Did You Know Willson Ave Used to Be Called Something Else?
Drive around downtown Bozeman and almost every street is named after a significant person in the town's history. Our radio station sits almost on the corner of Willson & Mendenhall. I thought that Willson Avenue was named for Fred Willson who is responsible for designing the Gallatin County Court House, the Baxter Hotel, Willson School, and the Gallatin County Jail, which today is the home of the Gallatin History Museum.
It turns out, though, that Willson Avenue is actually named for Fred's father, Lester. Lester Willson was a Civil War soldier who was there for the Fall of Atlanta with William Tecumseh Sherman. Eventually Lester would become a colonel, but would leave the Army a few years after the Civil War to open up Bozeman's first general store on Main Street.
Apparently Lester Willson was so well-liked by the citizens of Bozeman that when he died in 1919, they decided to rename Central Ave in his honor. You can still visit Lester's old house that he built in 1889 on Central Ave just a few blocks south of Main Street. He is buried in the family plot in Sunset Hills Cemetery.