|Charles Roscoe Savage photo of Butte circa September 1881. Mountain View Church at left; Timber Butte in right distance; Idaho Street heading down the hill along the right side.|
By Richard I. Gibson
Click on images below to enlarge.
A picture tells a story, if only we can read it.
Recently on Facebook, Building in the Past, a wonderful page that shares great historic imagery from all over, shared a photo of early Butte that I had never seen, copied at the top of this post. Now, of course I haven’t seen every historic photo of Butte – but I’ve seen all the ones that are commonly reproduced, and so has my colleague, Nicole von Gaza-Reavis. She had not seen this one either, so we began a Facebook discussion of the photo, its subjects and its timing.
The main points of the photo are immediately evident to those who study historic Butte seriously. The church at left is Mountain View (the original church, built circa 1877 and replaced by the present one in 1899) at Quartz and Montana. That’s Timber Butte in the distance, and the dirt street heading downhill on the right of the photo is Idaho Street.
After that, identifying details takes a little more sleuthing.
Down Idaho Street, on the left (east) side of the street, the steep-roofed building is the original Presbyterian Church at the corner of Idaho and Broadway, replaced by the present building in 1896 (where the Covellite Theater is located). Nicole and I determined that you can see the Jacobs House at Granite and Montana – but only its roof, partly hidden among other roofs in the left portion of the photo. You can get a suggestion of a vacant lot across (left) from the Jacobs House – that’s where the original county court house would go up in 1884, a few years after this photo was made. The Jacobs House is probably the only building in this photo that still stands today.
Which leads us to the question of the timing. The original source is the Charles Roscoe Savage photograph collection, digitized by Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library. Savage worked as a photographer for various railroads and of course did additional photography as well. The original source gives the date as ca. 1880.
|Caplice Block was at Park and Montana (SW corner)|
|Caplice Block at right. Note 7 windows (as in photo above)|
and completed Second Empire roof.
It turned out that while the Caplice Block was indeed “completed” in May 1882, it was definitely being used the previous fall and winter. A news report on September 1, 1881, said that its walls were “looming up in magnificent proportions” and it was at least partially occupied before Thanksgiving 1881. So, new conclusion: the photo probably dates to the Autumnal Equinox, September 1881. That fits better with all the knowns we have. We may figure out other lines of reasoning, of course, that may deny this conclusion, or give it more support. That’s how this process works, at least this far back when there is really very little clear information about Butte. Only in 1884 and later, when we have Sanborn maps, city directories, and the Bird’s-Eye View, can we really make definitive statements about most buildings. Even then, things can be murky and subject to interpretation.
Charles Roscoe Savage was a prolific photographer, best known for his pictures of the driving of the “golden spike” connecting the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869. He was English and became a Mormon at age 14, in 1846. When he emigrated to the United States at age 23, he eventually settled and made his studio in Salt Lake City. Many of his photographs were lost in a studio fire in 1883, which may explain why (so far as we know) there are only two extant from his visit to Butte in (we now surmise) 1881.
|Bird's-Eye View (1884)|
Circled house is the one across from
Mountain View Church (#2 here),
same as the house across Quartz in the photo above
(to right of church in photo)
This photo bears out the idea that the 1884 Bird’s-Eye View is an almost photographic rendering of the way Butte looked in 1884. Mountain View Church is faithfully drawn, and even the house across the street from it has the exact roofline shown in the photo above.
The second Butte photo in the BYU Charles Roscoe Savage collection is of Walkerville. That’ll be the subject of a future post.
Thanks to Nicole von Gaza-Reavis, Larry Hoffman, and everyone who contributed to the multiple Facebook discussions of this photograph, and to Paul Charron (Building in the Past) for the original posting.