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, February 26, 2012

The Destroying Angel

Central Butte Claim Map, ca. 1885. Click to enlarge.
By Richard I. Gibson


About 1880, prominent Butte businessman (later Mayor and U.S. Senator) Lee Mantle established the Diadem Claim in the heart of Butte’s growing business district, angling from the corner of Broadway and Montana southeast to Main and Galena and a bit beyond. By 1882, Mantle was seeking to evict surface owners from the Diadem Claim—but they didn’t go quietly.

The surface business owners banded together and, finding a possible legal flaw in the Diadem, established the Destroying Angel Claim, completely encompassing the Diadem. The name was chosen deliberately, to reflect the expected “destruction” of Mantle’s eviction attempt. And the Destroying Angel partners prevailed; Mantle’s case was dismissed in 1884.

But it wasn’t over yet.

The partners fell on each other, in various disputes over who owed what to the Destroying Angel money pool. The cases dragged on for more than 10 years and ultimately went to the Montana Supreme Court, with Chief Justice William Pemberton participating in the decision to compel one of the partners to pay $200 to the others. Pemberton’s Butte home at 39 East Granite was just two blocks from the east end of the Destroying Angel Claim, while Lee Mantle’s house on North Montana was two blocks north of the west end.

A mine was ultimately developed on the Destroying Angel Claim, but never seems to have produced much (if anything) even though its location was given as 35 West Galena (rear) from 1895 to 1910.

For more of the story, and to sample some Destroying Angel Whiskey, visit Headframe Spirits at 21 South Montana beginning Wednesday, February 29, 2012. Their 1919 building stands on the western boundary of the Destroying Angel Claim.
John & Courtney McKee prepare to open Headframe Spirits Feb. 29, 2012.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Tale of Two Churches

1939: Scandinavian Church (left center) at Alaska and Copper Streets.
Despite Butte’s rowdy, wide-open-town reputation, churches have always had an important role in the community. Two churches once guarded the northern corners of the intersection of Copper and Alaska Streets, but today these are vacant lots.

The northwest corner (101 W. Copper) held the Scandinavian Methodist Episcopal Church, built between 1891 and 1900. You can see its 45-foot tower at left center in the photo here. (Along the left edge is the O’Rourke apartments; at center, to right and in front of the church is the Bail Bonds/Union building; the mine complex in the distance is the Original.) The church was actually on the second floor, with housekeeping rooms on the first level. Butte architect Pete Godtland tells me his mother worked there. The building was still standing in 1957 and I haven’t determined exactly when it disappeared, but the upper floor was vacated before 1951 and the building was being used as a two-flat apartment on the first floor only.

The opposite corner, 51 W. Copper, was home to Gold Hill United Lutheran Church (later, Gold Hill Norwegian United Church). In 1890 this corner was occupied by a 1½-story house, probably a small 4-square building like the others in this block. The 2-story church building was erected there by 1891, but was vacant then; the church occupied the structure by 1900 and a dwelling—presumably the minister’s—was in the basement. This church was gone by 1951. The new Gold Hill Lutheran Church is at 934 Placer Street today.

Photo taken summer 1939 by Arthur Rothstein (FSA/OWI).

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Transportation Hub -- 1884

Front Street, 1884. Click to enlarge.
First an update. People always ask me “How’s the book coming.” I can report that I have all the illustrations identified, and about two-thirds of the 60 I’ll use are in hand. I have about 9,000 words in a tolerable form, meaning they’ve been reviewed, edited, and tweaked about three times and will need at least three more. That’s about a quarter of the 35,000-word target. The core research for most of the rest is complete, so I’m not freaking out over my deadline (May 15). Yet.

Now, back to 1884.

By Richard I. Gibson

Front Street in 1884 had to be a busy hub, but one that was somewhat isolated from the rest of Butte, which was about a mile or so up the hill. Main and Montana didn’t reach Front Street then. Access was primarily via the branching extensions of Arizona and Utah, which then, as now, came down to the railroad terminal (Utah Northern in 1884). By combining information from the Bird’s-Eye View and the Sanborns, we can identify many of the establishments in this area in the middle 1880s.

