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.



Monday, January 30, 2012

Julian Eltinge returns to Butte


Photo from Anaconda Standard, Dec. 14, 1913. Click to enlarge.
By Richard I. Gibson

Most of my readers will be familiar with the story of  Julian Eltinge (1881-1941), perhaps the greatest female impersonator of the 20th Century. Born William Julian Dalton, he arrived in Butte as a child with his father, a mining engineer, and ultimately took the name of his Butte friend, the son of W.A. Clark clerk Charles Eltinge, who was the first owner of the house at 211 West Quartz.

The impetus for this post is my encounter with a photo of Eltinge on his visit to Butte in 1913 when he was at the peak of his fame, seven years after his command performance for King Edward VII in London. He was in Butte touring with his own production, The Fascinating Widow. The one-night performance, December 15, 1913, was at the Broadway Theater (later the Montana Theater, at Broadway and Montana Streets, today replaced by the telephone company building). Seats ran 50¢ to $2.00—rather a pretty penny even for a live show in those days, when short films cost from 10¢ to 35¢ for admission. 


Films competing in Butte with Eltinge’s production that December included The Wreck and The Thrifty Janitor at the Ansonia, and The Cavemen’s War: A love tale of the prehistoric days when might was right, at the Orpheum. Live Vaudeville at the Empress included Big Jim the Dancing Bear, Burke & Harrison’s comedy act, virtuoso Luigi Dell’Oro, and more—all for a ticket costing less than 35¢.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A developer to help Butte grow

Photo from Progressive Men of the State of Montana, c. 1901.
John Noyes is not typically on the list of remarkable men of Butte, but he probably should be. Born in Canada in 1828 to parents from New England, he joined the California gold rush at age 23. In 1860 he was at Virginia City, Nevada, continuing work as a placer miner, when he became part of a company of 115 men sent out to fight the Indians. Noyes was among the 17 survivors.

After brief sojourns in Washington, Idaho, and Montana in 1861-65, he journeyed back to Canada. Returning to the US, he abandoned his plan to become a farmer in Missouri, and bought a shipment of mercantile goods to supply to the Montana mining camps. His initial purchase was lost in the sinking of the steamer Grant, but undaunted (and with insurance money in hand) he brought a second shipment to Ft. Benton in 1866 and soon made his way to Butte.

His main Butte mines, the #1 Original and #2 Original, gave him significant capital. Among his most worthwhile investments were real estate tracts for the growing town. He and partner Upton laid out and sold lots in two early (1888) additions to the Butte townsite: Noyes & Upton’s Addition defined streets from Gold to Aluminum, between Main and Montana, and the Noyes & Upton Railroad Addition platted the neighborhood from California to Oregon Street, between Third and Front.

His mining and investments turned him into a millionaire by the time of his death, March 21, 1902, his 74th birthday. You can find an excellent report on Mr. Noyes and his wife Elmira (who he married when she was 15 and he was 42, and who was important in Butte society in her own right) in Zena Beth McGlashan’s book, Buried in Butte (p. 113-121).

The prestigious Noyes homes were at 47 E. Granite (northwest corner of Wyoming) and around the corner at 215 N. Wyoming, across the street from the Butte Brewery. There’s a parking lot there today.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Emma Goldman comes to Butte


Emma Goldman c. 1911
Most students of Butte history know of one notorious woman’s visit to Butte in 1910: Carrie Nation brought her hatchet but had little impact locally, beyond entertainment. Another woman, prominent in her day, also visited Butte in 1910—Emma Goldman.

Not a household name today, Emma Goldman was indeed well known nationally in 1910, as an anarchist, anti-religion zealot, advocate for birth control and homosexual rights, and more. Butte culminated her five-month 1910 tour, which her manager boasted “had not a single encounter with the police.” Among her previous run-ins with the police was an arrest in 1901, following the assassination of William McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. Goldman admitted meeting Czolgosz, but disavowed any connection with his act; she was released two weeks later after “third degree” interrogation. (Image below, from Anaconda Standard, Sept. 22, 1901.)

In Butte at the Carpenter’s Union Hall on Granite Street Goldman spoke in June 1910 on “Francisco Ferrer and the Modern School.” Ferrer was a fellow anarchist and educator, executed in Spain because the church feared his teachings, according to Goldman. Her second speech focused on “The White Slave Trade,” by which she mostly referred to prostitution. Butte had quite a reputation in that area, of course, but it was a nationwide issue.

