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.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Butte Hotel

By Richard I. Gibson

Butte Hotel, left center with awnings, c. 1904.
Windsor is 2-story to left; Hirbour Tower at far left.
Original California Saloon (gray) at right behind the people.
The four-story Butte Hotel at 23-31 East Broadway (a parking structure today) was erected in 1892-93, opening in August 1893. It contained 120 rooms, expensive at $3 to $5 per night, as street cars “pass the door every 10 minutes,” their advertising boasted in 1895.

The Wilson Brothers, Frank and Hugh, were merchants in Centerville where they ran a general store at 942 North Main Street in the early 1890s. Apparently it was successful enough for them to erect the Butte Hotel on a vacant lot, the former site of the St. Nicholas Hotel. The St. Nicholas dated to before 1884, and I do not know if it burned down or it was demolished, but the location was a vacant lot by 1891.

Hugh Wilson was the first manager of The Butte. In 1918, brother Frank bought him out and managed it for years thereafter, succeeded by his widow, Mabel. The place became associated with the Democratic Party (Republicans met down the street at the Anaconda Employees Club, the old Thornton Hotel), and was known as “Liberty Hall” for the political addresses delivered from its balcony.

The Butte Hotel was one of the primary residences of Augustus Heinze. It contained both a public restaurant and a dining room for hotel patrons, as well as various store fronts on the first floor, and of course a big saloon and billiard parlor.
Butte Hotel lobby, 1895.
John Jahreiss operated a noted barbershop in the hotel. The Cabaret (probably in the original dining room) was a venue for national performers. The sketch here, from 1895, shows the lobby as viewed from the main Broadway Street entrance.

The hotel was vacant for some years until 1952 when remodeled stores opened on the first floor, and in September 1953 major remodeling had created 42 “ultra modern apartments” in the Butte Hotel building.

Unfortunately, the most expensive fire in Butte’s history to that date destroyed the building on August 9, 1954. Almost all of the apartments were occupied, and the fire left 125 residents homeless. Damage was estimated at more than $1,000,000 in 1954 dollars.

Montana Standard: coverage of August 9, 1954 fire.
The Windsor building to the west of The Butte was also destroyed in the fire. It was built in Deer Lodge in the 1870s and moved to Butte about 1880, and held Clifford’s bar and cigar store when it was destroyed in 1954, having survived the Shabbishacks campaign of 1928.

The Butte Hotel had survived at least two previous fires, one on July 13, 1901 ($10,000 damage) and another during World War II in a bingo parlor on the first floor.

The sketch of the lobby is from an ad in The Great Dynamite Explosions at Butte, Montana, by John Francis Davies (1895). The postcard image (from Dick Gibson's collection) is from between 1901 (Hirbour Tower present) and 1905 (original one-story California Saloon present – it was demolished in 1905). The fire photo is from the August 10, 1954 Montana Standard (in the Butte Archives).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Scrap Drives for the War

by Richard I. Gibson

Butte’s copper contributed mightily to the U.S. war effort in both world wars. Shell casings (brass, a copper-zinc alloy), motors, and diverse war materiel all demanded copper, driving Butte to produce its most copper ever in 1917, at close to 180,000 tons.

During World War II, in Butte and across the nation, the public was actively involved in rounding up metal scrap to help with the war effort. While there is some evidence that the scrap drives didn’t really contribute all that much to the need for metals, there is no doubt that they contributed to morale, pride, and the sense of patriotic participation on the home front.

Scrap drives in Butte were documented well by the photographers of the Farm Security Administration--Office of War Information, the same photographers who had been recording the desolation of the Dust Bowl a few years earlier. All the photos below were taken by Lee Russell in October 1942. The school in the second photo is Webster, which stood where the intersection of Idaho and Aluminum is today (Idaho St. did not go through).

Kids did a lot of the work.
In front of Webster School on Aluminum St.

Boy Scouts and other organizations were involved.

Beer (this barrel was from Butte Brewing Co. on N. Wyoming) was provided to scrap drive volunteers.
They got free lunch, too.

Montana Governor Ford addressing the crowd to kick off the scrap drive.


Friday, November 23, 2012

The Mantle & Bielenberg Block - 1. Unions

by Richard I. Gibson

West Broadway was a busy place in the late 1890s. In 1897, 17 unions met at Pioneer Hall, Bricklayers Hall, or elsewhere inside the Mantle & Bielenberg block (today home to Sassy Consignments and Sales):

Mantle & Bielenberg Block (at right) in 1979
  • Brewers – every Sunday
  • Typographers – first Sunday
  • Musicians – second Sundays
  • Operative Plasterers – every Monday
  • Iron Moulders – second and fourth Mondays
  • Plumbers, Gas & Steam Fitters – every Monday
  • Pioneer Assembly, Knights of Labor – every Monday
  • Building Laborers – every Tuesday
  • International Association of Machinists – second and fourth Tuesdays
  • Tin, Sheet Iron, and Cornice workers – every Wednesday
  • Mill & Smeltermen – every Wednesday
  • Butchers – every Thursday
  • Printers and Decorators – every Thursday
  • Bricklayers and Masons – every Friday
  • Building Trades – every Saturday
  • Bakers – second and fourth Saturdays
  • Quarrymens Union – time not specified

15 other unions met variously at Miners Union Hall, Good Templars (on Broadway), Carpenters Union Hall, Columbia Block (Broadway), Scandinavian Hall (Quartz at Alaska), and other locations.

