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, December 27, 2012

The Rothschild Connection

By Richard I. Gibson

Earl of Rosebery (image from Wikipedia)
Archibald Primrose, Fifth Earl of Rosebery and Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1894-95 married Hanna de Rothschild in 1878, at a time when she was the richest woman in Britain. Rosebery was a celebrated Scottish imperialist, anti-Socialist and philanthropist, first president of the London Scottish Rugby Football Club, so well known that his image adorned cigar boxes. The combined Rosebery-Rothschild fortunes allowed them to invest widely, even as far afield as Butte, Montana Territory.

Rosebery’s American business interests were developed by a dashing young New Yorker, Ferdinand Van Zandt. The growing silver mines at Burlington, a few miles west of Butte, led him to encourage Rosebery to invest in the Bluebird Mine in 1885, and November 22, 1886, Van Zandt’s 90-stamp mill opened there, helping yield the remarkable output of 1.4 million ounces of silver in 1888 alone.

Home of Van Zandt in Burlington (c. 1906)
But success was short lived. Litigation contending claim encroachment in 1889 tied things up for several years. George Tyng, Rosebery’s manager at the White Deer Cattle Ranch in the Texas Panhandle, settled most of the law suits by 1891, but another that same year, a $2-million case, resulted in the authorities seizing the mine anticipating the need for payment, effectively shutting down production indefinitely. When the news reached London, Van Zandt shot himself in his room at the Brown Hotel in upscale Mayfair (some sources say he jumped to his death from a hotel window). The mine began to fill with water and was ultimately sold off piecemeal. The crash in the price of silver in 1893 was the final nail in the coffin: the Bluebird hoist went to the Diamond and the headframe was transported to the Blue Jay Mine (the Blue Jay was due east of the Steward, about half way between the Kelley and Parrot Mines). Ruins of the mill (closed permanently March 1, 1892) can still be found out west of Butte, east of Rocker.
Town of Burlington (c. 1906)

Burlington itself suffered because the Bluebird Mine and mill were the town’s primary employers, even though a number of smaller mines were in the vicinity including the Great Republic, Champion, and Moody & Sankey. All were primarily silver producers and all suffered mightily in the collapse of 1893.

Burlington had begun in a big way in 1885 when the post office was established. Within a few years some 2,000 residents called the place home, making for a flourishing community supporting at least seven saloons, two groceries, several hotels, a church, a community library, and a school. In 1887 the Bluebird was the only non-union operation in the Butte District; on June 13 that year (Miner’s Union Day) union leaders from Butte hiked out the Bluebird Trail (the westward extension of Park Street) and intimidated workers at the Bluebird Mine, bringing them back to Butte where they were initiated into the union, making Butte a closed shop, with all mines unionized.
Bluebird Mill about 1897, when it was idle. See map below for location.

Following the crash of 1893, at least 60 houses were loaded onto wagons and relocated into Butte. The town died a decade-long death. The post office closed in 1901 and the last business, a saloon and road house, shut down in 1905. Twelve families were still hanging on in 1906. For a time early in the 20th Century, Burlington’s dairy cows reportedly provided as much as 25 wagons of milk to Butte daily.

Map (1896) of area west of Butte, to Burlington, Bluebird, and Rocker. Click to enlarge.
Resources: Anaconda Standard, June 17, 1906 (source for two photos); The Story of Butte, special issue of the Butte Bystander, April 15, 1897 (photo of mill), from Gibson's collection; Montana Pay Dirt by Muriel Sibell Wolle, 1963; George Tyng/Rosebery/Van Zandt; Geologic Map from Butte Special Folio, US Geological Survey; When Toil Meant Trouble (George Everett).

Friday, December 21, 2012

The first house in South Butte

by Richard I. Gibson

You might think that 217 South Wyoming would lie between Mercury and Silver Streets, and you’d be right—but in the 1880s and early 1890s there was another 217 South Wyoming, between Second and Third Streets in South Butte. South Butte was separate and distinct from Butte, with its own street address system and its own population accounting until about 1895.

That house at 217 S. Wyoming, later 919 S. Wyoming, was built at Blackfoot City and moved into South Butte in 1883 by John H. McQueeney, establishing the first residence in that neighborhood. McQueeney was born in 1843 in New Haven, Connecticut, to Irish immigrants, Patrick and Catherine (nee McHugh) who took young John (second of eight children and the only survivor in 1900) with them to Chicago in 1854. After working in various Chicago businesses including ink manufacturing, about 1880 John headed west and became a cashier with the Utah & Northern Railroad (the first railroad into Butte, in 1881). He arrived in Butte in 1883 and established a transfer company or delivery service. He did well, allowing him to expand into real estate and other investments.

943 S. Wyoming (at Second St.): gone today.
The pre-1891 house at right (with the bluish roof) survives.
By 1898 McQueeney’s success took him a few lots south of his first Butte home, to 943 S. Wyoming (northwest corner with Second St.). This large two-story house with its jerkin-headed gable was his home for many years; the post-card photo here shows it to have been one of the more prestigious homes in South Butte.

