Billings Gazette, March 9, 1989
Ownership trail difficult to follow
by Jill Sundby
of the Gazette Staff
The name "James Kenney" which stands out in bold tile letters at the entrance to the Montana Bar leaves no doubt as to who the bar's early-day proprietor was. But the tiled floor gives no clues about when, where or how Kenney first became involved in the Montana Bar. The earliest mention of the "Montana Saloon" that can be found in old newspapers, directories and maps lists Joseph Myers and Emmett Williamson as owners of the saloon in 1893 but gives no location, according to Dena Sanford, who is compiling a survey of historical architecture in Miles City with Susan McDaniel. Sometime between 1904 and 1905 Kenney an Englishman who originally made a living digging and delivering coal became part-owner of the saloon, and a 1907 Miles City directory gives the saloon's location at 612 Main. In 1908 Kenney bought the building where the Montana Bar is now, and moved his business into the building, Sanford said. No one seems to know when the Montana Bar building was built. Terry Hanson has a copy of an 1886 party wall agreement which shows that a building was on that lot at that time. However, a Dec. 1888 map by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. of New York shows an empty lot at the site. No one has been able to resolve the discrepancy, but Sanford said fires may have destroyed any original building. An 1893 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows that a building on the site was under construction and was "intended to be a saloon." But from around 1900 to 1907 Charles Coggshall ran a saddlery shop in the building. During Prohibition, the business was advertised as "Kenney & Son" Soft Drinks, Sanford said. According to Florence Kenney, James Kenney's daughter-in-law, "they bootlegged there, I think, 'til they got caught, then they closed it up." The Kenneys moved to Venice, Calif., where James Kenney died in 1923. When "beer came back" in '33, Florence said, James' son George moved back to Miles City, with Florence. George ran the bar until 1957, when he leased it to Wayne Olson, James Burnett and Dave Parent. Around 1977 Florence sold the bar to Ray Schmidt who sold it to Dixie Strid. Ownership then reverted back to Schmidt and Florence. The T & J Co. bought the bar and then sold it to Watering Hole Inc.