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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Butte Public Bath House

By Richard I. Gibson

In 1884, the northwest corner of Arizona and Granite was occupied by the channel of the stream that curved south out of Dublin Gulch, behind the Butte Brewery and on eventually to Silver Bow Creek. Arizona Street existed in concept, but north of Broadway it was undefined.

By 1888, the “stream” was little more than a ditch, labeled “open sewer,” and a berm along its eastern side held a dirt path that crossed the northwest corner of the Granite-Arizona intersection. The Public School (later Washington Jr. High) was a half-block to the east. In 1900, the ditch was gone, pretty much covered over, but there was nothing around that corner other than some small tenements on the east side of Arizona north of Granite.

About 1905-06, the first and probably only building to stand on the northwest corner was erected. It was built as a gymnasium and natatorium (swimming pool). The address was 125 E. Granite. The Butte Brewery was just off to the northwest; the Dorothy Apartments were down Granite at Wyoming, New homes were popping up on Granite and Quartz east of Arizona. The photo above is probably from about 1911, but it could be as early as 1907. You can see the tall towers of the Butte Brewery at left center, and the hoist house in the right background is the Washoe Mine, which had closed down before 1900.

I’m not certain who had the building built – was it truly “public baths,” as indicated in the photo caption? Or was it a place where the public could use the water supply? The “plunge,” which I take to mean the swimming pool, was 20 feet by 50 feet. It’s not clear where in the building it was located, but by about 1910, the second floor held a gymnasium and the plunge was “not used.”

300 block of North Main in 1942. Photo by John Vachon.
(FSA photo from Library of Congress)
In October 1910 the gymnasium was taken over by Prof. Jerry McCarthy for the Olympic Athletic Club. The club had been meeting at 307 North Main, today the parking lot east of the Archives. 307 North Main became the long-time home of National Market.

Jerry McCarthy, who lived at 614 West Park, made a living running the Athletic Club and teaching amateur sports like boxing. When the club moved into the new gym at Granite and Arizona in 1910, doubling the size of the space available, 400 club members turned out for the grand opening on October 18. McCarthy’s pupils Young Mooney and Kid Forbes were matched in a lightweight boxing exhibition, as were Tally Johns (a miner at the Minnie Healey) and Harry Graves. Both bouts ended in a draw. The headliners in the boxing show were Maurice Thompson vs. Jack Clark from Calgary, but that was yet another draw, as determined by referee McCarthy.

Butte’s champion wrestler Tim Harrington defeated challenger Davey two falls to one. McCarthy himself put on a show of bag-punching and displayed to the “audience what good rope skipping really is.”

By 1916, this building had been taken over by the Y.M.A. Club – the Young Men’s Association. The Y.M.A. started a successful lyceum course here. Lyceums were educational courses aimed mainly at adults, with programs of lectures, entertainments, debates, and classes.

The lyceum movement in America peaked in the late 19th century but was still active well into the 1920s. The Butte lyceum, led by one Tom Davis and the Y.M.A., became one of the most successful lyceum programs in America in 1916, even though they started in the building at 125 East Granite, “the most pathetic appeal for an association building I ever saw,” as reported by The Lyceum Magazine. The young men were joined by Guy Lewis, a Lutey’s West Store manager, who helped with organization. They had their own Butte newspaper, the Association Herald, “A Community Builder, For a Better Butte.”

Y.M.A. members were paid a 10% commission on ticket sales (tickets cost 25¢ - or season tickets for 8 shows at $2.00) as an incentive – and it apparently worked. Even The Lyceum Magazine was surprised that they managed to pack the 1100-seat Broadway theater in Butte with an audience who paid to hear a lecture. Their entire program series in October 1917 had receipts of $3200. The first program brought the nationally-known Oxford Company to Butte. They put on a performance of light opera, drama, and singing.

In 1917, the Y.M.A. merged with the Y.M.C.A. I do not know when the gymnasium building was lost, but it was before 1928. The corner has been a vacant lot or parking lot since then.

The photo below shows this corner about 1900 (from, A Brief History of Butte, by Harry Freeman, 1901), annotated to indicate streets, the Dorothy Block at Granite and Wyoming, and the red circle is the corner in this post, Arizona and Granite, a vacant lot in 1900.


The Oxford Company photo from University of Iowa

Butte YMA newspaper and advertisements from The Lyceum Magazine, October 1916

Photo of 125 E. Granite (“Public Baths”) from Annual Reports of the City Officers, City of Butte, fiscal years 1906-1911, digitized by Butte Public Library.

Additional information from Sanborn Maps, City Directories.

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