Butte’s Mountain View Cemetery

Granite Mt, Spectator Mine Mt, Mountain view cemetery

Butte’s Mountain View Cemetery, located in the Flats across the road from a Walmart store, is a fascinating urban cemetery.  Here is where, in memorial, you can encounter butte’s rich historic ethnic past, with the script of many headstones written in the deceased’s native language, so family and friends could member, without sharing with the dominant Anglo world that surrounded them on a daily basis. The people who worked in Butte from eastern Europe and the Middle East are rarely found in the standard history books but their stories are marked in this cemetery.

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Mountain View cemetery ethnic with soldier

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The small Arabic section is a reminder of the early immigration and contributions of Middle East natives who carved out their separate niche in Butte.

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Mountain View Cemetery also has a moving, modern style Veterans of Foreign Wars memorial to soldiers buried within its walls as well as other sections devoted to those who fought for their nation, no matter their ethnic origin.

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As several of these images show, Mountain View has few of the large, ornate Victorian or Classical Revival style grave markers found in St. Patrick’s Cemetery or Mt. Moriah Cemetery or B’nai Israel Cemetery.  This is a 20th century cemetery where the memorials are not so bold but smaller, more intimate in their messages and memorials.

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Butte’s historic cemeteries

IMG_0907Far from the bustle and grime of the Richest Hill on Earth are the historic cemeteries of Butte.  As I have said many times already in this blog, I rarely considered cemeteries during the 1984-1985 state historic preservation plan work.  That was a huge mistake for Butte.  The three historic cemeteries I wish to consider here–Mt. Moriah, St. Patrick’s, and B’nai Israel–document the city’s ethnic diversity like few other resources, reinforcing how groups survived in a city together although they often keep to their separate communities.  But the cemeteries also have sculpture and art worthy of attention and preservation–they are outstanding examples of late 19th and early 20th cemetery art and craftsmanship in the United States.

IMG_0908The Masons established Mr. Moriah Cemetery Association in 1877.  The cemetery has many striking markers, especially the Thompson Arches (seen above and below), an elaborate statement to mark a family plot, especially when compared to the cast-iron

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fences found elsewhere in the cemetery, like for the Nicholls family. The Victorian cast

IMG_0911iron fence, when combined with the carving and detail of the gravestone itself makes quite the statement for Cornish identity in Butte at the turn of the century.  Note the dual fraternal lodge marks, one for the Masons, another (the linked chain) for the Odd Fellows.

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IMG_0904Frank Beck left this earth in 1909, and the marker for Frank and his wife Agnes is remarkable for the inclusion of the family pet, noted above as Frank and His Faithful Dog.

The early 20th century gravestones and family plots are impressive largely wherever you ramble in Mt. Moriah Cemetery, and I am limiting my comments to merely a few markers. But you cannot help but notice the family gravestone, sculpture actually, for the Noyes family, a large neoclassical setting with the motif “The Day Break and the Shadows Flee Away,” framed by two large metal angels holding wreaths.

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Not everything in Mt. Moriah is so spectacular, but the evidence of the skill and creativity of Butte’s gravestone makers can be found throughout the property.

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B’nai Israel Cemetery is small in comparison yet it is a valuable space that documents the Jewish community’s long history in Butte. It is not quite as early as Mt. Moriah, dating to

IMG_09281881 when the Hebrew Benevolent Association first acquired the land from the Northern Pacific Railroad.  Congregation B’nai Israel acquired the property in 1905, two years after finishing its landmark synagogue in uptown Butte.

B'nai Israel Cemetery, Butte

St. Patrick Catholic Cemetery is also located in this part of the city.  It dates to the 1870s and contains thousands of burials.  When I visited in 2012 the cemetery was in OK condition but needed help, not just in basic maintenance but in the repair of tombstone damaged over the decades.  Just about a year ago in a story in the Montana Standard of March 1, 2015, members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Irish Catholic fraternal group, pledged new efforts for the cemetery’s preservation: “‘A walk around this holy ground will tell you more about the people of Butte than a week spent at the library,’ said Jim Sullivan, one of 60 members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Butte.”