This post was started as a comprehensive report on the M&B Building, but, as John Muir wrote, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." The same in Butte. As I began researching Nick Bielenberg, the spider-like connections became evident: he was half-brother to Conrad Kohrs of Grant-Kohrs Ranch fame, who in turn was connected to Harry D’Acheul. And guess what – Nicholas Bielenberg was Alma Higgins’ father. So the rest of this interesting and complex story—including both Bielenberg and the M&B Block itself, together with the Creamery Café that occupied it—will come sometime in the future.

Photo from HABS/HAER survey, 1979, via Library of Congress (public domain). Union meeting information from Butte Bystander, January 8, 1897.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Butte Thanksgiving, 120 years ago


News notes from the Anaconda Standard for Thanksgiving, Thursday November 24, 1892.

John J. Garrity, “an intelligent looking man about 38 years old” who lived in South Butte, was arrested for mail theft on the Northern Pacific main line through Butte. In his job as baggage man he began robbing the mails the previous April, taking thousands of dollars in goods, much of which was jewelry and women’s undergarments. When arrested, he was “tending bar in South Butte and living of the harvest gathered while on the mail run, and basking in the smiles and favors of his lady friends to whom he had made the presents of underwear and other female unmentionables.” Garrity confessed the crime.

City Council’s police committee recommended the appointments of three men as policemen, a seemingly routine action, but following the committee’s report, “the committee flew off on a tangent and nearly everybody nominated some one for the police force.” Six more men were nominated, and “a general slaughter of the innocents then ensured and the heads of several excellent men were chopped off.” Only Charles Anderson, one of the original three, was approved by Council majority, leaving two more vacancies. Four new nominees were put forth, and John Nichols was elected; at that point further balloting for policemen was postponed until the next meeting.

“Mrs. Chris Nissler, wife of the brewer, died yesterday at Old Silver Bow.”

“Tom Lamb paid $1 and costs for getting drunk and going to bed on the sidewalk.”

“The amusing and interesting little monkey who has made a host of friends around the Standard office in the last three months by upsetting ink bottles and tearing up letters and ‘copy’ is missing, and it is thought that he has been abducted. A liberal reward is offered for Jocko’s return, either with or without his tail.”

Three members of the “fighting branch of the Austrian colony in Meaderville” were brought up to Judge McMurphey to answer a charge by John Schwab that the other two fired shots at him. One of the others in turn accused Schwab of assault with a knife. The cases were to go forward a week from next Thursday.

The drilling tournament was in progress, with Joe Freethy and Tom Tallon ultimately the “unquestioned champions of the world with the great record of 38 and 13/16 inches.” This would have been a double jacking drilling contest.

W.A. Clark et al. sold a portion of the Stewart Lode Claim to T.P. Maloney, for $221.40.

The Theater Comique (present-day location of the southern part of Metals Bank building, on Main Street) held a “good-natured, surging mass of people” who saw the opening of an acrobatic performance by the Gillette Family, together with a performance by raconteur Professor Oofty Goofty. Godfrey the dare-devil gymnast “displayed marvelous skill and nerve,” and the La Rose sisters “sang themselves into public favor at once.” Other performers included Fenton the pedo-manualist, Ollie Leonard the pleasing balladist, Lillie Haines vocalist, and Professor McKenzie and his drama. “Big Bertha” was the manager of the successful program, in her first managerial experience in Butte. All for probably 15¢, or maybe 25¢ for good seats.

Meanwhile, Maguire’s Opera House on Broadway (where the Leggatt Hotel is today) offered a special engagement by Ms. Jeffreys Lewis, as well as the comedian Charles Dickson.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Drilling image from Dept. of Transportation. Ads from Nov. 24, 1892 Anaconda Standard, from Library of Congress.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dr. Donald Campbell of West Broadway Street

By Richard I. Gibson


Donald Campbell was born the sixth of ten children November 1, 1862, at Marble Mountain, Inverness County, Nova Scotia, in western Cape Breton Island on the shores of Bras d’Or Lake. His parents were from Inverness and Southerland shires, Scotland, but had been in Nova Scotia since their infancy. In 1883 he emigrated to the U.S., to Massachusetts, where he worked in mental hospitals. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Vermont (Burlington) in 1891.

