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, March 9, 2012

Skating Rinks

Old Court House (left) with skating pavilion east (right) of it.
Roller skating was the rage in the U.S. in the 1880s, and as usual, Butte was at the leading edge.

In 1884 Butte had at least two “official” indoor skating rinks. The fancy one at the northeast corner of Granite and Alaska – directly across Alaska from today’s Silver Bow Club Office Building – was a huge, 2-story 170-foot-long barn-like pavilion with a cement floor, and was initially an ice-skating rink. It’s to the right of the old Court House in this image from the 1884 Bird’s-Eye View of Butte. It straddled a stream coming down from the vicinity of the Original Mine; the stream contained a “large amount of water in spring and winter” and went under the pavilion via stone arches. Dressing rooms and a storage shed stood outside the pavilion itself, right at the Alaska-Granite corner (you can see them in the snippet from the Bird’s-Eye View). At this time, Alaska Street north of Quartz (alongside today’s O’Rourke Building) was not a street, but was occupied by vegetable gardens with a cow corral to the east.

The second skating rink was on the north side of Park Street, where the Thomas Block (Garden of Beadin’, Main Stope Gallery, etc.) is today. This one-story structure was about 100’x100’ and included a basement.

In 1888 the Park Street rink was gone, replaced by the first Thomas Block of stores, including a butcher and sausage factory, dry goods shop, grocery, “gents furnishings” and clothing, and the Justice Court. The second floor was furnished rooms (or maybe a furniture warehouse).

The Granite Street pavilion (called Turner Hall) was being renovated in 1888, with plans to make it into an Opera House. The structure had been divided into two large spaces, with smaller shops (a saloon, a grocer, and a fruit store) occupying the Granite Street front. Alaska Street to the north was still unimproved, but it was becoming more like an urban street with several dwellings and a Chinese Laundry along it. The stream had been mostly filled in or covered and turned into a subsurface culvert.

In 1890 the Pavilion was still standing, but was divided into three large spaces: two for the Lyceum Theater, and the third for a gymnasium in the north end of the building. About half the building was still used as a skating rink in 1891; in 1900 the rear half was a livery stable. This building with its long history was torn down about 1915, as Uptown Butte’s last major building boom took off. The building there today dates to this era (I think) with a major re-build in 1947.

Butte was growing much too quickly to allocate large spaces in the central business district to skating rinks. Other rinks developed, including the one for ice skating at the corner of Montana and Front Streets. But the next time you pass the northeast corner of Granite and Alaska, remember the hundreds of kids and adults who enjoyed a skating party there over 125 years ago.

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