IMG_0927The cemetery seems to stretch to the very edge of the city, but it is worth a long walk around for what you can discover about the Catholic impact on Butte in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

IMG_0926There are spectacular sculptural monuments to prominent city builders, such as the Classical Revival-style temple crypt for merchant price D. J. Hennessy.

IMG_0919Adjacent are separate plots maintained for Sisters who served and died in Butte as well as larger, more elaborate memorials for priests who served in Butte over the years.

A surprise near the rear of the cemetery is a large memorial section for military veterans of the Spanish-American War of the late 1890s.  This conflict is often ignored in today’s history books but numerous cemeteries in Montana have memorial sections for those who fought and died in that war.

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The dominant grave marker at St. Patrick’s is a small stone tablet but cemetery sculpture emphasizing the cross can be found throughout the property.

Then there are a handful of sculptural markers with an angel theme, and these are among the most spectacular in the cemetery. The Daly marker (below) is an elegant, moving

statement of loss and sorrow.  The O’Farrell monument (below) likewise conveys sorrow and loss in the combination of an angel and the cross but by including a relief carving of O’Farrell it also serves as a very public memorial for a prominent family member.

Throughout this brief exploration of three historic cemeteries, I have deliberately left the stories associated with this remarkable cemetery art to the side.  A few years ago, in 2010, local historian Zena Beth McGlashan published her book “Buried in Butte.” I wished the book had existed in 1985–maybe then I would not have ignored one of the most fascinating and significant sections of Butte: its three adjacent historic cemeteries along South Montana Street.  Next, an exploration of Mountain View Cemetery.

 

A look at Butte’s churches

IMG_0636Towering over the Butte cityscape, in competition with the corporate symbols of the steel head frames for dominance, are the steeples of Butte’s churches, in themselves powerful symbols of the ethnic diversity that make up the population of the copper city.  This posting hardly pretends to cover all of the city’s historic churches–consider this a sampling of sacred spaces that too often are taken for granted.

Let’s begin with two landmark Methodist churches.  Cornish miners built the Romanesque-style Trinity Methodist Church in 1889 in Walkerville.  Methodist mine owners, Uptown merchants, and professionals attended the Mountain View Methodist Church (1899-1900, Link and Donovan have been identified as architects) in the middle of Uptown’s bustling business district near the county courthouse.  Butte Art Glass Company designed, built, and installed its wonderful stained glass. When I re-visited Butte in 2012, both congregations obviously were struggling with members, and the cost of maintaining large historic buildings.  They tried to get by by treating the two churches as part of the same congregation.  But in 2015, the congregations closed the churches.

The vernacular Gothic of the St. Lawrence Catholic Church (1897) in Walkerville hides what may be one of the most spectacular church interiors in all of Montana.  Frescos from 1906 adorn the ceiling, carved woodwork enlivens the interior, and there in a 1944 M.P. Möller organ.  The congregation left the church years ago, and now a local preservation group keeps the building alive, renting it for gatherings, weddings, and the like.  But the future remains uncertain, and the sad fate of all three of these first churches speak to the decline in numbers of the city’s traditional ethnic communities in the last two generations.

1st Presybterian, now theater, W. Park by H.W. Patterson, Butte

Will the ultimate fate be similar to the grant Romanesque-styled First Presbyterian Church (1896), now the Covellite Theatre?  Last year, a proposal came forward to convert what had been a community theatre since the 1960s into a movie house in for Uptown residents.  Can, again, a viable use be identified for one of the grandest church buildings in the state?

1st Baptist, W. Broadway, 1907, by Charles Passmore & Co., Butte

First Baptist Church is another fine example of Romanesque style in stone and red brick in Butte.  Built in 1907-1908, the building, designed by architects Charles Passmore and Company, has been a downtown anchor ever since. Its two round stained glass windows came from the Ford Brothers Glass Company in Minneapolis.

IMG_0597Stone work in a Gothic style reminiscent of a Cotswold village parish distinguishes St. John’s Episcopal Church in Butte.  Built in 1881, with later additions in the 20th century, the church is considered the oldest in the city.  Copper magnate William A. Clark lived nearby and he helped to fund the church.

