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, May 7, 2013

"Welcome All To Hearth And Hall"

By Richard I. Gibson

(Click any image to enlarge)

A hundred years ago this spring and summer, the caretaker’s house at the Basin Creek Reservoir was constructed. Andrew F. Munroe was the engineer with the Butte Water Company in charge of the operation. His daily field notebook reveals the plans, sketches, and details of this custom project, as well as weather events and the occupants of the creek.

The work began in April, 1913, with the foundation laid out on April 29. By May 8, foundation forms were to have been started. The schedule called for frame up on May 23, and “shingles all on roof” May 24. The huge chimney would take two weeks to build, from May 31 to June 14. But with flooring in on June 21 and trim installed June 23, the work would be done in about two months.

Munroe’s drawings are true to the ultimate appearance of the house. Compare the sketch above to this recent photo by the Montana Standard. The house has been in the news lately because of the potential for demolition; once a caretaker no longer occupied it, it became a target for vandals. The city–county offered it for potential moving to another site, on a developer’s packet, and while one applicant proposed to restore it on site, and live in it to prevent further vandalism (which has been intense even in the past month), the proposals in 2012 were rejected and the city-county still owns the house and has not determined its fate.

Basin Creek Reservoir was developed to supply water to Butte’s growing demand in the early 20th Century. By the 1890s, Butte lacked enough water for its industrial needs and its large population, and as early as 1899 water was pumped over the continental divide from the Big Hole River, a process that continues today. The Basin Creek water source was for most of its history so pure that no filtration was required (one of only a handful of water sources in the nation to have that designation), but in recent years runoff, in part a result of forest loss through beetle kill, has contaminated the reservoir. Butte-Silver Bow is wrestling with potential needs to build a filtration plant there.

The park below the Basin Creek Dam, where the caretaker’s house is located, was for many years a recreational spot and destination for Butte’s residents, by most accounts second only to Columbia Gardens as a playground for an enjoyable outing. Map

Engineer Munroe, who drew the sketches shown here, roomed in 1913 at 133 West Broadway (the Morris Block) above what is now Wilhelm’s Floral Shop. He evidently found time to fish, although based on the note with the fish drawing, it might have been caught by George Corbett. All his drawings recall the enjoyment and professionalism of a house builder of 100 years ago.

Thanks to Mitzi Rossillon and Irene Scheidecker for discovering the notebook and providing access to it. Photos of notebook sketches by Richard Gibson; notebook in Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives collection.


  1. That the proposal to live on site and work to restore the building was rejected is unfortunate---sounds like it could have been a positive thing. If no one else has come forward with another idea, what is the likely future of this charming building? Will this become another historic asset that is destroyed by neglect, waiting for a solution that fits neatly inside the box?

    1. Here is the report from the HPC meeting yesterday, from the Hist. Pres. officer: "Basin Creek Caretakers House – Per a report of vandalism at this BSB owned property located near the Basin Creek Reservoir, the HPO and Building Manager inspected the site. Vandals removed plywood panels from the windows that were installed last summer and proceeded to breakout most of the buildings windows and further damage the interior. A communication has been sent to the CEO requesting funding to re-secure the building and install a security fence around the perimeter of the building to prevent further vandalism of this historic building. Future uses of the building are still undetermined."

  2. This historic building deserves to be fixed up and loved.

  3. You could get a writer's residency program going--a great place to live for 2 or 3 months!