Butte’s Dumas Hotel needs help!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

Ready to hit the road in 2018

Rosebud town signs, roadside, Rosebud CoIn late may I return to the Big Sky Country, my first visit in two years, when I will once again be looking for changes in the historic built environment as I speed along the state’s

Prairie Co Fallon YS bridge NR and I-94 bridge roadsidehighways and backroads, crossing the bridges over the Yellowstone River, and trying my best to catch as many Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad freight trains as possible, although I doubt that I will ever have such a fun moment than in 2013 when I

Valley Co Vandalia BNSF 3caught this freight along the original Great Northern route while I was driving on the original–still dirt and gravel–road of U.S. Highway 2 between Tampico and Vandalia.

Valley Co Samuelson statues US 2 w of Glasgow 4 roadside - Version 2Certainly I will keep my eye out for Montana’s famed wildlife, although I don’t expect again to see a bighorn sheep outside of Glasgow, especially one being chased by a dinosaur.  I will also stay on the lookout, as regular readers of this blog well know, for the beef–it is rarely a question of where’s the beef in Montana.

Missoula Co MT 200/83 jct roadside  1No doubt there will be both new and older historical markers to stop and read; the evolving interpretation of Montana’s roadside continues to be such a strong trend.

Valley Co MT Hwy marker US 2 before Vandalia turn roadsideAnd through all of the brief stay in the state–perhaps 10 days at the most–I will also stop and enjoy those local places, far removed from the chain-drives roadside culture of our

Matt's Drive-in, detail, roadsidenation, where you can enjoy a great burger, rings, and shake, like Matt’s in Butte, or a good night sleep at any of the many “Mom and Pop’s” motels along the state’s highways, such as this one in Big Timber.

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See you on the road!

Butte’s World Museum of Mining: A forgotten jewel

Established in 1963, Butte’s World Museum of Mining is both a historic site and a historic building zoo. It preserves and interprets the Orphan Girl Mine while it also re-creates a fanciful Hell Roarin’ Gulch, with the townscape filled with both moved historic buildings and modern interpretations of the mining camp that existed in Butte in the late 19th century.

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The Orphan Mine historic site is the best single place in Montana to explore the gritty reality of deep-shaft mining in the Treasure State.

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The metal cages that the mines used to go down into the mines still give me the chills–the sacrifices these men made for their families and community is impressive.

Butte WMM Hell Roarin Gulch 1The Hell Roaring’ Gulch part of the museum is in stark contrast to the mid-20th century engineered, technological landscape of the Orphan Girl Mine.  It interprets the mining camp days of Butte from the late 1860s into the 1880s before the corporations stepped in and reshaped the totality of the copper mining industry and built environment of Butte.

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Like many building zoos of the highway era (the museum is easily accessed from the interstate), the recreated town emphasizes the ethnic diversity of the mining camp as well as some of the stereotypes of the era.

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But the exhibit buildings also have several strong points, especially in their collections, such as the “union hall” (you do worry about the long-term conservation of the valuable

Butte WMM Hell Roarin Gulch Union Hallartifacts and banners shown in this photo); the store, which displays common items sought by the miners and their families; and various offices that show the business of

Butte WMM Hell Roarin Gulch 5mapping the mines, registering claims, and assaying the metals .

Butte WMM Hell Roarin Gulch 21In my first post about the World Museum of Mining, I addressed this valuable collection of a historic mine, several historic buildings, and thousands of historic artifacts briefly.  Properties like the impressive log construction of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, shown below,  are invaluable. The World Museum of Mining deserved more attention, and it deserves the attention of any serious heritage tourist to Montana.

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To those who built a state, and made history

Sad news came out of the state capitol last week when budget cuts gave the Montana Historical Society no choice but to announce that its uber talented staff just don’t have the funding to travel to the hundreds of important places across the state, to gather stories, preserve historic buildings, conserve invaluable documents and photographs, and to celebrate with communities both large and small the history, traditions, and people that made Montana the special place it is.