In 1916, McQueeney’s original house at 919 S. Wyoming was gone, replaced by stables and a corral associated probably with his transfer company. The big house on the corner, 943 S. Wyoming, was lost sometime after 1957, but elements of the retaining wall survive, recalling the unusually spacious yard. In 1928, John and Isabella McQueeney's son Frederick was still living in the house at 943 and managing the McQueeney Transfer and Storage Company.

So far as I can determine, John McQueeney has no connection with the name of the McQueen neighborhood.

Thanks to Pat Armstrong for guidance and for the initial question, and for the image of the house at 943 S. Wyoming (via Jean Johanson). Additional resources: Progressive Men of the State of Montana (1901); city directories at Butte Archives; Sanborn maps.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Walkerville 1884

by Richard I. Gibson

from 1884 Bird's-Eye View, via Library of Congress. Annotations by Gibson.


Walkerville began early because of the nature of Butte’s minerals. The district is like an onion, with the core layers most copper rich, and the outer zones more silver rich. That’s why the Orphan Girl mine on the west side produced more than 7,000,000 ounces of silver before it closed in 1956 (but that's less than 1% of Butte’s silver) and why Walkerville grew up in the 1870s, before Butte’s real boom began.

Named for the Walker brothers of Salt Lake City who invested there, Walkerville held the famous Alice Mine (where Marcus Daly got his start), as well as massive associated mills. The Valdermere and Magna Charta Mines stood atop the hill to the east, and the Allie Brown, Lexington, Josephine, La Plata, and others bordered Walkerville on the south.

In 1884, much of this industrial complex was interconnected by a series of trams and railways, taking ore from smaller mines to central mills. Walkerville held one of McCune and Caplice’s largest general stores (on Main just north of Daly). The Rainbow Hotel, run by E.D. Sullivan, was on Main Street a bit north of the Lexington. The old Walkerville School on this illustration is not the Sherman School that still stands in Walkerville today.

Walkerville’s official population in 1880 was 444 (compare Butte at 3,364) but by 1890 it had quadrupled to 1,743 in the census, and nearby locations likely doubled that.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Mantle & Bielenberg Block – 3. Creamery Café

By Richard I. Gibson

Previous posts about the M&B block are here and here
1979 HABS/HAER photo.


The Creamery Café, commemorated in the prominent ghost sign on the east face of the M&B building (and a less prominent one on the west face), occupied part of the ground floor here from 1913 until 1957. The Café moved to the M&B on Broadway following the devastating fire on North Main, its original location.

Theo McCabe and Roy McClelland both came to Butte in 1903, and in July 1903 partnered to establish a restaurant in the basement at 36 North Main Street. Four years later, the Creamery Cafe subscribed to the Independent Telephone Company’s network (phone no. 5058), and the partners each had home phones as well, at 502 South Washington and 662 Colorado, respectively.

36 N. Main St. circa 1904.
In 1911, the Creamery was at 24 North Main, but it hadn’t moved—the address scheme changed. It was still in the basement of the same building, known as the O’Rourke Estate Building. (The building at Granite and Main, Curley’s store today, is the one we think of as the O’Rourke Estate, but the Estate likely owned many properties around Butte). On July 30, 1912, a fire and explosion at about 4:00 a.m. resulted from a worker rendering lard in the café oven and placing the burning container on the stove, where the flaming grease spattered everywhere spreading the fire very quickly. Although “all the fire equipment in the city” responded, ultimately three buildings were lost.

The fire burned out several businesses, wiping out almost the entire inventory of the McDonald Shoe Company, a $22,000 loss. Residents in Mrs. Josephine Bietz’ rooming house on the upper floors barely escaped with their scant night clothes; several ailing residents had to be carried out as the flames reached their apartment doors. Mrs. Bietz had been burned out when her lodging house was in the Harvard Block on West Park, destroyed in the huge conflagration that wiped out the Symons Stores and more in 1905 (Phoenix Block today). Several pets were killed in the fire, but no humans were injured seriously.

July 30, 1912. D'Acheul building at right,
Creamery Cafe in building at left.
The building south of the O’Rourke Estate/Creamery, 20 N. Main (32 N. Main before 1911) was erected before 1891 and for many years housed D’Acheul’s drug store. (See the vignette in this previous post; compare to the 1912 fire photo here.) At the time of the fire that destroyed it, Ley’s Jewelery was on the ground floor there, and the second level held offices and meeting halls; ironically, the Cooks and Waiters Unions met there. The total value of losses was estimated at more than $70,000 at the time, with about $52,000 covered by insurance. Later estimates pegged the total loss at about $49,000.

The three destroyed buildings were replaced in short order by three more, including two that survive today: the Rookwood Hotel/Speakeasy (and BS Café) at 24-26 N. Main, and the three-story building next door which holds a Ley’s Jewelry ghost sign. All the buildings in the rest of the block adjacent to these buildings, all of which survived the 1912 fire, were lost in conflagrations in 1969 (buildings to the north to Broadway) and 1973 (Medical Arts Center fire south to Park).

