|Front Street, 1884. Click to enlarge.|
Now, back to 1884.
By Richard I. Gibson
Front Street in 1884 had to be a busy hub, but one that was somewhat isolated from the rest of Butte, which was about a mile or so up the hill. Main and Montana didn’t reach Front Street then. Access was primarily via the branching extensions of Arizona and Utah, which then, as now, came down to the railroad terminal (Utah Northern in 1884). By combining information from the Bird’s-Eye View and the Sanborns, we can identify many of the establishments in this area in the middle 1880s.
Both sides of the railway were dominated by the Montana Lumber & Produce Company, with its mill at the right side of the illustration here (#21). The 3-story structure included the sawmill on the first level, a sash and door factory on the second, and a planing mill on the third floor. The mill even ran on Sundays and “frequently at night,” with lighting provided by kerosene lanterns (no smoking was allowed). The small buildings toward the lumber piles (in front of Bldg #21) included the boiler, a shed where shavings were collected by blowers, the iron-clad drying room, a 12,000-gallon water tank, an 18-foot-high 30,000-gallon oil tank, paint and varnish storage, and offices.
Montana Lumber’s freight offices across the tracks stored sashes, doors, wagons, paints, and oils (#2) and hay, grain, and produce (#3). East of them Kirkendall & Brown’s warehouse (#1) held buggies, and continuing west on what would become Front Street was Northwestern Forwarding Company’s warehouse (#4) with hay and grain bins, across from the saloon and billiard hall.
The 2-story boarding house, near what would become the corner of Utah and Front, was across from the Caplice, McCune & Co. station (#5) where they received and sent grain and produce to their stores in Walkerville, Butte, and elsewhere in southwest Montana. It was behind the railroad freight depot along with J.E. Richards’ oil warehouse (2-story, #6) and Dolman’s hay and grain warehouse (#7).
The passenger depot was conveniently located just a few steps from the Northwestern Hotel (#19). Building #8 along the tracks held coal and salt bins. A service building was on the spur south of the main line; the spur passed the main water tank, and you can discern the small open-air circle where engines were rotated—the predecessor to the roundhouse that eventually was built near there.
Image from 1884 Bird's-Eye View, via Library of Congress.