The Chancellor's Residence
The official residence of the Chancellor of Montana State University Billings is located in the university neighborhood of Billings near the heart of the city.
Surrounded by two and a quarter acres of landscaped grounds and towering spruce, pine and cottonwood trees, the house located at 432 Silver Lane serves as the home for the Chancellor and the Chancellor’s family, and as the setting for various university functions that advance the mission and goals of the institution.
The land on which the home sits is inextricably linked to Billings’ history. The property originally belonged to Col. Albert L. Babcock, an early Montana businessman who played a leading role in the establishment of Billings.
“Babcock had intended to build a suburban home on the estate, but his wife objected to the mud and being out in the country,” according to an article in the June 23, 1968 magazine edition of the Billings Gazette.
What once was a remote area now is the epicenter of Billings. The neighborhood, merely a cow pasture a century ago, began developing in the 1930s, slowed in the 40s and accelerated in the 50s.
In 1942, the Russell B. Hart family—also instrumental in the development of Billings—purchased the property and subdivided a portion of it. The distinctive Rimrocks to the North, the University grounds to the East, the city center and Yellowstone River to the South and a sprawling metropolis to the West frame the property. (Russell Hart was the son of Raymond Hart who had been very influential in bringing what was then Eastern Montana Normal School to Billings. He also served on the local board for several years.)
Fifteen years later in 1957, Russ Hart and his wife, Senia, built the 3,600 square-foot, two-story home on the property. Senia designed the house herself, even crafting a clay model to visualize its every room. The bricks were hand-crafted for the First Congregational Church, founded in 1882. When the church built a new sanctuary in 1957, Senia salvaged some of the bricks and they were used to build the living room fireplace and a graceful, curved wall delineating the patio. The home was built of redwood, which according to the redwood suppliers deteriorates so slow that in a century just one quarter of an inch of the wood will wear off.
As the Gazette story noted, “Philippine mahogany cupboards, fir ceiling, redwood paneling and laminated pine beam emphasize the ‘woodsy feeling’ in the living room.”
That same feeling extends to the landscaped area bordered by trees, “too numerous to enumerate,” the appraiser noted in 1968.
The home features four bedrooms upstairs, three of which have doors opening onto the balcony; a library and den; a large patio area on the south and east sides of the home; and several built-ins throughout.
The appraiser declared “Because of the quantity and quality of built-ins, and due to the fact that there are no moldings in the home, the finish carpentry work was very expensive. The amount of hand finishing and hand fitting in this home is tremendous.”
The house also incorporates marble salvaged from the original lobby entrance to the Hart-Albin building downtown, which was used on the bathroom and kitchen counters.
The residence has undergone a few renovations. Even so, the home remains substantially the same now as when it was built—with concessions to more modern amenities, like central air conditioning.
The home became an MSUB campus landmark in 1968 when the Hart family gifted the home to the university on its 40th anniversary—an “act of faith and belief in EMC as an outstanding educational institution in an expanding community…. As Eastern grows in size and scope, larger more adequate facilities for this portion of the president’s job seem a necessity.”
Then called Eastern Montana College, the university acquired the home and property through a generous gift-purchase arrangement. The state paid $40,000 for the home, valued at $100,000 at the time.
Dr. Stanley Heywood and his family were the first family of MSUB to call it home.
“The offer of your home and extensive landscaped and wooded grounds on such generous terms to Eastern Montana College is overwhelming both in its generosity and in its implications for the future development of the College,” Heywood wrote to Hart. “On behalf of the administration, faculty, students and staff of the College, past present and future, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the historical interest and the present heart-felt concern, with its faith and confidence in our growth and service to Billings and the rest of Montana, that your magnificent offer represents.”
Senia was involved in historic preservation and the arts, and Russ was active in civic affairs and President of the Hart-Albin Company. The Hart family is pleased to know that the house is still the home of the Chancellor and an asset to MSUB.