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 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.

Butte from Main Hall 3

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

847 Park, Hennessey Mansion, c. 1900, Butte

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.