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.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Polygamy Alley

Polygamy Alley is largely hidden behind Broadway Street buildings in this 1884 view, but it lies about along the green line. The carpenter's shop discussed below is almost certainly the one indicated near the west end of the alley. Click to enlarge.

By Richard I. Gibson

In early Butte—and into modern times in some places—the alleys were typically lined by businesses or homes with no other address than the alley. Many such alleys were simply referred to by the name of an adjacent street, such as South Main Alley (which evolved to China Alley) or East Granite Alley. Often enough, they were just called “the alley between Granite and Quartz Streets” or something similar. But from about 1884-1887, Butte boasted a uniquely named alley: Polygamy Alley.

It ran from Utah Street (today’s Hamilton) to Montana, between Granite and Broadway, just south of today’s Julian’s Piano Bar. Like many alleys, it was marked by a mixture of structures, including stables, sheds, outhouses, and the rears of a few large buildings including the Mt. Vernon Hotel, on Broadway. The 1884 hotel is occupied by the CCCS “Connections” building today *.

N.H. Ambrose ran a small boarding house in Polygamy Alley, probably about where the rear of the Water Company building is today. J.R. Anderson operated a canvas-covered carpenter’s shop near the modern back of the Carpenter’s Union Hall. That shop, where Anderson also lived, had become a more substantial frame structure with a basement by 1888, though it was still tiny, about 20 by 30 feet in size.

In 1885, two compositors, C.J. Lyons and J.F. Kline, probably typesetters for a printing company or newspaper, lived at the corner of Polygamy Alley and Utah (Hamilton), probably in a two-story rooming house that was the predecessor to Julian’s (Maley Block).

Mt. Vernon Hotel, 1979.
By 1888 buildings on Polygamy Alley were beginning to have addresses related to the streets to north or south. The carpenter’s shop became 120½ West Granite; a house on the south side of the alley became 69½ West Broadway, but there were still a handful of dwellings with alley-based numbers, at 109, 121, and 123, but by 1889 the name Polygamy Alley was no longer used. In the late 1880s and early 1890s the Butte fire department’s hose cart and 450-foot, 2½-inch hose were stored in the eastern part of this alley.

A handful of alley-facing businesses survived here in 1916, including an iron-clad carpenter’s shop (not the same one as Anderson had; this was a former stable, and stood just to the east of the new (1906) Carpenter’s Union Hall), a Chinese laundry, and a three-story lodging house due west of the Maley Block (Julian’s). That lodging house was still standing as recently as 1957, but is represented by a vacant lot today.

* I'm not 100% sure that the CCCS building dates to pre-1884. Same footprint, same number of stories, but it may be a somewhat newer, but pre-1900, replacement.

1884 Bird’s-Eye View and 1979 HABS/HAER photo of Mt. Vernon Hotel by Jet Lowe, both from Library of Congress. Thanks to Trish Pierson for discovering Polygamy Alley on a day when I was at the Archives.

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