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.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Old Jail on Jackson Street, 1884

By Richard I. Gibson

Photo of Missoula Gulch 1885,
about 2 blocks west of Jackson St.
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps provide a wealth of information for historical research, often telling us the size and layout of buildings, the nature of their construction, what kind of business was there, and much more.

For example, poring over the 1884 Sanborn for Butte I made the discovery (surprising to me, anyway) that there was a mine at the intersection of West Mercury and Jackson Streets. Silver Bow Mining Company’s Stephens Mine had a 2-story hoist engine room with a steam pump and a fifty-foot 1½-inch hose. Two boilers generated 80 horsepower, and an attached carpenter shop was apparently reached by a ladder from Jackson Street. Jackson Street was effectively the west edge of town and is labeled “Arbitrary” on the map. A nearby blacksmith’s operation stood near the center of the present-day intersection, with the mine complex and shaft in Mercury Street, along the south side, just west of Jackson. The mine buildings totaled about 70’x70’ and there was also an 80-foot-long wood pile located at what is now the northwest corner of the Jackson-Mercury intersection.

From Bird's-Eye View of Butte, 1884. Click to enlarge.
The mine was still active in 1888 but the structures there burned down in 1890 and the mine was apparently never reopened.

The Silver Bow Mining Company was involved in a far-reaching law suit which effectively ruled that mining (subsurface) claims trump surface ownership. It is not clear whether the mine at Mercury and Jackson figured in the case, but it was a suit between surface owners in the Butte Townsite and the Silver Bow Mining Company (reported in Montana, its story and biography, by Tom Stout, published 1921 by American Historical Society, p. 427).

Another tidbit from this neighborhood (such as it was) is the location of the “Old Jail” in the middle of the block along Jackson between West Park and West Galena. The large building on the west side of the street measured about 50’x25’ and had a fenced jail yard, two small outbuildings, and a stable. The “new” jail would be the one located in the city hall that had just been erected in 1884 (today’s Jail House Coffee). The jail in the basement of the second city hall (24 E. Broadway) was the third jail, built and in use in 1890.

Note: I’m not including an illustration from the map because the Sanborn folks claim copyright to their online versions of the maps. While one might make the case that something created in 1884 is out of copyright, I’m honoring their claim based on the additional creativity they have in the online versions. 

Missoula Gulch photo from A Brief History of Butte (Freeman, 1900), digitized by Butte Public Library and part of Montana Memory Project.


  1. And it might be a surprise to nearby residents when their house falls into a shaft some day 8^0

  2. If I lived at that corner I'd be looking VERY closely at the old maps. And my basement walls.

  3. To answer a question from Pat tonight at the Quarry, there are no drifts shown on the MBMG Underground Butte mine map in this area. But the 1912 Weed map does indicate the Stevens Mine at this location -- apparently it exploited (or tried to exploit) the Neptune Vein.

    There's too much to learn.

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  5. The Missoula Gulch photo is fantastic. It visually corresponds with several written accounts of prospectors going wild. The date is especially interesting if one considers the modes of transport and level of mechanization that was(n't)in place at the time. What is the source archive? I would love to see a higher resolution and explore in greater detail.

    1. Robert, it is from "A Brief History of Butte" by Harry Freeman, 1900. You can find it on google books, but the resolution here is probably a little better (click on the image here for a bigger version). There were placers mined in Missoula Gulch, particularly at about where Porphyry would cross Alabama today (Chester Steele Park behind the hospital), and in Centerville, about where Zarelda and Jackson would intersect if either went through. My guess is that this photo is pretty far down, Porphyry or further south.