St. Paul UM, 1899, by Wm White, Galena at Idaho, ButteThe original St. Paul Methodist Episcopal Church South (1899) was designed by architect William White in a restrained Gothic/Norman style similar to that of St. John’s Episcopal.  But the real significance of the property lies with its association with miners’ attempts to organize and the influence of the International Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) in Butte history.  The property’s National Register marker summarizes it nicely:  “By 1918, the church housed the Butte Daily Bulletin, a radical newspaper voicing policies of the anti-corporate Nonpartisan League, published by William F. Dunne. The office was also a known stronghold of the incendiary Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). On September 14, 1918, local police and federal troops under Major O. N. Bradley raided the Bulletin, arresting twenty-four men and thwarting a miners’ strike.”

NR church just n of federal building on main street, butteAnother Gothic landmark listed in the National Register in Butte is St. Mary’s Catholic Church, now home to a Catholic women’s foundation, on North Main Street near the federal building.  The congregation was among the city’s earliest but a fire destroyed the church building leading to construction of this building at the onset of the Depression.

St. Joseph Catholic, Arizona or Utah, ButteSt. Joseph Catholic Church is quite different in its architecture, a strong statement of Classical Revival from 1911.  The architect was Austrian-born Albert O. Von Verbalism, who also designed the magnificent High Victorian Gothic St. Helena Catholic Cathedral in Helena.    St. Joseph is still an ethnically vibrant congregation some 100 years later.

IMG_1081The Christian Scientist Church follows the blending of Colonial and Classical Revival design so often found in the congregation’s churches no matter their location in the United States.  This building dates to 1920 and Walter Arnold was the architect.

B'nai Israel Temple, 1903, Galena St., ButtePerhaps the grandest of the Uptown religious buildings is the Onion-dome steeple of the historic B’nai Israel Synagogue (1903), which was one of three Jewish houses of worship in Butte and is now the oldest synagogue in continuous use in all of Montana.

IMG_1064On a far different scale is the Gold Street Lutheran Church.  Built in a restrained, late interpretation of Gothic style in 1936, the church shows the continued expansion of Butte’s religious centers from the Uptown area into what is called the Flats, where so many congregations now reside.

Our Lady of Rockies, Butte

And, of course, now overlooking the historic city and its surrounding suburbs is Our Lady of the Rockies, a massive symbol of the region’s religious faith, built in the 1980s.  Approximately 90 feet high–the third tallest statue in the United States, the project was a community effort.   Laurien Eugene Riehl, a retired Anaconda engineer, is credited with engineering the site and the statue.

 

 

Butte modernism

In the state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985 I was hardly alone when I gave scant attention to resources between World War II and the Vietnam War.  At that time, the “50-year rule” of the National Register meant that officially, at best, we should be only considering buildings from the very first years of the New Deal.  The state office already had gone beyond the so-called rule, however, with nomination projects in Essex and Eureka, Montana.  We understood that the “rule” was really a guideline.  But still no one thought about the 1950s and 1960s–too recent, and not as threatened as the resources from the Victorian era through the turn of the 20th century, especially in Butte.

IMG_1175You don’t think Montana modernism when you think of Butte, but as this overview will demonstrate, you should think about it.  I have already pinpointed contemporary homes on Ophir Street (above). The copper mines remained in high production during the Cold War era and many key resources remain to document that time in the city. For discussion sake, I will introduce some of my favorites.

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Uptown Butte’s D. A. Davidson Building:  a spaceship has landed on Main Street.

Certainly I should have paid more attention to such Art Deco landmarks as the Emmanuel Conception Church, by J. G. Link Company, 1941, or even in Uptown the classic corporate design of the Firestone Tire Center and service station.

Firestone Station, ButteI looked at schools constantly across the state in 1984-1985 but did not give enough attention to the late 1930s Butte High School, a classic bit of New Deal design combining International and Deco styles in red brick.  Nor did I pay attention to the modernist buildings associated with Butte Central (Catholic) High School.

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Butte High School, a New Deal project of late 1930s

 

Then there are two really interesting schools from the late 1950s and 1960s:  John F. Kennedy and the Walker-Garfield elementary schools.  I have already discussed in an early post about the JFK School.