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It’s unfortunate when a state steps back from its past and thinks its future is better without it.  When I look for those who built the state, the deep past is where I start, and the leaps forward in how Montana’s tribes are documenting and interpreting their history to their terms and needs, one of the most important developments in Montana’s heritage development over the last 30 plus years.

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Then there are the properties that link the peoples of Montana and their sense of themselves and their past–cemeteries large and small across the state, where veterans are commemorated and families celebrated.

IMG_7537Fort Kipp Cemetery, above, is one of those place, nestled on the river bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.  On a larger scale but still intimate, personal, and compelling is the city cemetery of Red Lodge, hundreds of miles away. Here surrounded by the mountains

are graves from the early Finnish residents who came to work at the coal mines and build a community. Some are of a traditional design, immediately translated from the old country.  Others–like the cast iron family marker shown above–are as mainstream as American industry could make it at the turn of the twentieth century:  a prefabricated marker cast somewhere back east but with Finnish lettering, speaking to those who also came over in c.1900 to build a new land.

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The Finnish imprint on the landscape of Carbon County has been eclipsed by generations of growth since the early 1900s, but as the 2016 Road Show of the Montana Preservation Alliance demonstrated, buildings large and small are still part of the landscape.  With a few acres of land outside of Red Lodge, Finnish settlers and their descendants have maintained a place of community–the Kavela–which remains vibrant some 100 years later.  At this place of ethnic identity and celebration, you almost feel like an intruder–that you have stepped inside a sacred circle as an outsider.  But families go out of their way to make you feel welcome, through fellowship, good food, and stories of past and present.  The Kavela naturally features one of the most traditional Finnish community buildings–the sauna, built of concrete in the 1920s.  Speak of tradition, ethnic pride, and assimilation–a concrete sauna might say it all.

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Indeed what you can find in the Finnish landscape of Carbon County is repeated countless times across Big Sky Country, just in different languages and with different forms.  It is why you get off the interstates and travel the backroads, the dirt roads, for

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the markers of the nations that built our nation can be almost anywhere. It might be of the many ethnicities who mined the copper of Butte, or the African American railroad

workers and other average citizens who established permanent institutions such as the Bethel Union AME Church in Great Falls, pictured below.

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Stonemasons from Croatia are credited with many of the architecturally striking stone buildings in Lewistown, shown below, whereas if you stop and explore the state capital

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of Helena, you can see where  Irish Americans banded together to fund some of the state’s most iconic structures, from the majestic Catholic Cathedral that overlooks the city and the commanding statue of General Thomas Meagher in front of the State Capitol.

From the Meagher statue it is only a few steps to the east to the doors of the Montana Historical Society.  Its operating hours are fewer but you will find an institution not just of the past but of the future for like the land itself, the society, its collections, and dedicated staff are the keepers of the things and words that remain from those who built the state.  The idea that Montana can stride into the 21st century without the Montana Historical Society is folly, defined.

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Rural Landscapes of Silver Bow County

IMG_1004When travelers, and most Montana residents even, speak of Silver Bow County, they think of Butte.  Outside of the Copper City, however, are small towns and a very different way of life.  To the west we have already discussed Ramsay and its beginnings as a munitions factory town during World War I.  Let’s shift attention now to the southern tip of the county and two places along the historic Union Pacific spur line, the Utah Northern Railroad, into Butte.

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The Union Pacific Railroad, by means of the narrow gauge Utah Northern extension, became the first transcontinental railroad to reach Silver Bow County, arriving in 1881.  Its first stop in the county was at a freighting stop for the Hecla mines, established in the 1870s, that was renamed Melrose.  This place grew as transportation and trade crossroads between the Hecla mines to the west and the Butte mines to the north.