Both sides of the railway were dominated by the Montana Lumber & Produce Company, with its mill at the right side of the illustration here (#21). The 3-story structure included the sawmill on the first level, a sash and door factory on the second, and a planing mill on the third floor. The mill even ran on Sundays and “frequently at night,” with lighting provided by kerosene lanterns (no smoking was allowed). The small buildings toward the lumber piles (in front of Bldg #21) included the boiler, a shed where shavings were collected by blowers, the iron-clad drying room, a 12,000-gallon water tank, an 18-foot-high 30,000-gallon oil tank, paint and varnish storage, and offices.

Montana Lumber’s freight offices across the tracks stored sashes, doors, wagons, paints, and oils (#2) and hay, grain, and produce (#3). East of them Kirkendall & Brown’s warehouse (#1) held buggies, and continuing west on what would become Front Street was Northwestern Forwarding Company’s warehouse (#4) with hay and grain bins, across from the saloon and billiard hall.

The 2-story boarding house, near what would become the corner of Utah and Front, was across from the Caplice, McCune & Co. station (#5) where they received and sent grain and produce to their stores in Walkerville, Butte, and elsewhere in southwest Montana. It was behind the railroad freight depot along with J.E. Richards’ oil warehouse (2-story, #6) and Dolman’s hay and grain warehouse (#7).

The passenger depot was conveniently located just a few steps from the Northwestern Hotel (#19). Building #8 along the tracks held coal and salt bins. A service building was on the spur south of the main line; the spur passed the main water tank, and you can discern the small open-air circle where engines were rotated—the predecessor to the roundhouse that eventually was built near there.


Image from 1884 Bird's-Eye View, via Library of Congress.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Token Tale

Photo by Dick Gibson
I recently got a Butte saloon token. I don’t collect these things—I collect way too many things already—but there are dozens of examples from Butte. I got it because I thought it would be cool to have one in my pocket when I do tours, something tangible from nearly 100 years ago to show tourists.

So I found a token within my price range ($15) that had a nice look, from a saloon that’s gone: the Crown Bar, 110 East Park Street.

Because there’s too much to learn, and I’m old enough to forget A LOT, it was not until I started researching the history of the bar that I rediscovered something I had already read: that the Crown Bar was the location where keno originated. For the full story, see George Everett’s article. Pete Naughton, stepfather to the Lyden brothers who eventually took the game to Nevada, ran the Crown Cigar Store (the Prohibition-era euphemism for a saloon) only in 1927 according to the city directories, so that must be the year of the events recounted in George’s article.

The Crown Bar, under that name, was listed only in 1916-1917, so presumably that’s the time of my brass token, worth a handsome 50¢ in trade, a high value that may mean it is from a later time (but tokens fell out of common use after Prohibition). Victor Swanson and Ben Christopherson ran the place then, offering “wines, liquors, and cigars.” During and after Prohibition the Crown was sometimes a “cigar store” and sometimes a café, continuing as a restaurant at least until 1957 when Etta Noe was a waitress there.

110 East Park occupied part of a three-story building that stood where the Edna LaCass Park (did you know it had a name?) is today, about the middle of the park along Park Street east of Wyoming.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Park your horse, sir?

Main Street liveries in 1884. Click to enlarge.
Stables were the garages of the 1800s, and prospering Butte had plenty. In 1884, in the area bounded by Jackson, Caledonia, Arizona, and Silver Streets at least 102 stables protected an unknown number of horses and other stock.

Three of the largest commercial livery stables stepped up Main Street, beginning with T.M. Carr’s Livery & Feed at the southeast corner of Main and Mercury. Carr had carriages available, and a large fenced feed corral adjacent to the stable accommodated plenty of horses. A block north, at the southeast corner of Galena and Main, Star Livery also provided carriages. That location was more or less in Butte’s Chinatown, which centered on Galena and Main in those days.

By far the largest space for a transportation provider was Owsley and Cowan’s Transfer Line Stables. Their stable and office complex stood at the northeast corner of Park and Main, later (1888-91) to become the huge Owsley Block (Butte Business College, Medical Arts Center—which burned in 1973 to leave the present parking lot). In 1884 this 140’x80’ conglomeration included an office, a 2-story lodging house, a cigar store, hay lofts above the stalls on the first floor and in the basement, and a carriage house with wash room and dressing rooms for drivers. The Owsley company probably also controlled the attached saloon and card room to the north.  A brothel was conveniently located just to the east on Park Street.