JFK School, Butte, 1959

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JFK School, 1959, 4

Walker-Garfield, 3, Butte, 1960s

Walker Garfield School, Montana St, Butte, 1960s

Walker-Garfield, 2, Butte, 1960sYou would think that I would have paid attention to the Walker-Garfield School since I stopped in at the nearby Bonanza Freeze, not once but twice in the Butte work of 1984.  I

Bonanza Freeze, 1947, Montana St, Butte, roadsidenever gave a thought about recording this classic bit of roadside architecture either. Same too for Muzz and Stan’s Freeway Bar, although maybe I should not recount the number of stops at this classic liquor-to-go spot.

Freeway Bar, c. 1968, Placer St. at I-90, Butte, roadside

Uptown has its modern era jewels, like the D.A. Davidson building above, but largely in how owners tried to give older structures facelifts with contemporary designs in the 1960s and 1970s.  Back in 1984 we dismissed such building as “remuddlings” and sometimes they were exactly that.  But when you step back and consider it, the additions were new layers of history added to those of the past, creating a physical document with chronological depth, and interest.

Garages were not new to the city in the post-World War II era but automobile ownership increased in the post-war years, and the demand for downtown parking from residents who had moved into the suburbs never slacked for years.  The demand led to a lot of parking lots in place of historic buildings but it also led to the Silver Arrow Garage and shopping centers, one of my favorites from that time.

Silver Arrow Garage, S. Montana, Butte

Probably my favorite Uptown modernist building is both an office and production facility–the sleek International-style Montana Standard Building.  Not only is the Standard the touchstone for community news, the building is an important addition to the city’s 20th century architecture.

Montana Standard, 25 W. granite, international style

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Butte public buildings also embraced the new era in design.  The Butte Public Library is not so successful, with its understated classicism in a modern setting being neither particularly effective nor compelling.  The Uptown Butte Fire Station however is an excellent example of contemporary style.

There is such a thing as Butte Modernism.  While the city may not have the number of classic 1960s and 1970s buildings of, say, Billings or Great Falls, it has enough to mark those years of change and transition from the first half to the second half of the twentieth century in the Copper City.

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The Civic Center is another great modern era building from J.G. Link Company.

Butte’s railroad legacies

As the mines at Butte went into larger and larger production in the late 19th century, the railroads soon arrived to cart away the raw materials, and to deliver workers on a daily basis.  All three of the famed Montana transcontinentals built facilities in Butte–in a sense 100 years ago all lines led to Butte.  Remarkably, all three passenger depots remain today.   The Northern Pacific depot is now an events center.  The Milwaukee Road station remains a television headquarters. The Great Northern depot has been offices, a warehouse, and a bar. Its historic roundhouse also stands and it too has had many uses.

But in so many ways the real railroad story concerns a much shorter line–about 26 miles in length–but one with a big name, the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific, designed by its founder Marcus Daly as a connector between his mines in Butte and his huge Washoe smelter in Anaconda. The BAP depot in Butte stood on Utah Street in 1985 but has been

BAP Depot Butte 1985

Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific Railroad Depot, Butte, 1985

demolished, a real loss for the city’s historic fabric.  Completed in 1894, the BAP connected the two cities, and its historic corridor has been recently transformed into a recreation resource that also unites the two cities and their counties.  It is also a physical thread that ties together the Butte-Anaconda National Historic Landmark.

A railroad office building still stands in Anaconda, with its Romanesque arch creating an architectural theme between the office building and the BAP depot that is extant at its commanding position at the end of Main Street.  Anaconda’s basic layout was

classic late 19th century railroad town planning:  the depot marking the entry from railroad to town and then the long Main Street of commercial businesses culminating in the lot for the county courthouse.

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View north to Deer Lodge County Courthouse from BAP depot in Anaconda.

Anaconda is also home to the extant BAP roundhouses and shapes.  Like the Great Northern facility in Butte, the BAP roundhouses have had several uses, and there was a short-lived attempt to establish a railroad museum within one of the bays.  The future for this important railroad structure is cloudy.

Between Butte and Anaconda two small towns have important extant historic resources. Back in the 1980s I considered Rocker to be a must stop for the It Club Bar–and it is still there, flashy as ever.

