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.



Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in Butte and Anaconda, 1889

Anaconda Standard, Dec. 25, 1889


By Richard I. Gibson


See also these posts with ads from Christmas 1911.

The Anaconda mine in Butte had been shut down a month earlier, boding ill for the economy, but by Christmas day in Anaconda, “the smoke [was] pouring out of the big stacks across the creek in volumes that gave ample assurance of a merry Christmas in the town.”

Christmas 1889 was the first anniversary of electrical light service in Anaconda. The first public power and light utility in Butte was five years earlier, in 1884, and by February 1889 “all the levels” of the Anaconda, St. Lawrence, and Mountain Con mines were lit underground by incandescent lights. Streets in Butte were first lit by electric lights in late November, 1885, so that “pedestrianism is rendered more comfortable.” 

In Butte for Christmas 1889, “All stores, public offices, and churches will be closed for the day, but the saloons, gambling houses, the Comique, and hurdy houses, will be running at full blast as usual.” The Theatre Comique was a dance hall and entertainment venue that stood on Main Street just south of Park, about where the southern edge of the Metals Bank building is today. Goldberg’s (see ad at top) offered 25% off everything in their store at 12 Main Street. It looks like the discounts were of little avail, and David Goldberg was out of the jewelry business by 1893 and was working as a railroad ticket agent. His business was probably purchased and became Leys Jewelry which had a store (at 12 N. Main Street and other addresses, as he moved and the address scheme changed) in the block between Park and Broadway for many years. A Leys ghost sign survives.

Anaconda, Christmas 1889. Click to enlarge.
The Standard reported that “W.A. Clark and Lee Mantle have had stockings expressly made for the occasion, warranted large enough to hold an election certificate to the United States senate.” Montana had become a state seven weeks earlier, on November 8, 1889, and politicians’ goals were becoming evident. The contests would become more and more bizarre over the coming decade.

Even in 1889, the Standard said, “Butte is one of the most cosmopolitan cities on earth, and each of the various nationalities represented will eat the dinner most to its liking. The native Americans recognize the turkey as the national bird. The Germans and Swedes of Butte consider the goose much preferable to the turkey. The latter they consider too dry. The citizens of Butte from the British Isles find a roast pig exceedingly palatable, while those from the southern states also choose the pig in the absence of the unequalled ’possum. The French think chicken makes the best dinner. Duck finds favor with a good many of every nationality and is especially liked by the Jews. The Italians don’t go much on eating, while the Chinese think rat giblet santi with cream sauce the best dish on earth.” That last line certainly was a reflection of prejudices of the time.

Quotes: Butte Daily Miner, Nov. 27, 1885; Feb. 15, 1889. Main article and Goldberg ad from Anaconda Standard, Dec. 25, 1889, via Library of Congress Chronicling America digital newspapers.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Great Building Boom of 1906



The Napton, with its four medallions for 1906.
By Richard I. Gibson

Note: this post is modified from an article written by Gibson and published in the Montana Standard in 2008.

1906 was a watershed year in Butte—the end of the War of the Copper Kings. When Augustus Heinze sold most of his holdings to the Amalgamated Copper Company (later to become Anaconda), more than 100 lawsuits were settled. This cleared title to millions of dollars in land ownership and freed up money for investors. And the building boom was on. Yes, there were still deals to be done between Clark and his heirs and the Anaconda Company, but for practical purposes, the war was over.

With a county population exploding from fewer than 50,000 in 1900 to at least 85,000 in 1917, Butte needed more and bigger of everything, from apartments and churches to office buildings. Butte produced some of the grandest buildings in its history in a brief period from 1906 to 1908.

Granite Street must have been in a near-perpetual state of disarray in 1906, as huge structures were erected from the Leonard Hotel on the west to the Thornton Hotel Addition on the east, near Wyoming Street. Between them, the Silver Bow Club, Carpenters Union Hall, and Telephone Company (later the Water Company) joined the list of “under construction” places in 1906-07. The Napton apartment building, 25 E. Granite, memorializes 1906 in four huge medallions across its upper façade.

