Lost Butte, Montana, a book by Richard I. Gibson, is in stores and museum gift shops around Butte. Or order from the publisher. It's also in E-book formats at all the usual places. And read an interview with Gibson, here, and on KXLF here. The Facebook page has many historic photos of Butte, and the Butte-Anaconda NHLD project showcases many historic buildings. Location-oriented posts can be found on HistoryPin.



Thursday, December 18, 2014

What Was There? Quartz and Main


Annotated to provide references for the text


By Richard I. Gibson

The southwest corner of Quartz and Main Streets in 1884 was a half-block west of the first house in Butte, and a half-block south of the new Miners Union Hall that was under construction. The buildings facing Main, south from Quartz, had a wholesale liquor store, druggist, and jeweler in a 1-story building under one roof made of tin. Just south of that was Butte’s Post Office, with club rooms on the second floor. Next door to it was a dry goods store with the Odd Fellows hall above.

In 1885, the 1-story building on the corner either was torn down and a new 2-story building built, or the original had added a second floor. The footprint is almost identical to the 1884 plan, so I suspect a second floor was added as was a common practice in booming Butte.

Either way, the façade on the corner building (called the Leyson Building after 1885, for J.H. Leyson, the jeweler in one of the storefronts) was combined with the next building to the south, the former Post Office. The ground floor held Jimmy Lynch’s saloon at the corner (“one of Butte’s most famous”), the druggist, and Leyson & Truck jewelers in the northern block.

The adjacent building held J.E. Rickard’s Paint Company on the ground floor (you can see the sign for “Paints” in the 1890 photo above). It later became Charles Schatzlein Paint Co. Among more conventional paints, Schatzlein was also the supplier of paints and oils to artist Charlie Russell in the 1890s, and he also sold Russell paintings. Nancy Russell wrote for Charlie in 1902 that “Mr. Schaztlein has done more to raise the prices of my pictures than any friend I have.”

John Rickards
John Rickards, born in Delaware in 1848, came to Butte in 1882. He was elected the first lieutenant governor and second governor of Montana, serving as the governor from 1893-1897.

The second floor above Rickard’s Paint Store, which was interconnected with the building to the north, held the Silver Bow Club’s rooms. The third building to the south was also connected to those to the north in terms of its façade, as you can see in the photo. That third store was Goldsmith’s men’s clothing (later Siegel Clothing), and the IOOF still met in the room above.

In the right side of the photo, on Quartz Street, the turrets mark the Beresford Building, built in 1891 (so the photo caption above is in error by at least a year). It was built primarily as a 3-story lodging, but there were two stores on the Quartz Street level, including C.E. Miller’s Glass Store. The lodging was commonly known as Mrs. Armstrong’s Boarding House for the manager. The Beresford had its own boiler. The boiler for the corner building was beneath the Quartz Street sidewalk in the sidewalk vault.

In the lower left part of the photo you can see tracks. They are not the tracks for the electric trolleys that operated all over Butte until 1937, but are part of the cable line that served Butte from about 1888 into the early 1890s, when the electric trolleys replaced it. The cable line here, on Main, ran from Galena and Main up Main Street until it reached the Lexington Mine. It went up an alley west of the Lexington to Daly Street in Walkerville. The streets are unpaved in this photo.

This photo was published in the Montana Standard April 3, 1960. It was owned by Robert Logan, internationally known singer and janitor at the Miners Bank until his death in 1945. 


All these buildings are gone today, represented by the small modern shop on the southwest corner of Quartz and Main, together with its parking lot and the parking lots behind the NorthWestern Energy building and the Montana Standard. The corner building was demolished before 1951, and the rest were torn down after 1960.

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Building photo published in Montana Standard, April 3, 1960.

Leyson ad from Souvenir history of the Butte Fire Department by Peter Sanger, Chief Engineer (1901), scanned by Butte-Silver Bow Public Library.

Additional resources: Sanborn maps, 1884, 1888, 1890, 1891, 1900, 1916, 1951; City Directories. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chimney-sweeping time in Butte

By Richard I. Gibson

“It has been noticeable that there is a great rush to have the chimneys of the houses swept and thoroughly cleansed for the accommodation and comfort of the ever-welcome Santa.” Anaconda Standard, December 21, 1902.

