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. On Mondays beginning in January 2016, look for Gibson's "Mining City History" column in the Montana Standard.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Granite and Main, 1890-91

by Richard I. Gibson

Butte was booming in 1890, with a surging population of at least 23,000, up from about 4,000 a decade earlier. New buildings by the score, together with the street cars and other traffic, made the corner of Granite and Main a busy place as the illustration by C. Winsor, above, shows.

Many of the buildings in this view survive. Most of the west side of the 100 block of North Main below Granite is buildings dating to before 1884, damaged but not destroyed by a devastating fire in 1889. The corner building, D.J. Hennessey’s three-story mercantile, was his third location. He began his business a ways down Main, above Broadway, but by 1889 was leasing space in the 2-story O’Rourke building on the corner. It burned down in the 1889 fire, and was replaced within a year by the 3-story structure in the image above, which survives to this day. The Hennessey Building we know today, across the street, was Hennessey’s 4th location. It’s hard to see in the image, but the site of today’s Hennessey is an almost vacant lot in the drawing. The Centennial Hotel that stood there had burned down in 1888, and in 1891 the corner was occupied by five little shacks, each measuring about 10 feet by 20 feet. They housed a newsstand, a tailor, a fruit seller, a clothier, and a meat market.

Connell’s store, where Hennessey got his start in Butte, is at the far right in the image. Although the 5-story corner tower is gone, it’s my understanding that the heart of the present-day NorthWestern Energy building there is still this original building. The Marchesseau and Valiton Block (better known as the Beaver Block) at far left is gone, lost to demolition and fire in 1968.

For much more information about Daniel Hennessey, see Zena Beth McGlashan’s book, Buried in Butte. Image from “A general view of Butte,” drawn by C. Winsor, circa 1891 (its source, the Montana Memory Project, says this is 1887, but it cannot be earlier than 1890).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Entering Butte, 1939

by Richard I. Gibson

Since I did the research for a Facebook request, I thought I'd add this documentation for another of the Library of Congress images.

This photo is from summer 1939, taken by Arthur Rothstein as part of the Office of War Information / Farm Security Administration series. The location is the 1000-1100 block of East Park – East Galena Place – East Galena, where they intersect Parrot St. which is probably more or less the street behind the sign, but US Hwy 91 cut through there at an angle to the streets and this sign is likely on Hwy 91 at the city limits.

So, this is part of the East Side / East Butte (not Meaderville, not McQueen) and the area is pretty close to where the Pit viewing stand is today, or a bit toward the pit from there. The mine at far right behind the shacks is probably the Pennsylvania Mine complex, which is within the pit today. The mine in the distance, right of the word “Butte” in the sign, is probably the Anaconda Mine (also within the pit today) but I’m not sure. The East Side Volunteer Fire Station is the newer-looking building to the immediate right of the word “limit” on the sign.

This and many similar from that era are available from the Library of Congress.    

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Butte Light

Guest Blog Post by Geoff Weston, Newcastle, England.

When I started to write this I thought I’d check what it says about light in the dictionary and I note it’s also known as luminous energy.

That’s particularly true for me in Butte, Montana. I spent a month there in June as a visiting English artist and every day (except mid-summers day when the weather turned British) the light was breathtaking. It wasn’t the reason I came to Butte but it was one of the reasons I so enjoyed being there.

The morning light in particular. So many mornings I was out early with my camera searching out that luminosity. The American photographer Robert Adams writes about the alchemy of light, about its ability to transform even the most mundane of objects. I was lucky enough to be on hand to record that in Butte.

I very rarely see that quality of light in the UK. Occasionally by the coast or after a sharp frost that clears the air you might get something similar but the luminosity here is farther down the scale.

Of course light is the photographer’s raw material. That doesn’t mean you always want sunshine, but if you do, and you want the sort of sunlight that illuminates whatever it is you’re photographing, then Butte offers something special. Something luminous.

