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.

Butte WMM Orphan Girl mine work crew

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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Butte WMM Hell Roarin Gulch 3

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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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Butte WMM Hell Roarin Gulch 10

Butte WMM Hell Roarin Gulch 9

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.

Butte WMM Hell Roarin Gulch

 

Yellowstone Gateways: Cooke City

img_2876Montana’s gateways into Yellowstone National Park are known far and wide.  The most popular are associated with the trains that delivered mostly easterners to the wonderland of the park–West Yellowstone for the Union Pacific line and Gardiner for the Northern Pacific Railway.

img_2887Cooke City, located in the corner of Park County, was never a railroad town but an overland connection that did not become popular until the development of the Beartooth Highway out of Red Lodge in the 1920s.

img_2904It is all about the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212) here–when it opens, Cooke City booms as a tourism oasis.  When the highway closes for its long winter, business doesn’t end since the road to Mammoth Hot Springs far to the west is kept open as best as it can be, but the number of visitors drops remarkably. Snow mobile traffic in the winter has meant a lot to local business in the last 30 years.

The one building I focused on when I visited Cooke City for the state historic preservation in 1985 was nearing its 100th year of serving as a general store to this old mountain mining community.  The historic Savage and Elder’s store began business c.1886 and passed through many different owners but remarkably few changes until the time in the second half of the 20th century that it became a community icon and cherished building. New owners in 2003 undertook needed repairs and the old place looks as if it is well on its way to its 200th birthday. In 1986 the state office listed the Cooke City Store in the National Register not only for its late Victorian commercial look but also as a commercial business–general merchandise–that held on through the highs and lows of Cooke City’s history.

img_2879Cooke City uses its mining past to define its identity today, from moving log mining shacks and cabins into town, as shown above, for potential new lures for tourism, to the recently established visitor center and museum, which includes some of the local mining

technology, a moved and restored miner’s cabin, and interprets these resources for the public–a major positive change in the last 30 years.

The rustic log architecture of the miner’s cabin is reflected in several other Cooke City buildings from the mid-20th century as well as from nearby Silver Gate, Montana, located right on the national park border. Some of these properties speak to the local vernacular of building with log, but they also were influenced with the more formal Rustic style buildings constructed by the National Park Service as its signature look in the early decades of the 20th century–witness the Northeast entrance to the park on U.S. 212 next to Silver Gate.

img_2913Perhaps the best example is the rustic yet modern styling of the Mt Republic Chapel of Peace between Silver Gate and Cooke City on U.S. 212. It is no match for the soaring mountains that surround it but its quiet dignity reflects well the people and environment of this part of Montana.

Montana architect Charles Sumner designed the building in 1971 and first services came a year later.  Not yet 50 years, it awaits its National Register future.

img_2877The same can be said for Hoosier’s Bar–a favorite haunt here in Cooke City for several decades, easy to find with its neon sign, and then there is the throwback telephone booth–a good idea since many cell phones search for coverage in this area.  Cooke City and Silver Gate are the smallest Montana gateways into Yellowstone National Park but they tell and preserve their story well.

 

 

Lincoln County’s Gateway Towns

Lincoln Co Troy 5I love Montana town signs, and Troy, deep in the state’s logging country, has one of the best.  The sign lures to a city park nestled along the Kootenai River.  The focus point is a

historic Great Northern depot, which has been moved to the park.  There is also an interpretive trail, part of a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, that tells the story of the Callahan boom, which mining and logging combined to lure investors and residents to the area.  It is a story arc that the forest service follows at other sites in a region the service describes as the Callahan Creek Historic Mining and Logging District. It is a very useful perspective on the town’s history, and not one that I pursued in 1984 when I explored this part of Lincoln County in the fieldwork for the state historic preservation plan.  I paid attention to the historic railroad corridor–Troy (1892) after all was on