Melrose still has several log and frame buildings typical of late 19th century mining towns gathered along Hecla Street.  There is a substantial brick one-story Victorian styled commercial block and two-story brick railroad hotel facing the tracks, both reminders of

Brick stores, symmetrical plan, Melrose

IMG_1015when Melrose was a substantial, busy place.  This 1870s-1880s history is largely forgotten today as the town has evolved into a sportsmen’s stop off Interstate I-15 due to its great access to the Big Hole River and surrounding national forests as well as the quite marvy Melrose Bar and Cafe, a classic western watering hole.

Melrose bar, murals, US 91Community institutions help to keep Melrose’s sense of itself alive in the 21st century.  Its school, local firehall, the historic stone St John the Apostle Catholic Mission and the modernist styled Community Presbyterian Church are statements of stability and purpose.

The next stop on the historic Utah Northern corridor is a turn of the 20th century engineering marvel, the Big Hole Pump Station.  Already listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the pump station was in the midst of comprehensive documentation from a HABS/HAER team when I visited it for the state historic preservation plan in 1984.

Big Hole Pumpstation, Divide, Silver Bow Co NR eligible (56-12)The photo above was published in A Traveler’s Companion to Montana History, in part because of the preservation excitement over this landmark but also because it documented how the boom in Butte helped to transform the historic landscape on the “other side of the divide.”  The pump station took water from the Big Hole River and pumped it over the mountains to the Butte Water Company–without the pump station, expansion of the mines and the city would have been difficult perhaps impossible in the early 20th century.

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The pump station remains in operation but access now, due to security concerns after 9/11/2001, is restricted compared to my explorations of 1984.  Divide is also distinguished by two community institutions–its one-room school, its grange hall, and its standardized post office, still in business following the threat to close many small town Montana post offices last decade.

Divide post office, Silver Bow CountyIn 2014, in reaction to the listing of Montana rural schools as a threatened national treasure by the National Trust of Historic Preservation, CBS Sunday Morning visited Divide School for a feature story.  Teacher Judy Boyle told the Montana Standard of May 16, 2014: “The town of Divide is pretty proud of its school and they want to keep it running. We have a Post Office, the Grange and the school — and if you close the school, you basically close the town.”

Divide School, Silver Bow CountyDivide is one of many Montana towns where residents consider their schools to the foundation for their future–helping to explain why Montanans are so passionate about their local schools.

 

Butte’s Uptown Funk

IMG_1134.JPGIn thinking about returning to Montana in 2012 and carrying out a huge “re-survey” of the places I had explored for the state historic preservation plan process 30 years earlier, Butte was high on my list of priorities.  Not that the city and its surroundings had been given little attention in the early 1980s–the Copper City was already recognized as a National Historic Landmark, and a team of historians, architects, and engineers had just finished a large study of its built environment for the Historic American Building Survey and the Historic American Engineering Record.  No, I wanted to go back because by 1985 many people counted Butte down and out, yet it had survived and started to reinvent itself.  Not

2011 MT Silver Bow County Butte 064as a ghost town or the skeleton of a great mining city but as a revitalized place, both economically and culturally, centered in a strong core community, even though the challenges in front of it remain daunting, even overwhelming at times.

Mountain Con Mine EThe environmental degradation left when the hard rock mines shut down is one burden that Butte has shouldered, with the help of the federal superfund program.  Still, no matter how scientifically this landscape has been “cleaned up,” it remained scarred, and it is a far different challenge to build back hope into a place stripped of its life.  Yet high over the city is a sign of the change to come in the Mountain Con Mine site.

Mountain Con Mine 6Still labeled as a Mile High and a Mile Deep place, the mine property is stunning, not only for its technological assertion–imagine working that high, and going that deep–but for its conversion into the walking/hiking/biking trails that encircle the city and present it with such potential as a recreational landscape.

Transformation, that it is what strikes me as I wander down the trail and into Butte’s famous, or is it infamous, “Uptown” district.  Butte is far from the place it was 30 years

2011 MT Silver Bow County Butte 030ago, with all sorts of signs of new investment, new pride, and community identity.  It may have lost a step, or two, and its swagger may not be quite as exaggerated as it was in the mid-20th century, but it remains a place with its own feel, its own funk.  For me, the reopening of the M&M Bar on Main Street–a legendary dive once shuttered, reopened, and shuttered again–gives me hope for Butte in the 21st century.  Around the corner is

another institution, Gamer’s Cafe, which is situated within the marvelous Victorian eclecticism of the Curtis Music Hall of 1892.