Herewith are some of Geoff's photographic visions of Butte's light. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Gas station, summer 1939

This photo from the FSA-OWI program was made by Arthur Rothstein in the summer of 1939. The location is the corner of Park and Oklahoma – the gas station is at 501 East Park Street.  The mine in center background is the Moonlight Mine, and right of it on the skyline is the Anaconda Mine.

The vertical standpipe right of center says “steam baths” in vertical letters. It is behind (south of) a building on Broadway Street that contained a sauna – that was within Finntown.

The gas station building was boarded up and vacant by 1951, and was probably gone by about 1960. There is no listing in the city directories for “Consumers Oil Company” so it was either a short-lived business or came under some other name for listing purposes.

—Richard I. Gibson

“The photographs of the Farm Security Administration (FSA)-Office of War Information (OWI), transferred to the Library of Congress beginning in 1944, form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. This U.S. government photography project was headed by Roy E. Stryker, formerly an economics instructor at Columbia University, and engaged such photographers as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, Jack Delano, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, John Vachon, and Carl Mydans. The project initially documented the Resettlement Administration's cash loans to individual farmers, and the agency's construction of planned suburban communities. The second stage focused on the lives of sharecroppers in the South and of migratory agricultural workers in the midwestern and western states. As the scope of the project expanded, the photographers turned to recording rural and urban conditions throughout the United States and mobilization efforts for World War II.” (From the Library of Congress web site.)

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Floods of 1908

By Richard I. Gibson

This article appeared originally in the CFWEP.org newsletter, The Montana Steward.

Butte was booming in 1908. For all practical purposes, the War of the Copper Kings was over, even though the Anaconda Company would not completely consolidate its ownership of nearly every mine and more until after William Clark died in 1925. After Augustus Heinze was out of the picture in 1906, money that had been tied up in litigation freed investors to build, build, build. The building boom of 1906-1907 saw some of the grandest construction effort ever undertaken in Butte’s business district.

Among the buildings erected in that two-year period were the Metals Bank, Phoenix Block, Silver Bow Club, Leonard Hotel, Napton Apartments, the Water Company building (built initially for the Intermountain Telephone Company), the Carpenters Union Hall, the First Baptist Church, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and much more. The county’s population – mostly within the built-up area of Butte – was nearly 57,000 in the 1910 census, a gain of more than 20% since 1900.

And in 1908, the city directory listed 324 named mines.

With all that construction, attention was also finally paid to street paving and sidewalk construction. In June 1908 the city council was looking at a huge project to permanently pave sidewalks on residential streets all around the central business district, including much of Granite, Quartz, and Wyoming. Wooden walks were on the list for Woolman, Copper, Henry and Front, as well as much of the East Side. Street paving was in the offing for the near West Side including West Granite and Broadway, Idaho and Washington. But until the paving was completed a few years later, ruts and gullies must have been common on unpaved streets, and boardwalk sidewalks, where present, could have washed out easily.

Unpaved roads and walkways and extensive mine operations all over the Hill – just imagine 324 mine dumps, some huge, some small – meant that storm water would likely have not just run off, it would have run off carrying plenty of dirt and debris with it.

Both in the city and nearby, pretty much all the trees were gone. Summit Valley’s forests, such as they were, were exploited early on for fuel in smelters, timbers in mine drifts, and wood for building construction. The land was bare. Mine tailings and sewage alike were discharged into Silver Bow Creek.

Silver Bow Creek where it crosses Montana Street and flows between the historic slag walls from the Colorado Smelter was highly constricted there. Upstream, wetlands had been drained to accommodate construction of smelters on the east side of the Hill, in Meaderville and points south. The stream was already nothing like the original creek that the first prospectors in 1864 likened to a silver bow glistening in the sun. There was little to prevent mass runoff and flooding.