Young Doctor Campbell came to Butte, penniless, in the spring of 1892, quickly rising to prominence not only in Butte but throughout the west. By 1896 he was a state representative to the American Medical Association. He was elected Recording Secretary of the Rocky Mountain Interstate Medical Association in 1899, and likely was instrumental in bringing that group to Butte for its second annual conference, August 28-29, 1900. He seems to have accepted the office in the RMIMA reluctantly but with good humor, saying “I believe I owe the Association my thanks for electing me to this office but I think it was done more to get even with me than anything else and some time I shall get even with the man who suggested my name.”


Murray Hospital at Quartz and Alaska (parking lot today)
Campbell was a founder of the Silver Bow Medical Association and served as its vice president in 1900-01. He maintained his office in his home at 307 West Broadway, an ornate house in a section called the Mediterranean Block. The core of that house dates to before 1884, when it was a small, T-shaped one-story home. Campbell expanded it in 1896, adding the second floor and some of the embellishment, although much of the present Spanish Revival appearance dates to a second major remodeling in 1916.

Dr. Campbell became the personal physician to copper king F. A. Heinze sometime in the late 1890s, a position that undoubtedly contributed to his fame and fortune. He was also the local physician and surgeon to the Northern Pacific Railway. By 1905, he no longer maintained an office in his home, as he had become an officer, and eventually President, of the Murray Hospital (at Quartz and Alaska Streets). See also these posts on the Murray Hospital and Dr. Murray.

307 W. Broadway, part of the "Mediterranean Block"
He married fellow Nova Scotian Jessie F. Jeffreys at Hunter's Hot Springs, Bozeman, in 1893. Campbell died February 5, 1925, and is buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery. Jessie lived until 1943. Today, his home is occupied by another member of the medical profession—a dentist.

Sources: Sanborn maps, Progressive Men of Montana, Find a Grave, Proceedings of the RMIMA, Western Resources June 1901: Butte, Montana at the dawn of the twentieth century. Images: Dr. Campbell’s portrait from Western Resources (1901), Montana Memory Project, scan by Butte Public Library; Murray Hospital from an old postcard; modern photo of 307 W. Broadway by Dick Gibson.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Iona Cafe and Pincus Building

By Richard I. Gibson
Iona Cafe (left), Pincus Building (right) in 2012
The Iona Café at 16 South Main Street is for sale.  It generated some buzz on the Building Butte Facebook page, so herewith is some historic background on it and the adjacent Pincus Building.

In 1909, baker Joseph W. Boulet established his bakery at 72 East Park, part of the Ivanhoe Block erected in 1905 and still standing. Boulet’s manager, Carroll Cornelius, lived upstairs in the Ivanhoe, while Boulet lived in a home at 1131 South Arizona, a duplex represented by a vacant lot today. A fire at the bakery and Iona Cafe at 72 E. Park (the address has changed), on Dec. 29, 1913, led to the business moving to South Main St.

State Cafe (left), Pincus Building (right), 1979
In 1914, the first building permit was issued for the building at 16 S. Main that would become the Iona Café. It began as a one-story building, but the second floor was added before 1916; the original building cost $4,000. The Iona Baking Company and the Iona Café, both run by Joseph Boulet, occupied the building by 1915. The entry tiles naming the Iona still survive.

The Iona Baking Company lasted until 1917, but that year the café became the State Café, managed by George Buller, who roomed at 26 East Park (US Bank and parking lot today). The ghost sign on the north side of the Iona, “Flor de Baltimore,” promotes a brand of cigar.

The Pincus Building south of the Iona is named for Adolph Pincus, an entrepreneur who dabbled in real estate, sold cigars, ran a copper precipitation plant, and referred to himself as a “capitalist,” which in those days pretty much meant an investor. Pincus built the second Thomas Block in 1913 to the design of architect Herman Kemna (see page 56 of Lost Butte), but in 1893-94 he was having the building constructed on South Main that bears his name. It was originally a saloon and pawn shop, and over time it has contained a restaurant and various stores, including (in 1928) the Butte Saddlery Company whose ghost sign survives on the south face of the Building.

State Cafe (left), Pincus Building (right), 1979
Pincus was born in Germany in 1859 and came to the U.S. in 1880. He died in 1929, and both he and his wife Hattie (1869-1932) are buried in B’nai Israel Cemetery in Butte. In 1928 they lived at 541 West Park (at Crystal), today the parking lot for the Hummingbird Cafe.
Front door, State Cafe, 1979
Click to enlarge

Robert Nickel was Pincus’ architect for the building. Nickel was only in Butte from about 1891-96, but his mark remains, in both the Pincus Building and the Haller Block at 605 West Park, today’s Hummingbird Café (see the Building Butte Facebook page cover photo). Nickel lived in a little miner’s cottage at 522 West Granite, which I can see out my window as I type this.



Photos: historic photos are from 1979 HAER survey of Butte, via Library of Congress and are public domain, photos probably by Jet Lowe. Modern photo (2012) by Dick Gibson.

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.