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, March 1, 2012

Before the Hennessey, there was the Centennial Hotel

August 5, 1879, Butte Miner
By Richard I. Gibson

Volume 1, No. 1 of the Butte Miner, August 5, 1879, includes front-page ads that suggest Butte was already becoming a settled metropolis rather than an ephemeral mining camp.

Eight physicians and surgeons advertised their services, as well as one dentist. Dr. J.W. Beal, a native of Ohio, had practiced medicine at Alder Gulch and German Gulch for 12 years before coming to Butte in 1876. In addition to his work in medicine Beal was an entrepreneur, building and running the Centennial Hotel (opened July 4, 1876) at the corner of Main and Granite where the Hennessey Building stands today, until the hotel burned down April 24, 1888. He served in the territorial legislature and was elected Butte mayor in 1881. He died at German Gulch, where his son owned at least two mines, on June 8, 1901 at age 73.

Centennial Hotel, photo ca. 1880,
via Montana Standard (copy in BSB Archives files)

The two-story Centennial Hotel in the photo here included a saloon run by Beal’s son-in-law George Newkirk, an office, the 30-by-40-foot dining room, kitchen, laundry, wood house, and a two-level outhouse, as well as a nearby ice house. George Newkirk’s Butte mineral collection was reported to be the best in the Territory and was (perhaps) sent for display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

A minimum of eight lawyers and notaries provided legal aid to the growing town. Three assayers offered their analyses, while a watchmaker and jeweler held forth at Dellinger’s store on Main Street.

Henry Valiton’s livery stable at the West Park Street Bridge (presumably the bridge over Missoula Gulch) rented barouches (fashionable carriages with collapsible hoods to protect the passengers from the elements), bench wagons, sulkies, covered carriages, and saddle horses, and claimed to have the finest hearse in Montana. The stable had a “GRANITE FLOOR” superior to any other in Butte. Like Dr. Beal, Valiton went on to become a Butte mayor, and partnered with Marchesseau in the 3-story Beaver Block that stood at the corner of Granite and Main (where the Wells Fargo Bank is today) until it burned in 1968.

The St. Nicholas Hotel advertised a dining room that could seat 100. It was on East Broadway, straight across from the site of the 1890 City Hall, and bragged that it was the largest hotel in Butte.

All this in a city whose population in the 1880 census was 3,363.


  1. From whence came the name "Beal Mountain." Wonder about that granite floor--you'd think it would be slick as snot for shoed horses?

    1. Well, they were proud of the GRANITE FLOOR - their all caps, not mine!

  2. Good info. Do you know whether the St. Nicholas Hotel had a laundry? Where would it, or the Centennial's be likely to be located? I'm also wondering if such buildings had basements. Thanks. Karen Wills Cunningham.

    1. Good questions. The St Nicolas certainly had a basement - I've been in it, and the Centennial very likely did as well. As for laundries, the Centennial was maybe big enough to have its own laundry, but I think (but do not know) that it would have been much more likely that they used the laundry services that were big business in Butte, including the Chinese laundries as well as the non-Chinese steam laundries. Big boarding houses definitely used the Chinese laundries and the hotels probably did too, but I'm not certain of that.