By Richard I. Gibson
In the wake of the news that NorthWestern Energy may build a new, large building on the northeast corner of Park and Main, I thought it might be interesting to address what was there.
People who lived in Butte in 1973 will probably remember the huge fire that consumed the Medical Arts Building on July 23. That building (seen in the post-card view above) had dominated the corner since it was finished in 1892. We also know it as the Owsley Block, for William Owsley who had it built, but technically it was Owsley Block #3. Owsley #2 is the building housing Trimbo’s Pizza today, and Owsley #1 stands to the east of #2, originally the Hoffman Hotel.
Early occupants of Owsley Block #3 included Leys’ jewelry store on the ground floor, and the Butte Business College on the top (fifth) floor. Owsley’s fortune – which also undoubtedly helped him win two elections as Butte’s Mayor, in 1882 and 1884 – was based on his livery business, started in 1874, when Butte was near its low point in terms of population and economy.
Precisely when Owsley obtained the corner lot at Park and Main is not known, but by 1884 he had a massive building there, not brick as his later Owsley Block would be, but a two-story wood frame complex that housed not only his huge livery stable, but also a grocery store, saloon, and lodging house, with a tiny cigar store exactly on the corner. The eastern portion was a two-story hay loft, with stalls for horses on both the ground floor and in the basement below.
The northeast corner of the complex, on the alley, held a carriage house and wash room and dressing rooms for drivers. In 1890, the city fire department’s hose cart and 450-foot hose were kept there—to be relocated soon to the new (1890) city hall and fire station a block north on Broadway. Immediately north of the original Owsley complex, but taken up by the new Owsley Block in 1888-92 was another building that contained the Variety Theater, the Telephone Company, and a tin shop in 1884.
Resources: Lost Butte, Montana, by Richard I. Gibson (The History Press, 2012); Sanborn Maps; City Directories; post card view in Dick Gibson's collection.