Courtesy of the Great Falls Public Library
Original townsite office, about 1884
Paris Gibson first visited the great falls of the Missouri in 1880 with his son Theodore. In November 1882 he visited again and saw the potential the falls offered and wrote to his good friend, James J. Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railroad. Because Gibson had lost most of his fortune in the Panic of 1873, Hill and other investors primarily financed the purchase of the townsite. (It has been said that Hill loaned money to Gibson to give the impression that Gibson did invest in the land purchase). In 1883, the townsite was platted with the help of Robert Vaughn and H. P. Rolfe, surveyor, and named Great Falls. In 1888, the townsite was transferred to the Great Falls Water Power and Townsite Company. James Hill was president and Paris Gibson was vice-president. The stock of the company was held by stockholders in the United States, Scotland, England and Germany. The capital stock was $5,000,000 and the townsite was 10,000 acres, 2,000 of which had been platted.
By the time the silver smelter was completed in 1889, the population of Great Falls was more than 1500 and by 1890, it was nearly 4,000.
Because cataract means waterfalls, the city early on earned the nickname of "Cataract City". The nickname is no longer used.
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