One of Santa’s “best and most faithful allies” in Butte was Elias Simmington, the “colored chimney sweep who has served Santa well for many Christmases.” Simmington grew up in Kansas and arrived in Butte about 1882. For more than 20 years, he made a point of sweeping chimneys of “good little girls and boys” in the season approaching Christmas. 



In 1902, Simmington’s promotion of Santa, assuring the children of Santa’s impending safe arrival, opined that since the previous year, Santa had taken to “new fandangled ideas,” and had gotten himself a peach of an automobile. The reindeer, getting a bit old and slow, were to be given a break for Christmas 1902 as Santa tested the new contraption.

In Simmington’s view, Santa liked Butte almost well enough to live here permanently, but the smoke was what kept him from doing it. And Santa’s aversion to smoke was Simmington’s incentive to keep the chimneys clean. In the performance of his job, he was sometimes mistaken for Santa himself. A little girl was certain Santa had arrived, but her brother, who Simmington said was “pretty well posted on everything,” told her, “Naw, that ain’t Santa Claus. Santa Claus has got white whiskers, and that man ain’t.”

Elias Simmington lived at 203 South Ohio Street just south of the intersection of Ohio and Mercury, in the Cabbage Patch. His tenement was a 10-by-20-foot brick veneered room, one of a short row of such homes on the west side of Ohio Street. He died before 1910, when his widow, Babe Elizabeth, was working as a janitor at Symons Department Store on Park Street and living at 1037 Iowa Avenue. She was still in that job and home in 1918. The little one-story house on Iowa Street is gone today, but the lot is a nicely landscaped yard.

On the same 1902 newspaper page as the article about Elias Simmington, another story reported on one Charles Whalen, immigrant to Butte from Baltimore. He came to Butte on the advice of his physician, to get over consumption. He claimed that Butte’s sulphur smoke contained a germicide that killed the consumption germ. “Arsenic in the smoke builds up the system,” Whalen said, “and there you are.” He said he was thinking about building a sanitarium in Butte for the curing of consumption through the breathing of its smoky atmosphere.

Resources: Anaconda Standard, December 21, 1902; Butte Miner, Dec. 21, 1902; city directories; Sanborn maps.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Velie Motors



By Richard I. Gibson

A new car for Christmas? In 1919, Velie Motors of Butte, at 404 S. Arizona, had what you wanted, if you could afford it.

The Velie Carriage Company of Moline, Illinois, was established in 1902 by Willard Velie, grandson of John Deere. In 1908, the company became the Velie Motor Vehicle Company, and it made cars until 1928. Velie was a mid-priced auto, at around $1,800 compared to the Ford Model T, which cost $345 to $525 in the middle 1910s, and the American Motor Car Company (not the same as the later American Motors) “American” at $3000 in 1906. The Velie could do 70 miles per hours, according to the caption in the photo above. 

Velie’s peak production year was 1920, when they made about 9000 vehicles; they averaged about 5,000 cars a year. Both the founder and his son died, in October 1928 and March 1929, respectively, and the company was out of business. Today, only 230 Velies are known to exist. 

The Velie dealer in Butte in 1919 was Northwestern Motor Sales Co. at 404-406 South Arizona, on the east side of the street just below the corner of Porphyry. Their garage had a 26-car capacity and their steam heat was generated by their own boiler. Today, this intersection does not exist; Porphyry Street and the site of Northwestern Motor Sales are part of Silver Bow Homes. 

Northwestern Motor’s manager in 1918 was Isaac Wheeler, who lived at 316 N. Excelsior. He was also an insurance agent with an office at 209 West Park Street.

In 1918 Butte had 28 businesses listed under “Automobile manufacturers, dealers and repairers.” Probably at least 10 of them were auto dealers as we’d think of it today; some were agents who probably took orders rather than having a real showroom.

Charles T. Jennings, the photographer who made the photo above, worked for the B.E. Calkins Company, dealers in office supplies and picture frames at Broadway and Main, southeast corner; Benjamin E. Calkins lived in room 503 at the Mueller Apartments. Jennings lived at 522 Franklin Street, a house that is still standing – I can see it out my north window as I type this.

Resources: Anaconda Standard, March 23, 1919; Sanborn maps; city directories; online information about Velie Motor Vehicle Company.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Garden Spot of Butte

By Richard I. Gibson

In the 1890s and early 1900s, Butte was notorious for the smoke and fumes emanating from its mills and smelters. It was said – and likely true, at least on occasion – that on a clear day the smoke was sometimes so bad you needed a lantern to see the street signs.

