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.

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