Goldman came to Butte three more times, in 1912, 1913, and 1914. Although she was an American citizen by virtue of marriage, her husband’s citizenship was revoked and courts held that had invalidated Emma’s as well. She was deported to Russia (her 1869 birthplace was in Lithuania, at the time a part of the Russian Empire) in 1920. She had become known as “the most dangerous woman in America.” Disillusioned with the Soviet experiment, she left in 1921 and spent the rest of her life—not quietly—in Europe and Canada. She died in 1940.


As a personal aside, as much as I know that Butte was an incubator for all manner of ideologies, and that all manner of people needed and wanted to visit Butte in those days, it pretty much freaks me out that Emma Goldman came to Butte four times. And spoke in places that I pass nearly every day.

Photo c. 1911 from Library of Congress via Wikipedia.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Caplice Block

Caplice Block at lower left. Click to enlarge.
By Richard I. Gibson

The Caplice Block was one of the larger buildings in Butte in 1884. It stood at the southwest corner of Park and Montana, and it included a general store on the north side (facing Park) with tenements above on the second and third floors. The rest of the building was a dance hall and performance theater, with dressing rooms adjacent to the Montana Street entrance. The tenements extended above the dance hall as well. In 1888 the store was a liquor store, likely Caplice Commercial Company or its predecessor, John Caplice & Co.

A “French roof” suggests that the building was in Second Empire style, probably with an ornate upper section similar to today’s Finlen Hotel. This is also suggested by the appearance on the Bird’s-Eye Map view seen here (big building at lower left of general view above, and at the right edge of the street-level view of West Park below).

Caplice Block at right (building faces east). Click to enlarge.

Sutton’s New Theater occupied the Caplice Block by 1900, with an entrance on Park, although a store still occupied much of the north side. In 1916, the entire building was gone, replaced by four narrow 3-story stores, all opening on Park Street. Those are gone now, too.

John Caplice and his partner Alfred McCune were Utah businessmen who became active in Butte in the early 1880s. Caplice was born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1829 and was at Bannack in 1863. He died in 1903. In addition to the huge building at Park and Montana, the partners had a general merchandise establishment on Main Street north of Daly Street in Walkerville, several other stores around southwest Montana, and were involved in the initial construction of the Montana Central Railroad in 1886. The MCRR reached Butte November 10, 1888, and became part of the Great Northern in 1889. McCune lived for the most part in Salt Lake City, where his 1900 home is considered to be one of the finest mansions in the West.

John Caplice’s story is complex, including law suits involving the Schlitz Brewing Company. I had never heard of him before, but he’ll get another post or two in the future. McCune has his own Wikipedia entry, as does his house.


Bird's-Eye Views, 1884, published by J.J. Stoner, via Library of Congress.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Always Clownin’

By Richard I. Gibson

Frank “Paneek” Panisko (1913-1999) was well known in Butte as a professional clown. Starting in 1934 he worked in several circuses, including the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus and with Al G. Barnes and Sells-Floto Circuses, both of which were part of the Ringling Brothers conglomerate. When in Butte he worked initially as a nipper (tool handler) in the Leonard Mine and later conducted tours there for visitors. During World War II he was a pumpman at the Leonard and was transferred to the High Ore and the central pump station there about 1945.

In 1945 Frank and his family were living at 1225½ West Broadway, a block that only had two houses. Both of them are gone now, replaced by the parking lot for the Montana Tech Residence Hall, but Frank had moved to 301 N. Crystal by about 1950. The family held on to the house there until 2003, when I bought it. Once I began to know Butte natives, I learned that my house is still called “The Clown House” to this day, recalling Frank’s games and entertainments. He operated Paneek’s Carnival Emporium at Columbia Gardens many summers.

The August 31, 1945, issue of Copper Commando, a wartime newspaper put out by the Anaconda Company, quotes Frank as saying he’s a clown because there’s “no greater reward than the smile of a child.” The photo here, from that 1945 Copper Commando, shows Frank with his children Mary Kay, Francis Edward, and Eddie Joe. (Photo probably by Al Gusdorf or Les Bishop.)