“Where is the man who first set in circulation the wicked and slanderous story that the city of Butte is treeless and devoid of verdure? Whoever he is the man who started this false testimony either was blind or else he never saw the portion of the city known as South Butte.” —Anaconda Standard, July 5, 1903

South Butte was organized as a city separate from Butte itself, and it had its own street system and population counts until about 1895. This is why the address numbers between First and Second and Third Streets are the 1000 and 900 blocks. They used to be the 100 and 200 blocks, but the scheme changed once South Butte became part of Butte and the basis for street addresses became Park Street.

The Standard claimed that there was never as much smoke in South Butte as in the rest of the city, and that grass, flowers, and trees thrived there. This thriving was certainly with some encouragement from homeowners who cultivated a wide variety of plantings that made the streetscapes beautiful.

Alderman John McQueeney’s house at Wyoming and Second Street was one beauty spot. “If every yard in Butte were like McQueeney’s yard, Spokane would have to move back towards the tall timber, and Salt Lake City would cease to attract Butteites as it does now.” Another home on Wyoming, that of Mrs. L. T. Wadsworth, had verandas “arbored with tea rose and hop vines” – hops continue to do well in Butte – and her yard also had “quaking asp trees,” Balm of Gilead, sweet peas, pansies, asparagus vine, box elder, lilacs, woodvine, night shades, potatoes, clover, and lettuce. It must have been quite a sight.

Carl Elvers’ home at 1118 Utah had crab apple trees in its yard, “one of the pretty attractions in South Butte.” William Schmid, a policeman whose home was at 928 Utah, had a “veritable conservatory” with geraniums, fuschias, Martha Washingtons (showy geranium-like flowers), and palms. Mrs. Schmid gave all credit to her husband, for whom plants were his hobby. He had the “finest collection of house plants in Butte.”

1118 Utah is still standing, but house additions have removed much of the back yard where Elvers’ greenery must have grown. Schmid’s house at 928 Utah is one of only two survivors on the east side of Utah in that block. The McQueeney and Wadsworth houses are gone.

* * *

Resources: Anaconda Standard, July 5, 1903 (source of photos and quotes); Sanborn maps; Google maps; city directories.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Butte’s first Band

By Richard I. Gibson

The first organized band in Butte debuted on July 4, 1876, for the U.S. centennial. There were neither 76 trombones, nor 110 cornets, but the five musicians included Band Leader George Fitschen on B flat cornet, Simon Hausworth on E flat alto, Charles Basuman on bass, John Hausworth on alto, and Peter Sherrer on bass drum.

“I think that was the first band in the state aside from the military bands at the army posts.” – George Fitschen, recalling the band's debut.

George C. Fitschen had come to Montana in 1868, from Hanover, Germany, emigrating alone at the age of 14 in 1858. He tried his hand at gold mining in California, but “fortune did not come his way as rapidly as he thought it might.” In Montana first at German Gulch and then in 1875 in Butte, he dabbled in both mining and the mercantile business, and eventually real estate.

George C. Fitschen
(Anaconda Standard, May 12, 1902)
Fitschen became the manager of one of Butte’s first general stores – Weibold’s, on Main halfway between Park and Broadway. After a year or so again in California, Fitschen settled in Butte for good. With his brother George he operated a saloon in the Fitschen Block at 17 S. Main, where he lived upstairs. It was a three-story double-bay-front building built in May 1890 just south of the Theatre Comique. The upper floors were rented out as furnished rooms catering especially to “transients.” After the State Savings Bank (Metals Bank) was erected in 1906, the Fitschen Block was on its south side. In 1928 the Fitschen Hotel was managed by Mrs. Mary Ferrari. The façade has been modified, but the building is still there, serving as law offices today.

Fitschen’s local success allowed him to revisit Germany, sailing from New York for Hanover on May 22, 1902, for a visit of 6 months or more.

He died in October 1908. His son George H. Fitschen became the chief electrician at the Elm Orlu mine; he lived with his wife Charlotte at 1108 West Platinum in 1928.

Fitschen’s bandmates, Simon and John Hausworth, were Swiss emigrants who built the first two-story building in Butte, the Hotel de Mineral at Main and Broadway. Simon’s son Charles was elected Mayor of Butte four times.