Late May and early June 1908 were some of the wettest days in Montana history. Rain, wet snow, and snowmelt combined to produce one of the most devastating floods to ever hit the region. On May 31, a cloudburst at Columbus took out a mile of Northern Pacific track. In Butte, there was “too much snow” for Memorial Day services, and the parade was cancelled. On June 2, Butte received 0.9” of rain, part of a storm system that affected most of western Montana and disrupted train travel; On June 2, a washout at Bonita, about thirty miles east of Missoula, resulted in a train plunging off the track, killing one man. By that day, there had been no through train into Butte for 48 hours on the Northern Pacific, whose trains were stalled in Billings and at Drummond. And it continued to rain and snow. At Elk Park on June 2, the Butte Miner reported that “the flat resembled a huge lake, and the Boulder River is a raging torrent.”

June 4, 1908, was a Thursday, and the devastation really began to impact Butte. The dam at White’s Ice Pond (Alcova Reservoir, where the Butte Country Club is today) failed. Water rushed down to Silver Bow Creek, already swollen, which inundated the Montana Power Company substation at Oxford and Montana Streets, where the water was four feet deep. Silver Bow Creek was reported to be a mile wide. And on June 4, the rain changed to snow. Nine inches fell that day, dropping power lines all over the city. Any power that remained to transmit was cut off to avoid electric shocks from downed lines – a team of horses from the Lavelle Livery was electrocuted at Park and Washington, and several residents narrowly escaped the same fate. “Plague of Darkness Reigns,” the red-ink headline in the Butte Miner proclaimed. No street lights, no electric trolleys, no other power – except for the central business district, Park to Granite and Montana to Wyoming, most of which was served by the Phoenix Power plant in the alley south of the City Hall.

By June 5, the situation with railroads was the “worst in history” in the state. Problems extended from Great Falls to Billings, and Butte to the Flathead, with landslides and washouts completely shutting down train travel. The Water Plant Dam at Great Falls collapsed, Choteau was “surrounded by water,” and the town of Belt was partially inundated. Passengers on the train stalled at Drummond practically ate Drummond out of food and drink over the three days they were stranded there. A man walked off a washed-out footbridge at Rocker, the first flood related death in Silver Bow County.

On Saturday, June 6, “Entire Montana Now Paralyzed by Destructive Floods,” according to the Anaconda Standard. The big Higgins Bridge in Missoula collapsed the next day, joining every other bridge in Missoula County. The Miner reported that William Clark’s Milltown dam at Bonner was safe, although at one point 15 feet of water was going over the spillway, and part of the structure of this brand-new dam was dynamited to allow more water to flow through.

The rainfall was not limited to Montana, but was widespread across the upper Missouri Valley. Flooding in Kansas and Missouri, especially around Topeka and Kansas City, was even more devastating to residential neighborhoods than the floods in Montana. By June 7, the rains had slacked off, and the Miner reported that “a strange object appeared over the western part of the city, resembling a ball of fire. Later it was identified as the sun, which disappeared several weeks since.” But it was another 6 days before the story left the front pages, and many months before a semblance of normalcy returned to the devastated communities in western Montana.

The long-term legacy of the 1908 flood was toxic mine tailings washed down Silver Bow Creek and the Clark Fork River. Vast quantities, enough to cover more than 1,000 acres, spread throughout the watershed and piled up behind the Milltown Dam, ultimately killing life along huge reaches of the river. Today’s environmental cleanup, costing tens of millions of dollars, is necessary not just because the mine operations were cavalier in their concern for the environment, but because one of the most intense periods of mine and smelter activity coincided with a remarkable period of rain and snow falling on a landscape that had been modified so it could not cope with the precipitation.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dusseau the Photographer

"The House that Jack Built," northeast corner Main and Broadway, 1901, before being demolished for the Hirbour Tower. Sign on second floor says "Dusseau the Photographer." Hennessy Building in left background.

By Richard I. Gibson

Angelo (or Alrick) Dusseau was born in Burlington, Vermont, in 1842 or 1843, of French-Canadian parents. He traveled west, to Wisconsin, by the time he was 23 years old, working as a carpenter on a railroad and as an engineer for a steam line in Missouri. By 1869 he was in Montana, a practicing musician in Helena.