But now there is another reason for a stop at Rocker–the preservation of the historic frame BAP depot and the creation of the Rocker Park trail along the old railroad right-of-way.  Again here in Silver Bow County we see a recreational opportunity established in conjunction with the preservation and interpretation of a key historic property.  The trail was just opening when I took these photos in 2012.

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Ramsay is another town along the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific, and served as a company town for the DuPont corporation which built a short-lived munitions plant there during World War I.  During the state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985, historian Janet Ore was preparing a study and survey of the town resources, which was completed in 1986.  The town’s historic district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Ore noted the division between worker cottages and manager homes, and the general layout in keeping with what DuPont was doing in other states at that time.  Although there has been the loss of some contributing resources in the almost 30 years since the National Register listing, Ramsay still conveys its company town feel. Below are some of the extant cottages, different variations of Bungalow style, along Laird and Palmer streets.

The superintendent’s dwelling is a two-story Four-square house, with its size, understated Colonial Revival style, and placement in the town suggesting the importance of the occupant.

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A few buildings also exist from the old powder works but most were torn away decades ago.  The pride of Ramsay today is its new school building, pointing toward a different future for the town in its second hundred years of existence.

 

 

Butte and its wonderful array of domestic architecture

In the early 1980s, when we talked about Butte houses, we had two new house museums on our mind:  the William Clark Mansion (above), home to one of the city’s three major copper kings, and then the very different abode of his brother Charles, known then as the Arts Chateau (below) for its conversion into the city’s art center.

As a historian and historic preservationist of my generation, it was impossible not to revel in the colorful diversity of Victorian era styles found in Montana’s historic mining cities, places like Butte and Helena in particular.  For someone who arrived in Montana from Colonial Williamsburg, the opportunity to finally explore a Victorian era landscape, from the late 1870s–the vernacular Victorian styled Jacobs House below dates c. 1879– to the turn of the century, was a delight.

It also was a responsibility.  Even in 1984 it was clear that there would never be adequate public monies for the needs of the town’s domestic architecture.  A new sense of stewardship, and the ability to solve preservation issues at the local level, would be required–and the Butte historic district commission is just one of the groups that has helped to fill that gap. Butte CPR–Citizens for Preservation and Revitalization–has made

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A Butte CPR project from May 2012

a significant impact through its grant programs for facade improvements and repair.  The organization formed in 1994 and has provided vital funds for historic preservation work on both private homes and businesses for over 20 years.

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These efforts could come none too soon.  In the 1980s it seemed that three generations of historic houses would rot away because no one wanted to live on the hill and had headed to the suburban utopia of the flats.  Friends often kidded me about getting my Butte getaway for $25K.  Not that the depressed, and depressing, situation was without its temptations. The housing stock is fascinating in its variety, details, historical associations, and sense of time and place.

616 & 820 W. Broadway, Butte

W. Broadway, Butte

 

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Eugene Carroll House, c. 1880, a bit of late Italianate style in Butte.

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During the boom of the late 19th and early 20 centuries, housing on prominent streets was fitted in wherever possible, as private homes also became rentals for boarders and temporary residents.  At the same time, middle-class business owners and mine administrators engaged architects to design their homes, or duplexes, in the fashionable academic styles.   In c. 1890 John Patterson was the designer of the McHatton House while Moses Bassett designed the Largely Flats (both below).

These middle-class Victorians are prized today, and Butte has dozens, especially along West Granite and Broadway.

Let there be no doubt, however, Butte’s houses also documented the chasm between labor and capital in the copper city.  The small, vernacular-styled dwellings of the working class have disappeared from so much of the city–such places are almost always the first victims of urban renewal–but enough remain, stuck here and there to convey what most laborers had as home back in the boom era.

2011 MT Silver Bow County Butte 075In the north end, Walkerville still shows this working side of domestic architecture well.

Walkerville neighborhood, off of Main StHere are blocks upon blocks of the unpretentious, yet homey, dwellings of those drilling out a life below the ground.  And elsewhere in the city you have surviving enclaves of the

plain homes of the era, with some enlivened by glorious combinations of yard art.