It’s an honor to be taking care of Frank’s house. I made sure that the historic plaque refers to the long tenure of the Panisko family.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

East Gagnon Street

Top: 1939. Bottom: 2011. E. Gagnon St. and Steward Mine
By Richard I. Gibson

The blog’s former background image is from the Farm Security Administration/ Office of War Information photo set acquired in 1935-44. This image was shot by Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985) in summer 1939. Robert Renouard initiated a discussion on Facebook, asking if the headframe here is the Original or the Steward—the two are nearly identical. Research and a field trip determined that the mine is the Steward and the houses in the foreground are on East Gagnon Street. 

The second row of houses visible in the middle background on East Woolman are all gone today (some others do survive on East Woolman), but the three homes in the foreground are still there. The combined image above (click to enlarge) shows a December 2011 photo from nearly the same vantage as the 1939 photo. Porches are gone, windows and chimneys have been altered, but the buildings remain. All were built in the mid- to late 1890s.

The mine building east (to right) of the headframe is the dry (change house). The dry was in almost the same position at both the Original and Steward Mines, and both are gone today.

More than 300 excellent photos of Butte from 1939-42 are in the public domain through this program. A good many of them will appear in my upcoming book, Lost Butte: Preservation and Demolition in the Nation’s Largest National Historic Landmark District, due out in Summer 2012.


“The photographs of the Farm Security Administration (FSA)-Office of War Information (OWI), transferred to the Library of Congress beginning in 1944, form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. This U.S. government photography project was headed by Roy E. Stryker, formerly an economics instructor at Columbia University, and engaged such photographers as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, Jack Delano, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, John Vachon, and Carl Mydans. The project initially documented the Resettlement Administration's cash loans to individual farmers, and the agency's construction of planned suburban communities. The second stage focused on the lives of sharecroppers in the South and of migratory agricultural workers in the midwestern and western states. As the scope of the project expanded, the photographers turned to recording rural and urban conditions throughout the United States and mobilization efforts for World War II.” (From the Library of Congress web site.)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Memories in Stained Glass

Photo by Dick Gibson
The Ascension Window at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church recalls a devastating time in Butte. The window is in memory of Franz Arthur Benz, who died at age 23 in the great influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. His mother, Mrs. Arthur Benz, paid for the window in 1919.

I believe that the Benz family was that of Arthur Bentz, who lived at 210 S. Washington in 1915, apparently with two sons (August and Charles, ranchers, and Leo, a miner). This is unclear because there is no Arthur Benz or Bentz listed in the city directory later than 1915. In 1917, Mrs. Bertha (widow of John) Benz lived at 123 N. Idaho, and in 1918 she and (I assume) sons Henry and John lived at 722 S. Main. The directories for 1919-1922 are missing, so we don’t have a definitive connection for Mrs. Arthur Benz and son Franz.

By most accounts Butte accounted for a third of Montana’s 37,000 influenza cases—and of those 12,000, about 1,200 died, mostly in October, November, and December 1918. The flu struck disproportionately at young people, afflicting those in their 20s the most. Schools and theaters were closed; public gatherings of more than three people were forbidden. The epidemic was an enormous calamity for Butte; virtually no family was untouched by it.

The stained glass in St. Mark’s is unsigned, but much of it is high-quality opalescent glass, likely manufactured by one of the major stained glass houses in the east.

For more about the influenza epidemic, see John Astle's Only In Butte, p. 103-111.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Old Jail on Jackson Street, 1884

By Richard I. Gibson


Photo of Missoula Gulch 1885,
about 2 blocks west of Jackson St.
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps provide a wealth of information for historical research, often telling us the size and layout of buildings, the nature of their construction, what kind of business was there, and much more.



For example, poring over the 1884 Sanborn for Butte I made the discovery (surprising to me, anyway) that there was a mine at the intersection of West Mercury and Jackson Streets. Silver Bow Mining Company’s Stephens Mine had a 2-story hoist engine room with a steam pump and a fifty-foot 1½-inch hose. Two boilers generated 80 horsepower, and an attached carpenter shop was apparently reached by a ladder from Jackson Street. Jackson Street was effectively the west edge of town and is labeled “Arbitrary” on the map. A nearby blacksmith’s operation stood near the center of the present-day intersection, with the mine complex and shaft in Mercury Street, along the south side, just west of Jackson. The mine buildings totaled about 70’x70’ and there was also an 80-foot-long wood pile located at what is now the northwest corner of the Jackson-Mercury intersection.


From Bird's-Eye View of Butte, 1884. Click to enlarge.
The mine was still active in 1888 but the structures there burned down in 1890 and the mine was apparently never reopened.