Lincoln Co Troy RR corridor

Lincoln Co Troy facing RR

Lincoln Co Troy bar facing RRthe Great Northern’s main line, and I documented the few historic buildings left facing the railroad tracks today.  The Home Bar (c. 1914) and the Club Bar were institutions then, and remain so today.  The Kootenai State Bank building still stands but has experienced a major change to its facade–made better in part by the American flag painted over some of the frame addition.

img_8425The Troy Jail, above, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 and it remains the only building so listed in the town today.  D.E. Crissey, a local contractor, built it out of concrete in 1924 during Troy’s boom from 1916 to 1926 when its population jumped from 300 to 1300.  The Snowstorm mine, which produced lead, zinc, and silver, started to serve the demand for raw materials during World War I.  The mine soon turned what had been a small railroad town into a mining camp best known for its brothels and bars.  Then in the early 1920s the Great Northern decided to build a division point here, further booming the town. The Sandpoint Pole and Lumber Company began its logging business in 1923, and Troy suddenly was the largest town in the county

Lincoln Co Troy school 4

Perhaps the most impressive landmark left in the wake of the Troy boom is the public school, with the impressive central block flanked by classroom wings and a gymnasium built in later decades.  Home to the Troy Trojans, the soldier statue in front of the school is also a public art landmark in Lincoln County.

Troy thus was much more than just a gateway into Montana from U.S. Highway 2–it was once a mining center, but one that went broke fast as the mines played out in the 1920s, the Great Northern closed its roundhouse, and the Great Depression hit in the 1930s.

Lincoln Co Troy mural

In 1984 as I traveled from Troy via Montana State Highway 508 to Yaak, the only “town” left in the state’s far northwest corner, you could still encounter key mining properties along the Yaak River, such as this concentrator at Sylvanite.

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The Keystone Mill was barely hanging on to the side of the mountain then, now it is nowhere to be seen.  Montana 508 has instead become a gateway to some of the some of the most open, untouched high mountain landscape, one that meanders back and forth with the river, bridges, and, perhaps most importantly, bars.

That would be the Dirty Shame Saloon–another institution that some back in the city thought that perhaps I should avoid.  Glad I did not.  Had a great meal there in 1984, and even though the bar’s dining area has been extended, it still had that vibe, of both a local place but also another remnant of the old logging and mining days along the Yaak.

Lincoln Co Yaak dirty Shame saloon 1

Yaak by way of local paths and trails is a gateway too, between Idaho and Montana and Montana and British Columbia.  More to the point it is a gateway between what was and what still is within the Montana landscape.

Lincoln Co Yaak store/bar

Yaak’s general store, service station, lodging, and whatever else you need is another throwback place, and can be found on the web as the Yaak River Tavern and Mercantile.  You haven’t “done” Montana if you don’t make it to Yaak.

 

Basin: a Jefferson County Mining Town

brick stores, Basin St., Basin, Jefferson Co.I’m taking a break from the Pintler Scenic Route to take a look at Basin, a turn of the 20th century mining town, in Jefferson County.  A perceptive reader contacted me and wondered if this once very important town in Jefferson County would be discussed.  Since its time-frame reminded me of Phillipsburg, I thought why not now.

BasinWhen I carried out the Montana State Historic Preservation Plan field work in 1984-1985 I passed through Basin Street in the heart of “downtown” Basin quite frequently, not because of the Silver Saddle Bar–fine place it is–but because I had no choice if headed

Basin bar

Photo from the winter of 2007

south from Helena.  Interstate I-90 was not finished then and all traffic used the old U.S. Highway 91 route (Basin Street) passing through the town.

IMG_0533The glory days of Basin had long since passed, although some locals and visitors would go to the Merry Widow Mine for a dose of radon, thinking it could cure their ills (of course radon exposure is actually dangerous). Led by the Butte capitalist Augustus Heinze, the town from the mid-1890s to mid-1920s had been a quite thriving place, served as both the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads with its Basin Street becoming the route for U.S. Highway 91.  The numerous two-story brick commercial buildings reflected that era of prominence while a decaying c. 1930 garage on the town’s outskirts documents the impact of the federal highway.

