By Richard I. Gibson
Even after the brick ordinance went into effect mandating fire-resistant construction in Butte, the demand for lumber was still huge. Many brick buildings were still framed in wood, and most residences in the booming city were wood, or brick-veneered wood.
Walter Bickford’s law office was in the Silver Bow Block (the old one, where the parking lot is today across from the Montana Standard) and he lived in a bay-fronted five-plex at 223 North Washington Street which is gone today. William Dunks, who lived at 817 Colorado and was a bookkeeper in 1900, succeeded O.J. McConnell as local manager about 1903. Dunks continued as the local manager at least until 1928, when the Anaconda Company acquired Western Lumber from W.A. Clark’s heirs. In 1931-32, Anaconda shut the operation down.
Western Lumber together with Clark’s real estate company, Clark-Montana, were ultimately responsible for the dam on the Clark Fork and the company town that became Milltown. They operated a small railroad in the Bonner area, with 10 miles of track, from 1912-1928. The company had sawmills across western Montana, with a planing mill at Lothrop (or Lathrop), near today’s Alberton northwest of Missoula, but most of the lumber came to Butte.
|Milltown dam (1908 flood)|
Western Lumber acquired the Montana Lumber & Manufacturing Co., which occupied the same Main St. location in 1900, but the buildings were “vacant and not used” at that time. Western rejuvenated and expanded the Butte operation. This part of town was a sort of “lumber central” for many years. In 1888, the Silver City Lumber Company spread across a couple blocks around Gold to Platinum and Colorado to Dakota (at a time when Gold Street didn’t go through) and there was a small planning mill, the Phoenix, on Porphyry east of Main, where the Montana Lumber and Western Lumber Companies would expand.
Butte High was built in 1936-38 on the land vacated by the 1931-32 demise of the Western Lumber Company, owned at that time by the Anaconda Company.
You could probably write a book about the Western Lumber Company — so look at this post as just a tantalizing introduction.
Resources: Montana Catholic, Jan. 21, 1905; Two Rivers History; City Directories; Sanborn Maps; photo of Milltown Dam during 1908 flood via Butte CTEC.