1906 Symons Store (Phoenix Block) as it looked in 1939.
A new “labor temple” at 128 West Broadway and the Buol Building at 132 West Broadway appeared in 1906-1908. The distinctive green and white Moorish appearance of the Butte Floral Co. at 27 W. Broadway is another 1906 addition. First Baptist Church, Broadway at Montana, was erected in 1907-08 to replace a smaller first-generation church on the same site.

One of Butte’s most significant and prestigious structures, the Metals Bank skyscraper at Park and Main, was completed in 1906, while just down the street the Phoenix Building was rising from the ashes of the “million dollar fire” that destroyed the previous Symons Department Store on September 25, 1905.


Marcus Daly’s statue was being created by Augustus St. Gaudens in 1906, and was unveiled on North Main Street in 1907. In 1908, two prominent homes were built on the west side, together with many smaller houses. 

South of the main business district, Madame Marie Paumie had the St. Francis Apartments built at 110 S. Dakota in 1906, adjacent to her cleaning establishment (now the Post Office at Dakota and Galena). St. Mark’s Lutheran Church went up at Montana and Silver in 1906-1908 at a cost of $16,000. And down on Front Street, Bennett Block #2 (the Deluxe, slated for demolition today) was erected. 

The legacy of a century-old building boom is with us today – as treasures in architecture all over Uptown Butte.

The video below by Edoardo Ramponi includes some mentions of buildings involved in the 1906 building boom.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fair Drug & Assayers Supplies


By Richard I. Gibson

Scott Robert Fair was born November 26, 1857, in St. John, New Brunswick, to parents who were natives of Ireland. Fairville, today a neighborhood in St. John, was named for his father, the first resident there. Scott Robert began to study pharmacy in Boston when in his late teens. After working in Boston and New York, he came to Montana about 1889.


By 1893 he had established (with assayer Olof Bergstron) a drug store and assay supply outlet at 137 East Park, on the northwest corner with Arizona Street. He at least dabbled in mining, establishing the Mayflower Mine south of Whitehall—which by about 1896 he had sold to W.A. Clark for a reported $150,000. The Mayflower went on to produce more than 225,000 ounces of gold and 875,000 ounces of silver for Clark and later the Anaconda Company, a total value of around $3 million by 1961, most of it in 1896-1901. New owners in the 2000s have been testing and drilling to evaluate re-opening the Mayflower.  

Invoice, dated Dec. 30, 1900,
to The Butte General Electric Co.,
purchased 45¢ worth of tubing
and paid the bill 1/17/1901
Fair was closely connected with W.A. Clark. In addition to the sale of the mine, his partner Bergstron was the assayer for the Colorado Smelting & Mining Company, of which Clark was vice-president. In February 1900, Fair was summoned to Washington. D.C., to testify in the Senate hearings related to Clark’s alleged bribery of the Montana legislature to “buy” that Senate seat. Fair was asked directly whether he told Montana legislator Thomas Normoyle that $10,000 was his if Normoyle would vote for Clark. Fair denied that, and other suggestions, strenuously—but Normoyle insisted that he had in fact made such an offer, in Fair’s establishment at 115 East Park Street. The upshot of the hearing was the Senate’s refusal to seat Clark; he resigned from the position before he could be ousted, then famously got his friend the Lieutenant Governor of Montana, in the absence of the Governor, to appoint him to that now-vacant seat. That ploy failed as well, but Clark was finally elected and seated in the U.S. Senate in 1901.

1901 advertisement
When he began the drug store at 137 E. Park, Fair lived at 408 West Quartz (a house that I can see out my window as I type this) with his brother George F., who dealt in real estate. By 1896, he and his wife Caroline were living at 606 West Park, and in 1897-98, they relocated to a new home at 221 N. Excelsior which would stay in the family at least until 1963. About the same time, they occupied the new building at 115 East Park that would house the drug and assay company for two decades.

Among the products available at Fair’s Drug was a special “pneumonia mixture,” touted as a cure and sold to treat miners’ consumption (silicosis).

