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, April 27, 2012

The perils of mistakes

Or: Don’t believe everything you read in historic annals
By Richard I. Gibson

I make mistakes, of course, even though I try very hard to avoid them. My topic today is not my own shortcomings, but mistakes found in historical records.

I figured out one before, a newspaper reference to 213 West Quartz when it was really East Quartz. Lately I have been researching the building at 121-127 West Broadway (adult book store) for new owners Chuck and Lyza Schnabel (Quarry Brewing, across the street at 124 W. Broadway). It has direct connections to the Clark family and to the Butte Miner newspaper, but the story is complicated considerably by what I have concluded to be errors in both the city directories and in the 1914 Sanborn map.

The 1928 city directory says the Butte Miner was at 125 West Broadway. That’s true; the Butte Miner masthead gives that address from 1902-1928. But the directory also says 125 West Broadway includes the following offices: Room 301, Elm Orlu Mining Co. and Timber Butte Mining Co.; room 306, Elm Orlu labor dept.; room 402, Clark Law Library and three lawyers’ offices; room 503, Moulton Mining, Clark-Montana Realty, and Northern Development Co., and three other rooms, later including the Butte Electric (Street) Railway Company. William A. Clark, Jr., was listed as president of several of these companies.

Knowing that in the late 1920’s Clark Senior’s estate was being liquidated (he died in 1925), at first I thought the surviving companies all had their offices at 125 West Broadway, the building I was researching. But thinking twice it became obvious that there was no way all those offices could possibly exist in that small space. It turns out, the directories had somehow confused this building, which was essentially the business office of the Butte Miner, with the Miner Building down the street at 69-71 West Broadway (sometimes 73-75, depending on changing address schemes). The latter was a five-story building, so room numbers like 501 make sense. It stood west of the Kenwood Building, in the eastern portion of the parking structure there today.

In trying to determine the origin of the building at 121-127 West Broadway, the Sanborn maps give a great clue: the 1916 map shows the building as it is today, with the note “from plans, Feb 1916.” From this I conclude it was erected in 1916. The mystery lies in its earlier story, because as mentioned above, the Butte Miner was there (according to their masthead) from 1902 onwards. The physical 1914 Sanborn map at the Archives shows only a small dwelling/store at that location, the same as on the 1900 Sanborn. The 1914 map is one that has been much updated with pasted-on materials, and I’m pretty sure this represents a failure to update completely. I believe the 1900 map is the underpinning of the 1914 map, and that the Butte Miner built its new building there in 1901-02, and replaced it with the 1916 building that still stands today as the adult book store, soon to be renovated by Chuck into three storefronts as it was in 1916.

The research to conclude all this took close to four hours. There are other approaches to take to try to nail it down for sure, but this is the likely, albeit interpretive, story at this point. The role of 125 West Broadway in William Clark Jr.’s end game with the Clark estate, and the takeover of the Miner by the Anaconda Standard is significant, and remains to be fully documented. The place will be on this year’s Butte CPR Dust to Dazzle tour – the upstairs apartments are amazing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bound for Butte—on the Titanic

R.M.S. Titanic leaving Southampton, April 10, 1912.
By Richard I. Gibson

Nineteen-year-old Frederick William Pengelly, a miner from Devonshire and Cornwall, was bound for Butte to begin work in the mines there when he died in the Titanic disaster April 15, 1912. A coal strike had reduced the number of steamers crossing the North Atlantic; Frederick planned on taking a different ship but ended up on the Titanic. At least four Pengellys lived in Centerville in 1912, including likely brothers William, a barber, and John, a miner, who lived at 175 East Center Street, but whether they were related to Frederick, I do not know. He may have been coming to America to connect with his widowed mother’s new husband, Mr. G. Reynolds, a miner.

William Gilbert was on holiday in late winter 1912, back home in Pollardras, near Carleen, Cornwall, from his carpentry job in Butte. He delayed his return trip so that he could take the Titanic, but was among those lost. He was 47.

William Gilbert and his father Thomas came to Butte about 1908; Thomas’s wife stayed in Cornwall and managed a grocery store. William and his father were both carpenters; William specialized as a joiner, a carpenter who tooled wood to fit pieces together without nails or screws. Both lived in a two-story brick boarding house at 1021 East Park, between St. Lawrence and Parrot Streets—both streets long gone into the southern edge of the Berkeley Pit. Their home stood just two blocks below the Pennsylvania Mine where Thomas worked. In 1911 before his ill-fated holiday, William worked at the Mountain View Mine further up the hill. William’s sister Mary came to Butte sometime around 1908-10, and according to family history was the proprietor of the boarding house at 1021 East Park. She was famous for her Cornish pasties.