Both establishments are for locals but visitors are tolerated, even welcomed.  Indeed a degree of openness and acceptance have grown in Butte, a marked change from when the city’s Chinese residents lived and operated businesses on the edge of Uptown, along

IMG_0842Mercury Street; at the same time the sex trade was alive and well to the east of that same street in a series of boarding houses and hotels.  The Dumas Brothel, discussed in an earlier post, is listed in the National Register and its future as an adaptive reuse project and place for public interpretation is promising but not yet realized.  African Americans in

early 20th century Butte lived even farther down the hill from Uptown, in a small neighborhood around Idaho Street and the Shaffers African Methodist Episcopal Church, now a pentecostal meeting house.

Idaho St at Shaffers AME

Uptown today is more a place for everyone, and has become the center of the community’s identity.  It is easy to see why:  massive, soaring buildings like the Metals Bank and Trust Tower and Hotel Finlen lend architectural dignity to the surroundings.  Early 20th century classicism gives character and substance to Metals Bank whereas the Finlen has a classy

Renaissance Revival-style skin but then it has a spectacular contemporary Colonial Revival interior design, reminding us of Butte’s resurgence during the heyday of the Berkeley Pit boom from the mid-1950s through the turbulent 1960s.

The Hennessy Block is another commercial landmark, from the city’s founding generation, that has looked for a long-term solution for decades now.  Built in 1898 with support from mine magnate Marcus Daly, the building housed what most consider to be the state’s first full-fledged department store, headed by and named for Daniel Hennessy.  Minneapolis architect Frederick Kees designed it in a Renaissance Revival style.  In 1901 the Anaconda Copper Company moved its executive offices to the top of the building, making it perhaps the leading corporate landmark in the city.

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2011 MT Silver Bow County Butte 038The massive building still dominates the Uptown building, making its closure in Butte in 1980 that more disturbing for residents.  When I did my preservation plan work in 1984-1985 the issue of what to do with the Hennessy was at the forefront.  By the end of the decade, ENTECH renovated the building and reopened it fully for business.  In 2010 came the popular Hennessy Market–giving the growing number of Uptown residents a grocery store once again.

IMG_0790The Sliver Bow Club building (1906-7) also has shifted its purpose, from being the stately and eloquent clubhouse of the city’s elite to becoming a place for public offices and meetings in its once exclusive spaces.  Originally conceived by the same Spokane architects who designed the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park, according to recent research by museum curator and preservationist Patty Dean, the building’s architects ended up being Link and Haire, the noted Montana architectural firm.

The interior design came yet from another important firm, William A. French and Company of St. Paul, Minnesota.  Here you find one of the state’s best “Arts and Crafts Movement” themed interiors–and one of the best in the entire West.

The interior design speaks loudly to the gender and class focus of the social club. Its success set there table for Link and Haire’s next Butte masterpiece, the Beaux Arts-styled Silver Bow County Courthouse (1910-1912).  Few public spaces in the state, save, perhaps the State Capitol, rival the Butte courthouse for its ornate exterior and interior, representing an overstatement of public authority and power in a city where a handful of mining interests made so many of the decisions.

Two years after it opened, the courthouse was not a refuge for those in need but a barracks for the state militia during the violence of 1914.  Today, however, it is most definitely the people’s house, and was duly celebrated during its 100th birthday in 2012.  It is part of the city’s distinguished public landscape, including the Victorian City Hall and the Beaux Arts classicism of the Police Department.

Of course, there is much more to see and say about Uptown Butte, but hopefully this is enough to show community pride at work, the value of historic preservation, and a proud city on the upswing, despite the obstacles before it.

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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