 1889.[20]

Great Falls was founded in 1883. Businessman Paris Gibson visited the Great Falls of the Missouri River in 1880, and was deeply impressed by the possibilities for building a major industrial city near the falls with power provided by hydroelectricity.[35][36][37][38] He returned in 1883 with surveyors and platted a permanent settlement the south side of the river.[21][35][36] The city's first citizen, Silas Beachley, arrived later that year.[21] With investments from railroad owner James J. Hill and Helena businessman Charles Arthur Broadwater, houses, a store, and a flour mill were established in 1884.[21][35][36][37][38] The Great Falls post office was established on July 10, 1884, and Paris Gibson was named the first postmaster.[39] A planing mill, lumber yard, bank, school, and newspaper were established in 1885.[35][38] By 1887 the town had 1,200 citizens, and in October of that year the Great Northern Railway arrived in the city.[35][37][38] Great Falls was incorporated on November 28, 1888.

Black Eagle Dam was built in 1890, and by 1912 Rainbow Dam and Volta Dam (now Ryan Dam) were all operating.[21][35][38]

Great Falls quickly became a thriving industrial and supply center and, by the early 1900s, was en route to becoming one of Montana's largest cities. The rustic studio of famed Western artist Charles Marion Russell was a popular attraction, as were the famed "Great Falls of the Missouri," after which the city was named. A structure billed as the "world's tallest smokestack" was completed in 1908 by the city's largest employer, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company's smelter, measuring 508 feet (155 m) tall. The Big Stack immediately became a landmark for the community. It was slated for demolition in 1983. However, the demolition crew failed to accomplish the task on the first try, leaving almost half of the structure erect. A few days later, they returned and finished the demolition.

Great Falls prospered further with the opening of a nearby military base in the 1940s, but as rail transportation and freight slowed in the later part of the century, outlying farming areas lost population, and with the closure of the smelter and cutbacks at Malmstrom Air Force Base in the 1980s, its population growth slowed.

Like other cities in the Great Plains and Midwest, the economy of Great Falls has suffered from the decline of heartland industry in recent years.


20 schools within the public school district: two public high schools, one alternative high school, two middle schools and 15 elementary schools.

Great Falls Public Schools website

The public high schools are Great Falls High School, and Charles M. Russell High School. The alternative is Paris Gibson Education Center.

The two middle schools are named North Middle School and East Middle School.




The Great Falls Tribune is published in Great Falls.

AM radio

FM radio


Great Falls is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base and the 341st Missile Wing. The 341st Operations Group provides the forces to launch, monitor and secure the wing's Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and missile alert facilities (MAF).

These ICBMs and MAFs are dispersed over the largest missile complex in the Western Hemisphere, an area encompassing some 23,000 sq mi (59,570 km²) (approximately the size of the state of West Virginia).

The group manages a variety of equipment, facilities, and vehicles worth more than $5 billion.

Great Falls International Airport is also home to the Montana Air National Guard's 120th Fighter Wing. The 120th is composed of F-15 Eagles (F-15C/D) fighter aircraft and associated support personnel.

Great Falls is also home to the 889th Army Reserve Unit.


The Great Falls Police Department is the municipal law enforcement agency. The GFPD has 82 sworn men and women and 37 civilian supportive staff. The department has many subdivisions including a High Risk Unit.[41]

The patrol division consists of 49 officers. There are four shifts. In 2005 the officers responded to 32,823 calls. There are three patrol teams. Each consists of a Lieutenant, two sergeants, and ten officers.[42] There are three canines on the GFPD force. K-9 York and K-9 Kelly and K-9 Rhingo. All three dogs are from Holland. Officers Bragg, LaBard and Green are the dogs' owners. The dogs specialize in drug detection and suspect apprehension.[43] Bike patrol consists of four officers and they mainly patrol the downtown section of the city. They volunteer to patrol on mountain bikes.[44] HRU is a SWAT team which is trained to handle dangerous situations. The candidates take on rigorous tasks.[44]

The GFPD was established in 1888. George E. Huy was the first police chief. At that time the department had two officers. The officers did not wear uniforms so they used plain clothes. The department got automobiles in 1914, and two-way radios in 1940, then computers in 1970. Now the department has 82 officers and 65 cars.[41]

The current police chief is Cloyd "Corky" Grove.[45]


Club Sport League Stadium (or Arena)
Great Falls Voyagers Baseball Pioneer League Centene Stadium

For the 1979-80 WHL Season, Great Falls and the Four Seasons Arena was the home of the Great Falls Americans hockey team. The team was 2-25 before folding. Great Falls has a rich baseball history with the Voyagers. Formerly called the White Sox, Dodgers and Giants, baseball players such as Pedro Martínez, Jose Offerman, and Raúl Mondesí have spent time in Great Falls with the team. Since 1988, the team has won the Pioneer League championship five times (1988, 1989, 1990, 2002 and 2008). In 2007, the Great Falls Explorers basketball team were the CBA National Conference Runner-Up.

The Mariana UFO Incident

The Mariana UFO Incident occurred in August 1950 in Great Falls. Nicholas "Nick" Mariana, the general manager of the Great Falls "Electrics" minor-league baseball team, and his secretary observed two "bright, silvery spheres" move rapidly over the city's empty baseball stadium. Mariana used his camera to film the objects; the film was one of the first ever taken of a UFO. The incident received widespread national publicity and is regarded as one of the first great UFO incidents in the United States. In 2007, the Great Falls White Sox were renamed as the Great Falls Voyagers to commemorate this event. The team logo features a green alien in a flying saucer.

Notable natives and residents

Motion pictures filmed in Great Falls

Numerous motion pictures have been filmed in and around Great Falls, Montana. These movies include:

Sister city

Great Falls has one sister city, as designated by Sister Cities International (SCI):


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Further reading

External links

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