Main Street: Bozeman, Montana


When Georgia miner and entrepreneur John Bozeman scouted the Bozeman Trail, an overland route connecting Montana gold country to the Oregon Trail, he discovered the fertile Gallatin Valley and an ideal location for a new town. With Bozeman founded in 1864, businesses catering to miners, ranchers, and farmers lined that portion of the Bozeman Trail running through town and formed the nucleus of Main Street. Through the 20th century the commercial district grew into a regional crossroad given its designation as a portion of the Yellowstone Trail, the first transcontinental automobile highway through the country's upper tier of states and, eventually, U.S. Highway 191.

Designated Area

Nine blocks between 3rd and Broadway Avenues.

Main Street is located in the heart of the picturesque Gallatin Valley. The nomination of the Main Street Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 brought an eclectic mix of businesses and residents to downtown. Flickr photo by J. Stephen Conn (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Planning Excellence

Today there's a stunning collection of late 19th and early 20th century buildings within the Main Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and includes the 1919 Ellen Theatre. That Renaissance Revival building, designed by local architect Fred Willson, was once a showcase for vaudeville and other musical acts until falling into disrepair in the 1960s. In 2008 Montana TheatreWorks restored the building, located at 17 West Main St., and returned it to its former glory.

During the early hours of March 5, 2009, a natural gas explosion and subsequent fire swept the 200 block of East Main, destroying four buildings. The community, city leaders, and Downtown Bozeman Partnership have supported the owners who have rebuilt three of the buildings in accordance with the Downtown Bozeman Improvement Plan and city's Historic Preservation Design Guidelines.

Given Bozeman's proximity to Yellowstone National Park and nearby opportunities for outdoor recreation, thousands of tourists each year are drawn to the town and its 100-plus Main Street businesses.

The historic buildings that line Main Street are built in a number of styles, including Romanesque, Art Deco, and Moderne. An explosion in 2009 that destroyed four buildings along Main Street made reconstruction possible. Photo courtesy Allyson Brekke.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Historic Architecture

  • Main Street Historic District added to National Register of Historic Places (1987); extends 100 block West Main to 300 block East Main; 40-plus contributing properties from 1880s to 1940
  • Baxter Hotel, 105 West Main; added to National Register 1984; six-story Italianate/Art Deco hotel (1929)
  • Four-story Romanesque Bozeman Hotel (1891); built during city's bid as the state capital
  • Charles Lundwall Building, 123-125 West Main Street; 1905 Art Deco building for Lundwall's plumbing business; has since been used for wallpaper store, mortuary, apartments
  • Gallatin County Courthouse (1936) at North Third; Moderne-style, constructed with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds through the New Deal

Planning Milestones

  • Tax increment fund was created to fund the implementation of a 1995 Downtown Bozeman Urban Renewal Plan; instrumental to funding projects along Main Street including a public library, landscaping Soroptomist Park, and addition of benches, trash cans, bike racks
  • Business improvement district founded 2000, expanded 2006, renewed 2010 to ensure downtown's long-term vitality; revenues are derived from voluntary annual assessment
  • Business Improvement district overseen by a board appointed by city commission; graffiti removal program, maintains 230 summer flower baskets and 100-plus street lamp banners
  • Big box ordinance (2003) limits retail to 75,000 square feet to discourage very large stores in greater Bozeman community; gives some protection to Main Street businesses
  • Bozeman Guidelines for Historic Preservation enacted to preserve the integrity and character of Bozeman through city design review process (2006)
  • Greater Bozeman Area Transportation Plan (2007); recommends Main Street bus shelters, traffic calming, new street lights
  • Downtown Bozeman Improvement Plan (2009) calls for streetscape improvement for Main, side streets; preserving historic signs; bicycle lanes; decreasing new development parking
  • Capital Improvements (Fiscal Years 2013-2017) include city gateways along Main Street

Arts and Culture

  • Downtown Bozeman Association (1980) generates revenue from annual membership dues; sponsors Christmas Stroll, Bridal Walk, Crazy Days, Art Walks, Music on Main, Cruisin' on Main
  • ┬áChristmas Stroll attracts more than 5,000; includes winter decoration lighting along Main
  • More than 4,000 attend Music on Main during summer; features local, regional, national bands
  • Seven traffic control boxes along Main part of A.R.T. (Artistically Reclaimed Traffic boxes) project (2011); each box covered with locally designed artwork; helps discourages graffiti
  • Sweet Pea Festival marked 35th year in August 2012; Main Street featured during festival's Bite of Bozeman and Sweet Pea parade
  • Montana State University Cat Walk, the school year kickoff, held on Main Street in August

Arts and culture are two primary staples of Main Street's success. Providing benches, trash receptacles, bike racks, summer flower baskets, lamp street banners, and graffiti removal along the street is the city's business improvement district founded in 2000. Photo courtesy Downtown Bozeman Partnership.