Paris Gibson Collection, 1914-[circa 1939]  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Gibson, Paris, 1830-1920
Paris Gibson Collection
1914-[circa 1939] (inclusive)
1 reel microfilm
Collection Number
Mss317 (collection)
Paris Gibson was an early Great Falls, Montana, settler. The collection consists of his notes on the history of the development of Great Falls. The collection also includes a chronological history of the development of the electric and power companies in Montana by an unknown author.
University of Montana, Mansfield Library, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library
University of Montana
32 Campus Dr. #9936
Missoula, MT
Telephone: 406-243-2053
Fax: 406-243-4067
Access Restrictions

Researchers must use collection in accordance with the policies of Archives and Special Collections, the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, and the University of Montana--Missoula.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Paris Gibson was born on July 1, 1830, in Brownfield, Maine. He was the son of Abel and Anne (Howard) Gibson. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1851. In 1853 he was elected to the Maine legislature. In August 1858, Gibson married Valeria G. Sweat, who was born in Brownfield, on Nov. 30, 1839. The couple had four children, two of whom died at an early age. The surviving sons, Phillip and Theodore, later helped their father in some of his business activities. In 1859 the new couple moved to St. Anthony Falls, Minnesota, (now Minneapolis). There Gibson and several business partners set up the Cataract Mill, the first flourmill in Minneapolis, and the North Star Woolen Mill. He was a member of the Masonic lodge in Minneapolis and also helped establish the first public library there. Gibson also served on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents from 1871 through 1879. He suffered heavy financial loss in the Panic of 1873.

In 1879 Gibson migrated to Montana. He tried sheep ranching at Fort Benton and purchased several acres of land there. In 1885 he had 140 sheep for sale. The next year he and his son, Phillip, organized the Great Falls Sheep Company. In 1883 Gibson was elected the first president of the Montana Wool Growers Association at Fort Benton, and he served in this office for 22 years. Gibson remained involved in the wool industry until 1905.

In 1885 Gibson relocated to Great Falls, Montana. Impressed with the natural resources of the Great Falls area, especially the waterpower of the falls, Gibson founded the Great Falls Water Power & Townsite Co. in 1885. Gibson began building the power company there and bought all of the land for the town site. He actively recruited settlers for the new town. In 1885 the population of Great Falls was 100, and by 1890 it was 4,000. In 1885 Gibson built the Park Hotel. In 1887 Gibson helped get the railroad to build a line through Great Falls. That same year he was elected a director of the First National Bank. In 1888 Great Falls was incorporated as a city and Gibson was elected the first mayor.

Gibson played a critical role in the expansion of the industry of western Montana. The Great Falls Water & Townsite Co. became the Great Falls Light & Power Co., and expanded its transmission lines throughout the area. Under Gibson's direction, the Great Falls Light & Power Co. built a dam on the Missouri at Black Eagle in 1890. In that same year Gibson co-founded the Boston and Montana Smelter Company in Great Falls, which became the major smelter for Butte copper. This smelter company helped to develop mining in the Great Falls region. In 1912 several power companies including the Great Falls Light & Power Co. were incorporated into the Montana Power Co.

Gibson was very active in civic affairs both as a mayor and as a private citizen. He advocated railroad expansion in Montana. He also made several improvements to the city, including the extensive parks system and the expansion of electric power lines to all of the homes in the city. In 1889 he represented Cascade County at the State Constitutional Convention and served as a member of the Montana Senate the same year. In 1901, when he was 71, the state legislative assembly elected him a U.S. Senator. He served until 1905. Gibson, as the town founder and planner, is considered the "father of Great Falls." Paris Gibson died on Dec. 16, 1920. His wife Valeria died in Great Falls on Aug. 20, 1900.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This collection includes two items. The first part is Gibson's general history of the development of Great Falls from Lewis and Clark's visit in 1805 to 1914, organized in chronological order. The first part of this collection is entitled "biographical notes" because Paris Gibson, as the author, emphasizes his role in the development of Great Falls and power companies in Montana. These "notes" are incomplete. The second part is a chronological history of the development of the electric and power companies in Montana, from the 1860s to 1939. The unknown author examines the production capacity, employees, and growth of several specific plants in western Montana.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Researchers are responsible for using in accordance with 17 U.S.C. and any other applicable statutes. Copyright not transferred to the University of Montana.

Preferred Citation

[Name of document], Paris Gibson Collection, Archives and Special Collections, The University of Montana--Missoula.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Description Dates
Biographical notes 1914
History of the developement of the power industry in western Montana, 1860s to 1939 undated

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Electric utilities -- Montana -- History.
  • Power resources -- Montana -- History.
  • Power-plants -- Montana -- History.
  • Water-power -- Montana -- History.
  • Personal Names :
  • Gibson, Paris, 1830-1920.
  • Geographical Names :
  • Great Falls (Mont.) -- History.