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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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

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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.

Butte WMM Hell Roarin Gulch

 

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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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.

Butte HS, Platinum St, New Deal

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

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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.

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 Centerville (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 Montana Copperway (trailhead shown above) –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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