The Silver Bow Mining Company was involved in a far-reaching law suit which effectively ruled that mining (subsurface) claims trump surface ownership. It is not clear whether the mine at Mercury and Jackson figured in the case, but it was a suit between surface owners in the Butte Townsite and the Silver Bow Mining Company (reported in Montana, its story and biography, by Tom Stout, published 1921 by American Historical Society, p. 427).

Another tidbit from this neighborhood (such as it was) is the location of the “Old Jail” in the middle of the block along Jackson between West Park and West Galena. The large building on the west side of the street measured about 50’x25’ and had a fenced jail yard, two small outbuildings, and a stable. The “new” jail would be the one located in the city hall that had just been erected in 1884 (today’s Jail House Coffee). The jail in the basement of the second city hall (24 E. Broadway) was the third jail, built and in use in 1890.

Note: I’m not including an illustration from the map because the Sanborn folks claim copyright to their online versions of the maps. While one might make the case that something created in 1884 is out of copyright, I’m honoring their claim based on the additional creativity they have in the online versions. 

Missoula Gulch photo from A Brief History of Butte (Freeman, 1900), digitized by Butte Public Library and part of Montana Memory Project.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Skagway Connection

By Richard I. Gibson

Mollie Walsh is a name that’s renowned in Skagway, Alaska—there’s a statue in a park named for her. Tour guides tell her story, for she’s one of Skagway’s treasured historical personalities. This reputed dance hall queen helped establish Skagway’s first church, and her grub tent high in the mountains helped save hundreds (some say thousands) of miners' lives as they trudged into the Klondike in 1897-98. She earned the name “Angel of the White Pass Trail,” but was murdered by a former lover in a Seattle alleyway in 1902 at age 30. It’s a movie-worthy saga.

What’s less well known is that Mollie lived in Butte for seven years.

She arrived about Thanksgiving, 1890, at age 18, from St. Paul. She apparently worked mostly in laundries, including the Troy Steam Laundry at 51 West Mercury (later at 232 S. Main). Mollie lived at 69 West Broadway in 1895, a small single-story rooming house. She also lived at 128 W. Granite – not the building there today (Venus Coffee Shop) but probably a rooming house (now gone) on the southeast corner of Granite and Montana—the address scheme changed in the 1890s.

The photo here is one of the most common ones of Mollie that you see around the internet. But usually the bottom caption is cut off; it reveals that the photo dates to 1894 in Butte. The Palais Studio was on the second floor at 120 North Main—in the Events Center building that still stands against the Hennessy Building.


Thanks to Nicole von Gaza for some of the information in this post, and to Cindi Shaw for finding the photo. Research continues to piece together Mollie’s Butte story.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Butte's first electric plant

1890 photo reproduced in Montana Standard, June 13, 1954.
By Richard I. Gibson

Butte’s (and Montana’s) first electric light is usually reported to have been lit at the Alice Mine in Walkerville, in 1880 or 1881, just a year or two after Edison invented the incandescent light bulb in 1879 and helped touch off Butte’s copper boom.

But based on the accompanying photo, Butte’s first electric power plant, dating to 1884, was located on East Mercury Street between Main and Wyoming—later site of the heart of the Red Light District. The plant was about the middle of the block, where the Blue Range building is today, but the power plant was not along the street front but rather was set back about 60 feet from the street. Two small, presumably old cabins stood along the street north of the power plant in 1884. Banard’s Ditch Flume ran across the block just south of the plant, from the corner of Main and Silver to cross Wyoming and Arizona about half way between Mercury and Silver, effectively defining the southern edge of built-up Butte in 1884. The power plant was near livery stables, feed stores, and lumber yards, mostly along Main south of Mercury.

Two boilers in the basement generated 120 horsepower in 1884; by 1888 the building had expanded and included four boilers, an attached residence, and a small stable. The flume was indicated as a wooden structure, and a crosswalk passed over it where it crossed Wyoming, and Wyoming Street south of that point was an “open sewer.” Just two years later, in May 1890, Mercury between Main and Wyoming was a near-continuous row of dwellings, and the Butte Electric Light Works plant is labeled “to be removed.” In 1900 the Blue Range building had replaced (in 1897) the individual dwellings on Mercury, and it was occupied by “female boarding,” the euphemism for brothels and cribs. The Power Plant was still standing behind the Blue Range, but was “vacant and old.” The building was gone by 1916 and a short (and short-lived) street occupied what amounted to the alley between Mercury and Silver: Radium Street.