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. Many of these blog posts have been converted to podcast episodes, available at KBMF.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Caplice Block

Caplice Block at lower left. Click to enlarge.
By Richard I. Gibson

The Caplice Block was one of the larger buildings in Butte in 1884. It stood at the southwest corner of Park and Montana, and it included a general store on the north side (facing Park) with tenements above on the second and third floors. The rest of the building was a dance hall and performance theater, with dressing rooms adjacent to the Montana Street entrance. The tenements extended above the dance hall as well. In 1888 the store was a liquor store, likely Caplice Commercial Company or its predecessor, John Caplice & Co.

A “French roof” suggests that the building was in Second Empire style, probably with an ornate upper section similar to today’s Finlen Hotel. This is also suggested by the appearance on the Bird’s-Eye Map view seen here (big building at lower left of general view above, and at the right edge of the street-level view of West Park below).

Caplice Block at right (building faces east). Click to enlarge.

Sutton’s New Theater occupied the Caplice Block by 1900, with an entrance on Park, although a store still occupied much of the north side. In 1916, the entire building was gone, replaced by four narrow 3-story stores, all opening on Park Street. Those are gone now, too.

John Caplice and his partner Alfred McCune were Utah businessmen who became active in Butte in the early 1880s. Caplice was born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1829 and was at Bannack in 1863. He died in 1903. In addition to the huge building at Park and Montana, the partners had a general merchandise establishment on Main Street north of Daly Street in Walkerville, several other stores around southwest Montana, and were involved in the initial construction of the Montana Central Railroad in 1886. The MCRR reached Butte November 10, 1888, and became part of the Great Northern in 1889. McCune lived for the most part in Salt Lake City, where his 1900 home is considered to be one of the finest mansions in the West.

John Caplice’s story is complex, including law suits involving the Schlitz Brewing Company. I had never heard of him before, but he’ll get another post or two in the future. McCune has his own Wikipedia entry, as does his house.

Bird's-Eye Views, 1884, published by J.J. Stoner, via Library of Congress.

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