Look for more on William Owsley in future posts.


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

Friday, February 10, 2012

On research

I spend a lot of time seeking information in the Butte newspapers at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives. This can be challenging, in part because without a date, you really don’t know where to look. But even when you do know the date of an event, exploring the old papers can be very very hazardous—because you can get caught up in reading the papers, to the point of forgetting your original purpose. That’s fun, of course, and an enjoyable way of spending time, and often enough turns up other things of interest and other avenues to explore.

Both the Butte Miner and the Anaconda Standard had high standards of reporting and writing, and both had some rather dry humor in their editorial notes. The following, from the Miner for October 25, 1896, is recorded in its entirety:

“John D. Little, a Philadelphia prophet, predicts that the world will come to an end on Nov. 1. A full account of the disaster will appear in The Miner of the following day.”

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

100 years ago today

Photo from Library of Congress, HABS/HAER collection, 1979.
February 7 marks the centennial of Lutey’s Marketeria in the Stephens Block at Park and Montana. It was the first self-serve grocery store in the United States.

Lutey’s stores were established initially in Granite (now a ghost town) in 1889. Joseph Lutey moved the operation to Philipsburg in 1895 and finally into Butte in 1897, where he and his sons built it into one of the largest grocery chains in Montana.

Joseph Lutey was a Cornishman, born in the village of Morvah, about 8 miles from Land’s End at the far southwest tip of Great Britain, on Christmas Day 1849. He came from a family of yeoman farmers and tinners, inasmuch as this part of Cornwall boasts both agricultural country and tin mines. Joseph’s own background was in mining; he came to the United States in 1868 (age 19) and worked the mines of New York, New Jersey, Colorado, and Nevada before landing in Montana at Granite in 1887.

The first Butte store was at 47 West Park (the Thomas Block). Joseph died in 1911 and the business continued under his sons until about 1924. The Marketeria was prominently located at 142-144 West Park, at the corner of Montana in the Stephens Block that still marks this corner (Hilltop Market today). The ghost sign shown here is on the south façade of that building.

The 2007 Chinatown Archaeological Dig (financial support from the Butte URA; exhibit at the Mai Wah supported by the Montana State Historical Society and Mai Wah volunteers) uncovered a large broken crock advertising Lutey’s “fine pickles and pure vinegar” from the c. 1920 Chinese trash midden at the dig site, in the vacant lot south of Mercury and east of Colorado Street.

The Lutey’s self-service grocery was the model for Piggly Wiggly stores, the first widespread self-service chain in the U.S. You’ll find rich detail on the Lutey’s stores in Kent Lutey’s article “Lutey Brothers Marketeria,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 28 (1978): 50-57.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

At the Mission

By Richard I. Gibson

In honor of Chinese New Year, today's post is about Chinatown. Don't miss the Parade, starting at 3:00 Saturday Feb. 4, at the Court House. It's audience participation, with a reception and firecrackers at the end at the Mai Wah Museum.

Click to enlarge
The Butte Chinese Baptist Mission stood at 24 West Mercury from about 1900 until about 1946.

The 1919 photo here of a group inside the Mission, from the Mai Wah collection and used by permission, was donated by Dr. James Chung of Los Angeles. It is part of a collection of photos related to Dr. Wah J. Lamb, one of seven Chinese physicians practicing in Butte in 1918. Lamb’s office then was at 116 E. Mercury, and he and his family lived at 1107 S. Wyoming; by 1928 he was at 46 E. Galena and by 1940 he was retired and living in Los Angeles. The photo includes several of his children: Faith, front left; and Esther and Ruth, middle of center row.

The lady at left center is Mrs. Wong Cue, a tailor whose shop was at 103 S. Main; her husband, also a tailor, was arrested in 1929 by the Helena sheriff for possessing $30,000 worth of cocaine and morphine. At right in the middle row is Mrs. Bracken, wife of the superintendent.

The 2007 Butte Archaeological Dig, sponsored by the Butte-Silver Bow Urban Revitalization Agency, uncovered thousands of artifacts from the vacant block that once included the Chinese Baptist Mission. The most important of those artifacts are now on display at the Mai Wah Museum.