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.

Oriental Saloon

A one-story wood-frame building stood here between 1897 and 1907. Reflecting the mining town's early hard-drinking culture, it first originally housed two saloons. When Swedish immigrants Charles Carlson and George Edman purchased the lot in…

Belt Jail

Lewis and Clark named nearby Belt Butte for its girdle of rocks and, in 1877, John Castner named his town Belt. Coal brought Castner here, and Fort Benton was the first market for his Castner Coal Company. Then, in 1889, the Boston and Montana…

Heikkila-Mattila Homestead

Finnish immigrant Gust Heikkila filed his 160-acre homestead claim along the Little Belt Creek coulee in 1902. By 1905, other Finnish settlers had homesteaded the area, calling it Korpivaara, “potentially dangerous wilderness,” for the remote…