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.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What was there? 400 block of East Park

By Richard I. Gibson

Today, the north side of this 800-foot-long block contains three dwellings near the west (Covert St.) end, and one old building about mid-block, the apparently abandoned Wright’s Drug Store (above). But in 1916 this stretch contained five stores, 8 single-family homes plus 8 more alley houses, one saloon, two large stables, a creamery, the drug store, a two-story lodging house, and a total of 28 flats (apartments) in three separate buildings.

The surviving store at about the center of the block (#445), with the Wright’s Pharmacy ghost sign on it (“Try Hoyer’s Magic Liniment”), was built before 1900; the ghost sign is a modern repainting. Sometime around 1910 or so, a rank of five connected buildings, containing four flats each, was constructed stepping up the hill to the north. Addresses there were 449A through 449S East Park Street, and they stood almost against the east wall of the drug store still standing today. They were lost sometime after 1979; both images of these flats (at right) are from the HAER photo record of Butte from 1979, via Library of Congress.

Next to the east, beyond narrow front yards for the flats at 449, was the creamery at 457-459 E. Park, which occupied a long narrow building built before 1890 as a saloon. A more recent, smaller saloon abutted the Creamery to the east in 1916, the only saloon on this side of the street in this block.

Almost directly across the street on Park’s south side, the Lizzie Mine (not operating in 1916), a home, and Sacred Heart School faced the drug store, flats, and creamery in 1916. In addition, the south side of the street in the 400 block held the large C.O.D. Laundry complex at Covert, four stores, another saloon, and 25 more flats and lodging houses. This was a busy block in 1916.

Resources: Sanborn maps.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Telephones in 1880's Butte

By Richard I. Gibson

"TELco" is the 1884 second-floor office of
the Bell Telephone Co. on North Main.
85 is the Owsley Transfer Co. and Stable at Park and Main.
The building east of the Owsley stable was probably
a brothel (it was for sure by 1888.)
Butte boasts many firsts, but the telephone is not one of them. Montana’s first telephone appears to have been in Miles City, associated with Ft. Keogh (ca. 1877), and the first real exchange was in Helena in 1878. Butte’s telephone business apparently began February 21, 1882, when the phone line arrived, following (I think) the Utah and Northern Railroad line up from Salt Lake City.

By 1884 the Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone Company shared an office with Western Union Telegraph in the Owsley Hall, at 260 Main. This location was about mid-block between Park and Broadway, on the east side, north of the Owsley Transfer Company Stables on the corner (later site of the Owsley Block/Medical Arts Bldg. that burned down in 1973). The two-story building also contained the Butte Hardware Co. on the first floor, with a warehouse and tin shop in the basement, and the communications companies shared the second floor with the short-lived Variety Theater; by 1888 that space was occupied by the Inter Mountain Printing Company.

The telephone and telegraph companies were “open day and night” and both were managed in 1884 by William Cairns, who lived on the south side of Porphyry Street between Main and Colorado. By 1889, Rocky Mountain Bell must have been a promising enterprise, attracting as President Andrew Jackson Davis (to become Montana’s first millionaire, thanks to his First National Bank) and superintendent Patrick Largey (later president of the State Savings Bank at Park and Main, where he was murdered in 1898 by a disgruntled victim of the 1895 warehouse explosion).

The phone company continued at the Main Street location until about 1897, when it moved to 50-52 East Broadway, its headquarters for many years thereafter. The only phone company in Butte’s early years to compete with Bell was the Montana Independent Phone Company (1907-1914), which erected a prestigious Greek Revival building on Granite Street as its office, surviving today as the Butte Water Company building. Businesses listed both phone numbers in their advertising, as evidently the two systems were not interconnected.

By 1891 phone numbers were into the 200’s. Grocers and transfer companies were most likely to have phones, but a lumber company, a confectioner, and the Montana Iron Works (tel. no. 81) also had connections. By 1910, there were more than 7000 phone numbers in Butte.

Thanks to Kathy Carlson for suggesting this post. The story of the telephone in Butte could clearly fill a book, so perhaps you’ll see a future post on this topic.

Image from 1884 Bird's-eye View of Butte, from Library of Congress.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thomas Lavell

Ad from Souvenir History of Butte Fire Department (1901). Scan by Butte Public Library.
By Richard I. Gibson

Although Thomas Lavell is sometimes referred to as a French-Canadian (I’ve done it myself) because he was born near Ottawa (Dec. 14, 1853) and came to Montana from Quebec, his parents were both natives of Ireland who emigrated to Quebec in the early 19th Century. Twenty-one-year-old Thomas followed his brother to a small town called Pioneer, in the original Deer Lodge County, in 1874, where they worked a lumber operation. They came to Butte in 1875 or 1876 and established a sawmill and lumber dealership, reportedly providing the material for the first buildings made of sawn wood in Butte.

Lavell house at Park and Idaho. Photo by Dick Gibson.
The brothers expanded into the delivery business by buying Warfield & Hauser’s Butte Transfer Company in 1885, operating the stable at 122 East Park Street (variously known as Lavelle & Hart, Windsor Stables, and Butte Transfer Stable). Thomas ran that company and brother Geoffrey continued the lumber business, which was sold in 1895 when Geoffrey left Montana for Oregon.

Thomas Lavell’s stable—advertising “omnibuses, hacks and baggage wagons meet the arrival of all trains”—became the largest taxicab business in Montana. It was doing well enough as early as 1887 for Lavelle to build the beautiful Second Empire-style home at 301 West Park Street where he and his wife Melissa lived and entertained for decades; Melissa died in 1923 and Thomas lived there until he died in 1941.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Paving Harrison

by Richard I. Gibson

From the 1910s onward, Butte issued Special Improvement District (SID) bonds to finance various projects, just as most cities do. People would buy the bonds, to be repaid with interest over time.

The bond here, courtesy of Robert Edwards, was issued to John Hexem on May 8, 1925, in the amount of $100. The bond generated Mr. Hexem $6.00 annually (6% interest) that was paid when he redeemed the coupons associated with the bond, theoretically until 1933, but this bond’s final balloon payment was in 1929, suggesting that the city was doing well.

SID 323, authorized by Ordinance #1790, August 16, 1924, was for the paving of Harrison Avenue and installing a storm sewer system there. The 46 pages of specifications for the project (used in letting the bids), at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, include estimates of “approximately” 38,525.73 square yards of Rodamite paving two inches thick; 8,176.33 cubic yards of grading; a total of 4,530 linear feet of storm sewer ranging in diameter from 8 inches to 15 inches; 24 concrete catchbasins about 6 feet deep, and one standard manhole.

The work extended from Grand to Harvard on Harrison and included construction of intersections and curbs. This was almost certainly not the first time Harrison was paved (and definitely not the last!), but I have not yet verified when the first paving occurred, nor have I found the cost. Watch for that in a future post.

John Hexem was a contractor (could he have had an interest in the project beyond that of an investor in the bonds?) whose office and home were at 1941 Harrison, just north of the Socialist Hall (Fran Johnson’s Sports Shop today) and right in the middle of this paving project. His home was built after 1916, so it was fairly new when he made his bond investment in 1925.

The bond is signed by the Mayor, City Clerk, and City Treasurer. Mayor William D. Horgan lived at 211 S. Jackson (still standing); clerk Con J. Harrington lived at the Goldberg Block, run by Mrs. Alice Wilson at the northwest corner of Park and Dakota Streets, the building that became the J.C. Penney store and burned down in 1972; and Treasurer Joseph C. Riley lived at 611 N. Wyoming, a little house due east of the Steward Mine and gone today.

Thanks to Robert Edwards for the bond.