Belt Commercial Historic District

Pennsylvania native John Castner discovered rich coal deposits along Belt Creek in 1870. Within just a few years, he and Fort Benton trader T. C. Power opened a commercial coal mine near here. The partners sold coal for use by the Great Northern Railway, the Boston & Montana Refinery in Great Falls, and for domestic uses in central Montana. Belt originated to serve the mine, attracting men from throughout the United States and Europe to work side-by-side underground. In 1885, Castner and his wife, Mattie, one of Montana’s early African-American businesswomen, established a stage station and hotel at this site on the Lewistown-Great Falls Road. The expansion of the mine by its new owner, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, in 1894 caused a profound change in Belt. Its commercial district relocated to the area adjacent to the stage station on what became known as Castner Street. By the early twentieth century, a jumble of wooden false-front commercial buildings and saloons lined the street, keeping in character with the community’s origin as a mining camp. The expansion of the mine and the surrounding area’s increasing dependence on agriculture in the early 1900s significantly changed the appearance of Belt’s commercial district. The old false-front buildings gave way to the more substantial stone and brick-front buildings that line the street today. Although many lack architectural ornamentation, collectively the buildings gave the appearance of a prosperous and stable community. The commercial district represents the metamorphosis of Belt from a mining camp to a modern city.

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Castner Street, Belt, Montana ~ private