Montana Room

About the Montana Room

What will your find in the Montana Room? Books about the people, places and events that shaped and continue to shape Billings,Yellowstone County and the state of Montana. Microfilm of Billings newspapers from 1882 onward. Yearbooks from city high schools. City directories and old telephone directories. In short, the resources you need to learn about your community. Materials in the Montana Room are not available for checkout, but many of the titles are also available in the nonfiction collection.

Tales From the Archives

These stories come from the archives at Billings Public Library. Buried deep in file cabinets for decades, they are emerging as library staff sort through, re-organize and index them. Some come from newspaper stories from around the state. Some are from correspondence, pamphlets, newsletters or other sources. They tell fascinating stories about the lives and experiences of our fellow Montanans. A new story will be featured most weeks.

George S. Crenko

94th_Aero_SquadronThe difficulties faced by soldiers trying to adjust to returning home have been known as long as there have been battles. It is only in modern times that there are therapies for treating our veterans. George S. Crenko did not have that type of treatment available to him.

George S. Crenko was a pilot during World War I, a highly dangerous occupation. He served in the 94th Aero Squadron alongside the fabled Eddie Rickenbacker, and the daring Quentin Roosevelt (the youngest son of Theodore Roosevelt), and other notable flyers. At one point during his service, Crenko was pinned down in No Man’s Land and gassed for a day and a half before being rescued.

After receiving his discharge in 1919, he was granted vocational training by the Army. He attended a college of photgraphy in the Chicago area. He moved to Billings in 1923, and bought a photographic studio in the Babcock building in 1924 after its owner died. There he made photographic portraits for families and businessmen and did camera work for print pieces as well as processing film for prints. He was active in the community with the American Legion.

CrenkoStudioAd__Mar_29__1925_But Crenko still experienced the aftereffects of his war experience. In early 1926, he left his studio in the hands of colleague Ida Parsons, and left for Helena to receive some unspecified treatment at Fort Harrison for his “infirmities”. He remained there for over three months before returning to Billings.

Seemingly good as new, Crenko moved his studio to the corner of North 27th Street and 1st Avenue North. The new location was described as modern, inviting and attractive, and Crenko expected to do both portrait and commercial photography in this location.

Only eight months later, in February of 1927, Crenko “suddenly became insane” according to a Gazette article. Without giving much detail, the article relates that he created a disturbance on the corner of Broadway and Montana Avenue that caused him to be arrested by the police and hauled off to the county jail. This happened on a Friday night. On Saturday afternoon, he was given a hearing before the district court judge. Crenko was determined to be insane, and was committed to the state hospital.  On Sunday, County Sheriff Stone Matlock drove him to Warm Springs.

A month later, his studio was sold to another photographer. Crenko disappeared from the Billings scene.


Billings Gazette, “Adjudged Insane”, February 27, 1927
Billings Gazette, “Buys Gesecus Studio”, May 24, 1924
Billings Gazette, “Crenko Leaves for Hospital”, January 12, 1926
Billings Gazette, “Crenko Studio Opens Its New Home Today”, April 22, 1926
Billings Gazette, “Officers Take Trip On Official Duties”, March 1, 1927
Billings Gazette, “Photo Shop to Close for Remodeling and Will Open on April 1”, March 27, 1927
Billings Gazette, “Shell-Shocked Veteran Suddenly Loses Mind”, February 26, 1927

Photo Credits:

Men of the 94th Aero Squadron, Rembercourt Aerodrome, France; United States Army - Public Domain
Billings Gazette, “Crenkos Art Studio (advertisement)”, March 29, 1925

Previous Tales from the Archives

We are in search of yearbooks!

We need yearbooks from Billings Central, Senior, Skyview and West High Schools! We are working on digitizing our yearbook collection and adding them to the Montana Memory Project but we have some gaps that we would like to fill.

We are looking for yearbooks that have minimal to no writing in them and do not have missing or torn pages.

The years that we need are:

Central High School – 1945-1946, 1948-1953, 1957, & 1968-current.

Senior High School – 1909-1911, 1913, 1917, 1919, 1943, 1956, 1958, 1972, 1980, 1985, 1994, 1997-1998, 2002, 2011-2012, & 2016-current.

Skyview High School – 2014 & 2016-current.

West High School – 1963, 1967, 1974-1975, 1986, 1990-1992, 1994-1996, 1998-current.

Drop off at the 2nd floor help desk or for more information call Cassie at 657-8258!

Montana History & Local History Online

Can't get enough of that local stuff? Check out these great resources available online