Frederick Pengelly and William Gilbert both boarded the Titanic at Southampton, and both held second class tickets costing £10 10s—ten pounds, ten shillings, equating to something like $50 in dollars of the day. The Gilberts’ carpentry skills probably earned them about $3.00 to $3.50 per day (carpenters’ pay was close to that of miners), so the one-way fare amounted to more than two weeks’ pay. One might conclude that William Gilbert was frugal with his money, to save a month’s wages for a round-trip excursion to Cornwall and back to Butte.

Photo by F.G.O. Stuart (public domain; copyright expired).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A grim centennial

Ruins of the Olsen Block at left
Lost Butte book update: Photos sent to publisher; word count at 34,000 – requirement is 34,000-36,000, and I’m not quite done yet – so, it’s looking good. Text deadline May 15.

By Richard I. Gibson

A grim centennial

April 10, 2012 marks the centennial of one of the most expensive fires in Butte’s first 75 years. Someone tossed a cigarette into the hay bin at Campana Feed Company’s warehouse at Iron and Nevada. It quickly erupted into a conflagration that destroyed two entire city blocks and left some 200 people homeless, but while there were some injuries, no one was killed. Nearly half of those driven from their residences lived at the Olsen Block, 741-747 S. Wyoming, where a wall of fire blasted out the windows. The total loss was estimated at $350,000 initially, later revised down to $295,000, but it was still the third most costly fire in Butte above ground before 1946 when old Butte High School burned.

Later in 1912 the fourth worst fire loss in pre-1946 Butte struck on September 1 when the original Thomas Block burned in the middle of the first block of West Park Street. Multiple businesses were burned out with a loss totaling almost $221,000 in dollars of the day. The present building, designed by Butte architect Herman Kemna, replaced the old Thomas Block in 1913.

Other big 1912 fires included the destruction of the Grand Opera House where the Leggat Hotel now stands (May 25, a $24,500 loss), Henningsen Produce (January 11, $21,000), Creamery Café (July 30, $49,000), H&B Block (Oct. 18, $49,000), and Sacred Heart Church (Nov. 17, $26,000).

The greatest fire losses in early Butte were the 1889 fire in the first block of West Granite ($512,000) and the 1905 Symons fire on West Park where the 1906 Phoenix Block stands today ($698,000).

The news of the Campana fire was overshadowed in Butte and around the world by the Titanic disaster five days later.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Street by any other name ...

McKinley School, West Park, 1905. Note trestle over Gulch
By Richard I. Gibson

As Uptown Butte grew from about 4,000 people in 1880 to 23,000 in 1890, more and more homes and buildings were constructed to accommodate them, of course. New additions, such as the 1889-1890 Davis and Barnard Addition along West Broadway, Park, and Galena, created new streets west of Jackson, the early western edge of town.

Grizzly Street was laid out nearly on line with Jackson, between Granite and Copper, and ultimately became part of North Jackson. Crystal and Columbia Streets came into existence about 1890, extending only from Galena to Broadway. Columbia eventually became Clark Street, probably after 1925 when W.A. Clark died, but in 1890 Columbia ran along the weaving Missoula Gulch. A “small stream” flowed between bluffs that were as high as 25 feet on the east side and 15 to 20 feet on the west side. For many years, as Butte grew westward along Park and Broadway, both streets had trestles to carry them across Missoula Gulch and the smaller one west of Excelsior. A stone culvert took the Missoula Gulch stream under Broadway in 1890. Eventually, all of this was filled in and today the only evidence of Missoula Gulch in this part of town is the gentle down-and-up of Park Street as you approach Excelsior.

The short street we know as Hamilton was originally Utah Street; the name changed after the Hamilton Block was built in 1892. And yes, for a time there were two Utah Streets completely unrelated to each other (strictly speaking, the one near Arizona was an avenue).

Before 1890, building addresses on Sanborn maps were a simple counting scheme: 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on, with both even and odd addresses on the same side of the street—and the same numbers on the other side of the street running in the opposite direction, sometimes starting from the same arbitrary corner, sometimes not. This had to be confusing (it certainly is to me when I pore over the old maps), with 41 West Granite across the street from 41 West Granite. It’s no wonder that tradesmen often gave their addresses as “Granite Street 4 east of Main,” and the like. Many blocks in 1884 were numbered around the block, starting from an arbitrary corner and running consecutively either clockwise or counterclockwise. About 1890-1895 the system was changed to the style we know today.

Photo from Annual Report of the Board of Education and City Superintendent of Schools, 1905. Scan by Butte-Silver Bow Public Library.