Basin Valley Service, Basin, Jefferson CoSeveral key community landmarks remain.  The most impressive is the two-story frame Basin School, built in 1895 and still in use as a school today. Here is another great Montana rural school building–the state is so rich in this type of public architecture.

Basin School, Jefferson CoNearby is the Community Church, another late Victorian-era styled building, with its tall bell tower and distinctive corner entrance.

The third building is Basin Creek Pottery and Gallery, located on Basin Street, which is a

Basin Creek Pottery, Basin, Jefferson Co

poignant reminder that from 1993 to 2011–in the aftermath of the interstate’s completion and the sudden end of traffic through town–Basin was home to the Montana Artists Refuge.  For 18 years a wide range of nationally significant artists made Basin their home and their studios.  Board chair Sean Sheehan told the Helena Independent Record on August 10, 2011:  “We’ve had internationally published authors, Guggenheim fellows — all of these people have been extraordinarily kind and open to the community. We’ve had

Stone and frame stores, Basin St., Basin, Jefferson Co

wonderful artists and you could just stop in their studio — artists from all over the world and country. Many national artists have done workshops at local schools. I’m really going to miss the stimulation of having such talented and gifted artists right in our community.” Few small towns in Montana have ever been blessed with such exposure to the arts.

 

 

Beaverhead’s Argenta and Farlin Mines

The Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest contains two additional important Montana ghost towns from its mining era at Argenta and Farlin.  Argenta is a few miles off of Montana Highway 278 and represents one of Montana’s earliest mining properties. As I discussed in A Traveler’s Companion to Montana History (1986), Argenta was a key early mining operation.

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At the height of the Civil War, Argenta began as a placer camp but after a major silver strike in 1864, more intensive development took off.  Famous Montana pioneer and writer Granville Stuart said:  “The wealth of the Rothchilds is as nothing compared to the riches which lie concealed in the bowels of the Rattlesnake hills, awaiting the coming of the enchanters with their wands (in the shape of greenbacks), to bring forth these treasures.”

Today at Argenta there is little to remind us of what the “enchanters” wrought during the 1860s and 1870s.  The Argenta smelter–the first in the territory–came in 1866, courtesy of the St. Louis and Montana Mining Company.  Samuel T. Hauser, a later territorial governor, and Granville’s brother James Stuart directed its construction.  A second smelter came in 1867 and the next year another group of St. Louis investors added a third.  But now only mine shafts, slag dumps, foundations, and a few buildings remain.

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Farlin developed as a mining operation later than Argenta, even though first strikes came in 1864.  This place was largely a silver and copper operation.  The arrival of the Utah and Northern Railroad at Dillon in 1881 spurred some growth but full-scale development did not start until after the Depression of 1893, with most of what you see today dating from the late 1890s to the early 1900s. Unfortunately in the 1984 state historic preservation plan survey I only gave this property scant attention.  Returning almost 30 years later, I see that omission as another missed opportunity.  Ruins of the Farlin concentrator and many other mining operations help to mark the size of the operations.

Log buildings help to tell the story of the hundreds who once worked here in the early 20th century during the mines’ heyday.  A turn of the 20th century log school building is another of the remarkable one-room schools you can find throughout Beaverhead County And it is a beautiful setting, surrounded by snow capped mountains.

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IMG_3581At Farlin, the scars of mining are everywhere, surrounded by sage grass, brush, and scattered trees, trying to recover in what was once a denuded landscape.  Operations had ended by the time of the Great Depression. While never a huge place–population estimates top out at 500–Farlin is representative of the smaller mining operations that reshaped the rural western Montana landscape.  Not every place became a Butte, or a Virginia City.  Properties like Farlin help to tell us of the often lonely and exceedingly difficult search for opportunity in the Treasure State over 100 years ago.

