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.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What was there? Park and Main

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.


  1. Does anyone remember the layout of the interior? Was there a central staircase, perhaps with a skylight? I recall an enclosed elevator, but no other details. Even at five stories, it's hard to imagine that the proposed new building would be as imposing.

    1. Based on the Sanborn maps, there were 4 separate stores on the first floor facing Main, and on Park, the side of the corner office, then a central main entry with a longish hall past an office to the elevator, and then three more stores to the east to the alley. There are some skylights (but not in the entry), but no indication of a central stair (but these maps don't always show such detail, often just the positions of major dividing walls). But there is a funny space in the north-central part of the building that has interior windows on the 5th floor, so I suspect that that represents a space where it was only 4 stories high, and the surrounding parts of the 5th floor had the windows there. But not sure.

    2. My recollection of the Owsley Block Building (Medical Arts Building) ground floor from the late 40s through the mid 50s. Its lobby was seemingly large with the height of two floors and a granite floor. To the left were office spaces and at the far northwest corner was the back entrance to Spillum’s with it’s ever persistent odor of the mix tobacco smoke and beer. At the right was my grandfather’s tailor shop which was long and narrow with a single window facing Park Street. The elevator was centered in the back wall of the lobby, with a glass and brass mail chute ending in a brass collection box to the left and the stairway to the right. I can’t recall any doors to the spaces to the east in the building from the ground floor.