Resources: Anaconda Standard, May 12, 1902 (source of photo); city directories; Sanborn maps; Lost Butte, Montana, p. 16.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mary Fifer

by Richard I. Gibson

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) has its roots in England and Scotland as long ago as the 1500s. The name’s origin is obscure, but most histories indicate that it came from their practice of admitting working-class members – making the organization “odd,” compared to most such groups that really focused on the elite. Alternatively, it may have been that the early Odd Fellows were formed by tradesmen in small trades, not large enough to come together in their own syndicates or unions. The “Odd Fellows” were the ones left out of the bigger guilds. 

Rebekah symbol
The IOOF was established in America in Baltimore in 1819, with a credo based on benevolent fraternity, and the goal of personal betterment for members. They were the first American fraternal organization to admit women (in 1851 – the women’s auxiliary was called the Daughters of Rebekah, and it was not exclusively for women), and later, they were also the first to establish homes for their elderly members and orphanages for children of deceased members.

Montana’s first IOOF lodge was formed in Helena in 1874. The first Butte lodge, Fidelity, was created May 25, 1876, and the second one, Ridgley Lodge, in 1882. The IOOF was not as religious as some such groups – while they adhered to Biblical concepts, Jews such as Butte’s first mayor, Henry Jacobs, were IOOF members (he was treasurer for the group in 1883). The IOOF hall on Broadway Street was built in 1884. 

Mary Fifer (it’s sometimes spelled Pfeiffer) led the creation of the first Daughters of Rebekah lodge in Butte in 1877. The Home Circle Lodge met in a building on Upper Main Street (that would most likely be the 100-300 blocks of North Main today), but “there was not the harmony in the circle which should have been there.” The group disbanded, but Mrs. Fifer again led the way to establish the Miriam Lodge in 1882, this time successfully.

“The life of a Rebekah who lives up to the principles of our order must be as nearly perfect as it is possible to be.” — Mary Fifer, quoted in Anaconda Standard, May 25, 1902.



Mary Dean was born in Virginia February 5, 1843, into a prominent old Virginia family. She married Meredith S. Fifer, son of Missouri farmers of German heritage, two weeks after her 21st birthday, in 1864. Within a year, the newlyweds were heading to Montana with Meredith’s family. Their first daughter was born on the plains of Nebraska in the middle of a 5-month trip that saw many encounters with Indians.  

Old Glory Claim in Centerville is highlighted in yellow.
Meredith’s father established a ranch in the Deer Lodge Valley near present-day Warm Springs, with his sons on adjoining lands. Mary reportedly gave birth to the first white child born in Deer Lodge County. Meredith and Mary moved to a ranch near Anaconda in 1870, then in 1876 they relocated to Butte and Meredith began mining work. He located the Old Glory Mine in Centerville. The Old Glory shaft was just east of Main Street, between Mullins (Mullen) and Pacific Streets. Meredith sold his interest in the Old Glory for $1,150 about 1882 and focused his mining efforts on Bear Gulch (Deer Lodge County) where he had a 5-ton-capacity stamp mill. In 1897 the Old Glory, owned by J. Benton Leggatt, was at a depth of about 500 feet, and employed 20 men mining copper and silver. It was eventually (1910) acquired by the Anaconda Company.

Mary’s main focus in Butte was with the Rebekahs. She was the first “noble grand” of the lodge, and represented Butte Rebekahs at national conventions in Columbus, Ohio, and Topeka, Kansas.

The Fifer home at 207 South Dakota Street (sometimes given as 217, but it was 207, on the southwest corner of Mercury and Dakota) was built in 1887. Mary died there October 13, 1912, and is buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery. The house, seen in the photo above, was still standing as recently as 1957, but that corner is a vacant lot today.The log cabin in the photo was attached to the house. It may have been the Fifer's original home in Centerville, reportedly the first log house built in Centerville, circa 1876 when the Fifers moved to Butte. I can't verify that this log cabin is that home.

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Resources: Anaconda Standard, May 25, 1902 (source of photo); History of Montana 1739-1885, by Michael Leeson; Sanborn maps; city directories; The Mining Investor vol. 61-62, Nov. 28, 1910; The Mine, Quarry and Metallurgical Record of the United States, Canada and Mexico, 1897, by the Mine and Quarry News Bureau; Mining and Engineering World, Volume 24, Jan. 27, 1906 (source of claim map). Rebekah symbol from IOOF