 

IMG_1259Some places speak to larger truths, often hidden in the landscape, of segregated spaces and segregated lives.  This corner of Idaho Street (see below) was once home to the local African Methodist Episcopal church, which served a small surrounding neighborhood of black families.

Idaho St at Shaffers AME

By the turn of the century, the local titans of capital lived in a far different neighborhood, concentrated along North Excelsior and Park Avenue.  Here was the Hodgens-Ryan House of 1899, 1906 in flamboyant Colonial Revival style.  Nearby on Park was the Hennessy Mansion, c. 1900, with its two-story Colonial Revival-inspired portico providing a sense of the grandiose to what otherwise was just another brick four-square house.

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Hodges-Ryan House, c. 1899, 1906

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Hennessy Mansion c. 1900. 

In the early 1980s, we were not even thinking about the “contemporary style” homes of the 1950s and 1960s.  We saw ourselves as edgy when we even gave bungalows, like these

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along Gold Street, a second look.  When you come to Butte today, it is impossible to ignore how the city has several outstanding examples of mid-20th century domestic architecture.  Ophir Street might be the best destination, but Montrose Street also has its marvels.

501 Montrose, contemporary

This post has focused on detached houses–boarding houses and apartment complexes are also found throughout the city’s residential areas.  The Mueller Apartments may have been the most ambitious but many others, like the Scott, have been restored to new lives.

The comeback of Butte’s residential neighborhoods is no miracle–it is the legacy of a generation of long-term and new citizens determined to build the foundation for Butte’s future through homes for their families.

Telling Butte’s Stories

Archives and fire station, ButteLet me just jump right in:  I do not know of another town in Montana that has done more with the concept of heritage development than Butte in the last 30 years.  Heritage development, in brief, means that a community identifies the stories and places that define their past and sense of identity and then uses them as tools for community revitalization and growth.  The stories and places must be authentic, meaningful, real–fake pasts don’t get you very far.  In 1981, out of fears that its storied and nationally significant history would be lost in the haze of late 20th century urban renewal and economic change, Butte created as part of local government the Butte-Silver Bow Archives–everyone I knew were excited about its potential and its early discoveries at the time of the state historic preservation plan work in 1984-1985.  Now that institution is one of the key rocks upon which Butte’s future lays.  Above is the conversion of a historic firehall into the modern archives/heritage center the institution is today–in itself a great example of adaptive reuse and historic preservation at work.

Professional staff and volunteers, all led by Ellen Crain, keep both the community and scholars engaged–the number of strong histories, public projects, and exhibits that have come, in whole or in part, from this place in the last 30 years is very impressive.  Plus it is

IMG_1105a vibrant institution, always in touch as its community room hosts other heritage groups and special programs throughout the year.  The archives is just around the corner from one of the most important, and solemn,  places in the city, the location of the Butte Miners’ Union Hall, which was bombed in 1914.

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Now an interpretive monument talks about the union, the bombing, and addresses directly a chilling chapter in the long struggle between labor and capital in Butte. Installed c. 1993 near the “top” of Main Street, this site sets the stage for the amount of public interpretation found in the city today.

2011 MT Silver Bow County Butte 033Heritage development has become part of the basic sinews of Butte. Along with its active archives board, the city also maintains an effective historic district commission, and provided seed money for several key projects over the past generation.  The Original Mine site below, the city’s first copper mine, not only serves as part of the city’s public

interpretation efforts, it is also a place for community gatherings, such as the Montana Folklife Festival in recent years. It is important to note that the marker at the Original just doesn’t celebrate the technology it also notes how many men–43–died at that mine.  The progress of Butte happened on the back of its working class miners.

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Here is another promising change:  the willingness to landmark and discuss the human costs of mining.  Butte’s most infamous event was the Granite Mountain/ Speculator Mine disaster of 1917 in which 168 miners died–still the single most deadly disaster in American hard-rock mining history. Not that the event was ignored at the time.  In fact the North Butte mining company erected the memorial above to those who perished in Mountain View Cemetery, far from the scene, shortly thereafter.  Who knew this memorial existed?  There were no signs marking the way there–you had to search to find it.

