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.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Alma Higgins

The Alma Higgins Christmas Tree (left center) dedicated Dec. 14, 2013. 200 block of West Broadway.

By Richard I. Gibson

Dec. 2013: Christmas tree to honor Alma HigginsAnother story

Alma Higgins
Alma Higgins came to Butte from her native Deer Lodge in 1920, when she was 46 years old. She was an active member of various clubs and organizations, and founded the Civic Improvement League of Deer Lodge in 1902; she and Montana Womens’ Clubs generally were leading forces behind the creation of the State Forester position in 1909, a precursor to the University of Montana’s School of Forestry.

Butte was ugly in the 1920s (called “the ugliest town in the world” by Time magazine in 1928), but Higgins worked through photography exhibits and letter-writing campaigns, as well as in eventually 18 Butte garden clubs to beautify Butte. Her “Garden Week” in Butte in 1922 became a national event (still celebrated) thanks to her lobbying and the designation by President Harding in 1923. I have to wonder if Harding met Higgins on his visit to Butte that year: There is always more to research.

Alma Higgins became known as the nation’s Christmas Tree Lady after promoting living Christmas trees, one of which became the first National Christmas Tree. She died in 1962, with a remarkable legacy of conservation and leadership—largely forgotten today. Norm DeNeal and his colleagues carry on her tradition, developing and caring for the Lexington Gardens, the flowers at the Berkeley Pit visitor center, and all over Butte.

Plaque in Butte's Higgins Memorial Garden
Click to enlarge.
There is a small memorial to Alma Higgins in Butte. The garden has been there since 1931; it sits against the retaining wall at the northwestern corner of the parking lot between First Baptist Church and the Covellite Theater (old First Presbyterian Church). The location is essentially the back yard of the old Montana Hotel that stood here until it burned down in 1988, and where Alma lived when she died March 16, 1962. Alma's friend, Ann Cote Smith, had the plaque made.

Reference: Janet Finn and Ellen Crain (Eds.), Motherlode: Legacies of Women’s Lives and Labors in Butte, Montana. Livingston, MT: Clark City Press: 2005, pp. 204-228. See also this post about Alma's father, Nick Bielenberg.

Images: I believe the historic photo of Higgins is in the public domain, via http://www.nwhistorycourse.org ; if it is not, let me know and I will remove it. The photo of the plaque in the Alma Higgins Memorial Garden in Butte is by Dick Gibson.

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