Mining in Beaverhead County

Hecla Smelter, Glendale, Breaverhead Co (p84 54-19)

Hecla Smelter at Glendale, 1984

Beaverhead County is so huge; it comes as no surprise that its landscape encompasses so many significant Montana themes.  But I found out in 1984, and then again during historic preservation workshops in 2012, that Montanans do not think as Beaverhead as mining company. In the book A Traveler’s Companion to Montana History (1986) I emphasized the Glendale site (above).  The smelter was enlarged and improved once the Utah and Northern tracks reached Melrose, in Silver Bow County, in 1881.  The town once had 3,000 residents.  Between 1881 and 1900 the Hecla Mining Company produced some $22 million in ore, but by 1904 the ore had been mined out and Hecla ceased operations.

IMG_3522  When I returned to Glendale in 2012, I made sure to take a replica shot of the place I had photographed almost 30 years earlier.  But I also went father and did my best to document a mining landscape in danger of disappearing in the 21st century. Below is an image when the Hecla smelter was in full production.

Glendale smelter photo at Canyon Creek Kilns 4There are some intact buildings at Glendale, but also numerous parts of buildings, facades and foundations that convey how busy the Glendale Road was some 100 years ago.

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One resource that needs more study is the Glendale cemetery, located on a low hill that overlooks the ghost town.  Access is through private land, and I have not gotten a close look but what can be seen from public right of ways tells me that the cemetery is a valuable historic site, a place of memory for those long gone from this land.

Glendale cemetery

Glendale cemetery 1Hecla Mining Company operated 28 kilns at a site a few miles away.  Within the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest, the Canyon Creek Kilns are a remarkable property, preserved and now interpreted through the efforts of the U.S. Forest Service.  The Forest Service should be commended for this effort. As the images below suggest, this property is one of the best places in Montana to stop and think of the mining landscape of the turn of the twentieth century and imagine what a moonscape it would have been 100 years ago when the kilns consumed all of the surrounding timber.

The public interpretation at the site is impressive.  It explains how a kiln was constructed, what a kiln did and how the wood was prepared.  It also ties the history of this site to the larger operations of the Hecla Mining Company at Glendale.

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The Hecla works, and the recent preservation and interpretation of these sites, are just the beginning of the mining history of Beaverhead County.  Next up? the ghost towns of Farlin and Argenta.

Pony up in Madison County

Pony barPony, as a gateway into the Tobacco Root Mountains, may be categorized as a ghost town in much of today’s literature about Montana, but it certainly has a lot of real people hanging around to be a ghost town.  Established during the gold rush decade of the 1860s, mines here stayed in operation until World War II, and consequently, a wide range of historic buildings remain in the town today.

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Morris State Bank, Pony, MT

I explored Pony in 1984–and was captivated by what was there, especially its superb neoclassical styled state bank building.  Here is where historic preservation has helped make a difference.  In 1987 the state historic preservation office approved the Pony Historic District to the National Register–a reflection of the town’s significance, its extant historic architecture, but most importantly the determination of its residents and property owners that the town would survive into the 20th century.

The Pony School–another impressive neoclassical design–and the Craftsmanesque gymnasium/community center, which is from the New Deal era, overlook the town, and remain in good condition.  Other community institutions include extant frame and concrete block churches, both in Gothic style, and the Mt. Jefferson Masonic Lodge building.

Pony Mt Jefferson Masonic #56

Besides the all-important Pony bar and the bank, other historic business structures remain in different states of repair, such as the brick law office, and the frame two-story general store seen below.

The range of domestic architecture in Pony is also significant, from grand brick Queen Anne style homes to more vernacular and Gothic styled influenced gable-front and wing dwellings. Another noteworthy home is the frame, two-story dwelling of the Pony park keeper.

IMG_0033Yes, Pony has a park, another of positive developments since my work in 1984-1985.  The park is not only community space, but it also has various artifacts and machinery from the mining era, along with public interpretation of the district’s history and of the artifacts within the park.

Pony is one of those jewels of Montana, a place loved by residents, valued by those who discover it.  Let’s hope that the historic district keeps it for generations to come.

 

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The wonderful Twin Cowboys gate on Pony Road