The Fairs participated in Butte’s high society. Caroline Fair attended affairs with Mrs. A.H. Heilbronner, Mrs. Reno Sales (he was chief geologist for the Anaconda Company) and many others.

1907 advertisement
S. Robert Fair died May 20, 1914. His widow Caroline and son George R. continued to run the Fair Drug and Assay Supply Co., but in 1918 they moved the operation a block to the east, to the corner storefront in the new Arizona Hotel on the southeast corner of Park and Arizona. The drug store address was 200 E. Park. In 1918 George was living at 628 W. Quartz. Caroline, Robert’s widow, died in 1944. Her daughters Katherine, Caroline (McCarthy), and Nellie (McDaniel) lived in Butte until the 1960s. Katherine died in September 1963, when she was living at 317½ N. Alabama Street.

The Fairs continued to run the drug store in the Arizona Hotel until about 1936-37, when Ben Gunnary took over. The original drug store building, 115 E. Park, served as the Union Grill for most of the 1930s and was known as Frank’s Café in 1954. In the late 1950s and early 1960s both 115 E. Park (Jim’s Trading Post) and the Arizona Hotel corner store were used furniture shops.

Arizona Hotel c. 1919
The Arizona Hotel was demolished about 1965, and the west half of the 100 block of East Park was removed in 1967-68. About 1971 the Burger Crown restaurant was built on the site of the Arizona Hotel. The Burger Crown burned May 4, 1975, and today that space is the parking lot for Sparky’s Garage Restaurant.

About 1969, the present building went up on the site of 115 E. Park and that half of the block. It held Currie’s Tire & Appliance Center for years, and many still refer to it as the tire store. Where it stands today, in 1900 there were nine storefronts on Park and five more on Wyoming, plus various outbuildings. Among the businesses were a tent manufacturing factory, two restaurants, a Chinese tailor, two saloons, one bakery, an auto dealer, a hat shop, a sausage factory, a liquor store, and a cleaner.


Sources: The Story of Butte, Butte Bystander, April 15, 1897 (source of main photo), in Gibson’s collection; The History of Montana, by Helen Fitzgerald Sanders, Volume 3, 1913; Congressional Record, Montana Senatorial Election Hearings, Feb. 5, 1900; Anaconda Standard, May 21-22, 1914; August 12, 1912; June 30, 1907; March 24, 1901; Sept. 21, 1963; Advertisement from Souvenir History of the Butte Fire Dept., 1901, Butte Public Library scan; Invoice, dated Dec. 30, 1900, to The Butte General Electric Co., purchased 45¢ worth of tubing and paid the bill 1/17/1901, via Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History (Ft Missoula); City Directories; Sanborn maps.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Mikado Dining Hall


by Richard I. Gibson

Annie and Katie Nesbitt, sisters, opened the Mikado Dining Hall on October 1, 1894, in the Barnard Block at 15 West Granite Street. They had been in the restaurant business for at least a few years—in 1892 Annie managed and Katie was a waitress at a café at 45 West Granite. Prior to that, they were reportedly “engaged in conducting fashionable boarding places.”

The eastern store front of the Barnard Block, on the site where the Montana Standard is located today, was part of a large 2-story building that was nearly destroyed in the fire of September 29, 1889. Although heavily damaged in the fire that began across the street, and although reports of the day indicated it burned to the ground, it appears from the Sanborn maps that the basic structure survived and a third story was added during the restoration. The 3-story Barnard Block stood here until the middle 1950s when another fire consumed it, and the present 2-story Montana Standard building was erected.

By 1910 the sisters had moved the Mikado a few doors west, to 41 West Granite, and their original restaurant in the Barnard Block was occupied by Peter Barrenstein’s saloon. Various stores occupied the space until the fire in the 1950s.

New construction about 1917 eliminated the building at 41 W. Granite, and by 1918 the Mikado no longer existed and the Nesbitt sisters appear to be gone from Butte.

Resources: Butte Bystander, special edition, April 15, 1897 (photo) in Gibson’s collection; city directories; Sanborn maps.