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.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Transportation Hub -- 1884

Front Street, 1884. Click to enlarge.
First an update. People always ask me “How’s the book coming.” I can report that I have all the illustrations identified, and about two-thirds of the 60 I’ll use are in hand. I have about 9,000 words in a tolerable form, meaning they’ve been reviewed, edited, and tweaked about three times and will need at least three more. That’s about a quarter of the 35,000-word target. The core research for most of the rest is complete, so I’m not freaking out over my deadline (May 15). Yet.

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.


  1. I KNEW there was a reason it feels far more natural to me to drive Arizona/Utah to Front. The organic city.

    Do you know was Montana Lumber controlled by/connected with the Daly or Clark operations? I know much of the lumber from what became ACM went to a Mill Creek (Anaconda) mill and to Bonner/Milltown (there is an excellent PhD dissertation that studies the company's timber operations in detail), but I don't know about Butte.

  2. Great question... I love that you are in China posting this comment and question. I'll have to check the personnel who ran Montana Lumber, but as a first guess, in 1884 I bet they were NOT either Daly or Clark directly. By then, though, the connections were probably already building that would lead to the integration you mention. Clark was pretty busy with his bank, some mining operations, and the first electric light company in 1884 - which is not to say he might not also have had his fingers into lumber. I'll try to figure it out. There is too much to learn!!

  3. A quick look turns up William Cobban (of Cobban Street fame) as a principal in the Lumber company in 1881-1886. He sold his interest in 1886 and turned to real estate, establishing the Cobban addition. He also had an interest in the Moonlight Mine, which he sold to the Amalgamated (ACM) in 1890 for $6 million, I think. I'm sure there's more to the story, that's what I can figure out at home after three beers.