July 20, 1876. Butte Miner.
A.J. Dusseau’s true calling – as a photographer – began in Deer Lodge about 1874, and he was in booming Butte by 1876 or 1877. One of his first studios in Butte was on “Upper Main Street” at a time when there was no north or south Main, reportedly above the Post Office, when it was on the west side of Main between Granite and Quartz. His studio may also have been just south of the corner of Copper and Main, on the east side.

By 1882 his residence and studio were both in “The House that Jack Built,” a two-story building on the corner of Broadway and Main where the Hirbour Tower stands today (see Lost Butte, Montana, p. 47). His sign, “Dusseau the Photographer,” was emblazoned across the Main Street side of that building until it was replaced by the Hirbour in 1901. In 1902, in partnership with George R. Thompson, Dusseau’s studio was at 219 East Park and the family was living at 720 Utah Avenue. Thompson continued the photography business after Dusseau died in 1908, and there was still a photo studio at 219 East Park in 1916. I believe the home at 720 Utah is still standing.

Among Dusseau’s photographic work is a portrait of Louisa Earp, wife of Morgan Earp. The portrait dates to about 1877, probably soon after he moved to Butte. Louisa and Morgan were probably together in Montana at various points in time from the late 1870s until early 1880. It’s not clear when they married – some reports say 1875 – nor is it clear exactly when and for how long they were in Butte, but there is little doubt that Morgan was on the Butte police force from December 1879 until March 1880. He joined his brothers in Tombstone, Arizona, soon after he left Butte, and was wounded at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in October 1881. He was shot and killed in Tombstone in March 1882 at age 30.

Dusseau’s wife Amanda, from Missouri, was 17 years younger than A.J. Their daughter Elmira was probably born in Butte in 1888. A.J. Dusseau died August 28, 1908, leaving a rich photographic legacy.

Sources: Cabinet Card Gallery; Photo of Butte man in Pythian regalia from The Autry’s Collections; portrait of couple courtesy Francine Le Blanc. Ad from Butte Miner, July 20, 1876. Broadway and Main photo from Anaconda Standard, May 12, 1901. See also Mrs. Earp: The Wives and Lovers of the Earp Brothers, By Sherry Monahan

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Smells of Butte

By Richard I. Gibson

Geologists know that rocks have distinctive smells. Probably not enough to take your identification to the bank, but when you break granite it smells differently than limestone or sandstone. We might not know for sure what it is, blindfolded, but we’d know they are different. And wet smashed granite doesn’t smell the same as hot dry granite.

Butte must have accosted the world with its smells. I can imagine that the early stamp mills – smashing rocks – must have generated a really distinctive dust smell, and if it was winter, or raining, it would have been just that much different. People notice these things, in the town where they live, where they know its cycles and systems.

If you lived at 401 North Wyoming, at the foot of the Anaconda Road, would you smell the thousands of men pouring down the Road every eight hours – even if they’d showered in the dry, even if they were picky about keeping their street clothes clean?

It’s inconceivable to me that at least in spring and summer, walking past the dozen groceries on Park Street, that you wouldn’t be drawn by the citrus scent of imported oranges and grapefruit, piled on the sidewalk stands. By the fresh lettuce and tomatoes, by the bread – Oh, the fresh-baked bread!

And the restaurants! So many, so varied! What tantalizing aromas must have enticed the miner, the haberdasher, the clerk, the teacher! The complicated blending of Greek, of Italian, of Serbian, of boiled cabbage, must have been unidentifiable, but memorable. Your grandparents, your great-grandparents could probably be transported to a spot in Butte in a particular time if those molecules could be blended again. Like the smell of an old window screen after a summer rain, evoking the scenes of childhood. Like a circus memory, the smell of cotton candy and roasting peanuts and elephant dung and acrobats’ sweat. Smells of Butte.

There’s no such thing today, but it’s not all gone. You can walk down the block of Park east of Montana at certain times, when the Renfrows are roasting coffee at Tap 'Er Light and Chuck is doing something in Quarry Brewing that sends more aroma than usual into the air. It’s usually late morning, on a not-too-cold day, with just enough breeze, probably 2.7 miles per hour, to move the scents around. It doesn’t smell like coffee or like beer. It smells like Park Street east of Montana.