The Dumas Hotel was the location of the last operating brothel in Montana. The brothel closed in 1981, the same year I arrived in the Big Sky Country. During the historic preservation survey of 1984-1985 the state preservation office knew the history of the Dumas, and it was part of the Butte National Historic Landmark district. But its future was largely unknown–could it be a museum?
When I revisited the Dumas in 2006 it seemed well on its way to being a tourist attraction, not a historic site where the issue of prostitution in Butte could be interpreted fully and fairly. Then in 2012 the future seemed different; new owners were taking the needed restoration seriously. Then in the middle of this decade one of my MTSU M.A. students, Veronica Sales, took on the topic of the Dumas as her thesis, creating a solid context for future renovation and a more robust and accurate interpretation.
But the unexpected death of the hotel’s owner, Michael Piche, in early 2018 has put that promise to the test. Piche was only 34. Who could replace his energy? Renovation stopped in its tracks.
The place was disheveled when I visited in May. The family had just reopened the place and openly wondered what would and could happen next. Let’s hope the future involves
a comprehensive restoration and a “whole story” interpretive program. The sex trade in the American West is an uncomfortable but necessary story and the Dumas has plenty of evocative spaces, like the bare room above, that address the reality of the business.
Progress has been made from 2012 to 2018. But this historic place needs our help–and a similar effort needs to take place for the brick Blue Range of “cribs” that is located across the street. The preservation of the Dumas Hotel is important as the best intact
example of a northern Rockies brothel. The preservation of this building and what is left of Butte’s historic red light district need to be a concern for many who want to tell the whole story of the copper mining era in Butte.
Let us only hope that someone can continue on with the restoration.