Sources: Montana Catholic Newspaper (Butte), January 21, 1905, including interior shot of café; Sanborn Maps (1900, 1916); City Directories (1903-1957); Anaconda Standard (fire image) and Butte Miner for July 31, 1912; ghost sign photo from 1979 HABS/HAER survey, via Library of Congress (public domain).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What Was There? Excelsior at Caledonia

By Richard I. Gibson

The little triangular tract bounded by Excel, Caledonia, and the walking trail (former BA&P Railroad bed) has an interesting history. In 1891, the area around Excelsior was platted, but few homes had been built. Andrew Jackson Davis’s twin-sister homes at Granite and Excelsior were a year old, anchoring burgeoning upscale development along Granite and Broadway, but west of Excel and north of Granite there were only nine homes in the area north to Copper and west to Henry, and three of those were little shacks.

By 1900, Silver Bow County (mostly what we think of as Butte today) had more than doubled its 1890 population, from 23,000 to 48,000. The west side was growing, and in the same area, Granite to Copper and Excel to Henry, there were 37 houses, including five large two-story structures. West of Henry was more sporadic, but homes were popping up there, as well as to the north along Caledonia.

The growing west side was served by its own fire station beginning in 1901. It stood in the angle between Caledonia and Excel that was cut by the BA&P railroad. The photo here, from 1901, shows the fire station in its last stages of construction – it still bears the sign reading “this work is being done by Howard L. Hines, Contractor.” The view looks north from Caledonia, with the railroad crossing on Excel at right rear. Map

By 1916 the station had one hose wagon, an 1100-foot 2½-inch hose (made of first class cotton), two 400-foot second class cotton hoses, and was staffed by 6 men on two shifts, supported by two horses.

In 1951, the building together with the railroad tower house behind it was still standing, but was in use as an auto repair shop. In 1957 it was gone.

Image taken from p. 43 of Souvenir history of the Butte Fire Department (1901) by Peter Sanger, Chief Engineer, scanned by Butte Public Library.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Mantle & Bielenberg Block – 2. Nick Bielenberg

By Richard I. Gibson

The first in this series on the M&B Block is here.


Nicholas Bielenberg was born June 8, 1847, in Wewelsfleth along the Elbe River near its mouth in Holstein, then part of Denmark and today in Germany downstream from Hamburg. The family emigrated to Davenport, Iowa, when Nick was 7; he left home at age 16 to apprentice as a butcher in Chicago. Two years later, 1865, he took a steamboat up the Missouri to join his brother John and half-brother Conrad Kohrs in Montana. Nick operated butcher shops at Blackfoot City and Helena for several years, but by 1873 his focus was changing to stockgrowing. He continued various businesses, including the Butte Butchering Company, ultimately one of the largest meat-packing operations in the northwest and reputedly one of the first to employ large-scale cold storage.

Bielenberg lived most of his life in Deer Lodge, where the family home at 801 Milwaukee saw guests ranging from Jeanette Rankin to Gary Cooper. Nick was one of the first to bring cattle into the Deer Lodge Valley, and was one of the first members of the Montana Stockgrowers Association in 1879. He is generally credited with starting the sheep-raising industry in western Montana, eventually running some 130,000 head on ranches across the state.

Nicholas Bielenberg’s daughter, Alma (Higgins), became prominent in Butte garden circles, but she got her start in Deer Lodge. At her request Nick acquired the mortgage on the Deer Lodge Women’s League Chapter House, donating it to the organization. This gave Alma a platform for her early civic works that culminated in Butte’s garden clubs and National Garden Week.

In Butte, the butchering company was his primary venture, together with the Mantle & Bielenberg Block as an investment in an office building. Both Lee Mantle and Nick Bielenberg were prominent Republicans; Nick left the party to follow Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, when Bielenberg was a delegate to the Chicago convention that nominated Roosevelt on the Bull Moose ticket. By most accounts, Nick Bielenberg was a close friend and confidant of Teddy Roosevelt.

Pilot Butte Headframe in 2007 (photo by Dick Gibson)
Bielenberg was a partner in the Pilot Butte Mining Company, which in 1912 had a three-compartment shaft 2,400 feet deep. In that year, Pilot Butte employed 31 underground miners and 12 on the surface, resulting in an annual payroll of $60,000 (compare the Anaconda company’s annual payroll of more than $14,000,000 the same year). The Pilot Butte was connected underground to the Elm Orlu and Black Rock mines, both owned by W.A. Clark.

Nick Bielenberg died in Deer Lodge July 6, 1927.

Resources: Obituary, Helena Daily Independent, July 7, 1927; historic plaques (Montana Historical Society); A History of Montana, Helen Fitzgerald Sanders, Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1913; Progressive Men of Montana (1901); Kohrs Packing Company blog  (portrait) ; Butte Butchering advertisement scanned by Butte Public Library; Biennial report of the Montana Dept. of Labor and Industry, 1913-14; photo of Pilot Butte mine headframe by Dick Gibson.