IMG_1230Today the Granite Mountain site is one of the best interpreted mining properties I have encountered.  The miners’ stories are told–often with the words they were able to write down before dying from the lack of oxygen–and their multiple ethnic backgrounds are acknowledged, and celebrated.

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IMG_0977The interpretive memorial overlooks the mine, and is located high over town.  But when I visited in May 2012 a school group was there too, along with visitors like me.

ARCO, along with public partners, funded the site in this century, as part of the general Superfund cleanup of the mining district.  But the park was long overdue as well as the recognition that some 2,500 miners lost their lives in the Butte district.  The marker’s statement–“you are standing on hallowed ground”–is typically reserved for military parks.  Within the context of Butte, however, it is totally justified, and an important point to remember wherever you are in the city.

The reality that Butte’s mines contributed significantly to American war efforts in the 20th century is recalled through a public art mural near a public transit stop.  Public sculpture also interprets what was and what has been lost in Butte.

Through the efforts of the state historic preservation office, and its commendable program of providing interpretive markers for National Register properties, the residential side of Butte’s story is also being told.  You have to love the “blue” house, associated with U.S. Senator Burton K. Wheeler, one of the New Deal era movers and shakers.

I-15 interpretive markers, ButteAll of these efforts considerably enhance earlier efforts at public interpretation, be they along Interstate I-15 and its overview of Butte or the visitor center maintained just off the

Butte Visitor Centerinterstate by the local chamber of commerce.  The center, yet another change in the last 30 years, is an attractive reproduction of a classic railroad depot design.  It also provides a useful perspective of the city from its south side, giving special prominence to the soaring clock tower of the historic Milwaukee Road depot.

Butte overview from visitor centerThe Berkeley Pit in 1984 was a giant hole in the earth, with a viewing stand.  It too now has a more comprehensive heritage experience with a small visitor center/ museum adding to the public understanding of the massiveness and significance of the pit.

Berkeley Pit, entrance, Butte

Then of course, designed for highway travelers and tourists, there is the now classic World Museum of Mining, established in 1965 around the Orphan Girl mine.  The WMM lets rusting industrial artifacts convey part of the story while the existing mining buildings are open, allowing you to get a more physical experience of what the head frames and mines were really about.  And, as typical of Montana museums of the 1960s and 1970s, there is the attached “frontier village,” interpreting what early Butte was all about. Don’t get me

wrong: there are many things to like about the WMM–it is rich in artifacts, as the miners items above suggest (and more about it in another post).  But it is a controlled, sterile experience, and I would hate for that to be the only takeaway visitors have about Butte and its significance.  The museum is away from uptown Butte, and visitors who stop here may never go explore the deeper story within the town and its historic neighborhoods.

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Old Butte Historical Adventures on Main Street is just one group of heritage entrepreneurs who provide visitors with a “up close and personal” viewpoint and experience of Butte’s historic landscape.  Walking tours of Uptown along with various special theme tours engage visitors and residents with local history in a way different from traditional monuments, markers, and historic sites.

But one must be aware that the pressure to commercialize can also distort, and demean, the significance of it all.  What happens at the Dumas Hotel–a historic brothel–will be interesting to watch.  The story of prostitution is very much part of the fabric of the city, but one that for many years people did not want to tell, except with snide references and a snicker or two.  Let’s hope that changes as the Dumas is restored and opened as a heritage venue:  addressing the sex trade and role of women and men accurately and in context would add immeasurably to the sense of authenticity, of realism, in the Butte story.

Butte Greenway towards Walkerville

The most exciting part of Butte’s heritage development to my mind are the series of greenways or trails that link the mines to the business and residential districts and that link Butte to neighboring enclaves like Walkerville (shown above).  Recreational opportunity–walking, jogging, boarding, biking–is a huge component of livable spaces for the 21st century.  When these trails are enhanced by the stories they touch or cover,

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they become even more meaningful and valuable.  If you have lived in Montana for 6 months or 60 years, it is time to return to Butte and take the Copper Trail–not only would it be good for your health, it also gives you a lasting perspective of a mining town within the vast Northern Rockies landscape, and how men and women from all sorts of backgrounds and nations established a real community, one that has outlasted the mines that first created it.

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