In 2004, Kay Eccleston's Creative Writing class at Montana Tech agreed to provide short essays documenting the history of selected Butte buildings to the CPR for its use. Herewith are some of them, representing a tiny fraction of the more than 4,000 historic and architecturally interesting buildings in the Butte Historic District.
Photo by Dick Gibson
Located on the eastern corner of West Silver and Jackson, the Harding Building still sports four railroad-style residences. The two-story brownstone quad at 435 West Silver retains a charming porch with four mailboxes resting at various eccentric angles. A central door offers access to the dark hallway and steep stairs leading to the second-story apartments.
In maintaining the historic flavor of the quad, renovations have been limited to painting the apartments white and hanging roman blinds. Otherwise, the apartments retain their turn-of-the-century charm and continue to be uninsulated against Montana's long, cold winters. As in times past, unsuspecting renters can still boast utility bills which raise the eyebrows and empty the wallet.
Second-floor dwellers occupy the apartments where clandestine gambling events of local mobster, John Harding, were hosted. Famous for their merciless collection methods, "Harding's Goons" are rumored to have disposed of a number of clients in the back yard of 431 West Silver. Since John Harding was the nephew of the infamous Butte "Hanging Judge" Byron Harding, it is assumed that there may be some truth to these tall tales.
Photo by Dick Gibson
The uptown YMCA is located at 405 West Park Street. The earliest attempts to establish a YMCA in Butte were made before the turn of the 20th Century. A fundraising campaign was initiated and within a few months enough money was raised to finance the construction of a six-story building. This would become the permanent home of the YMCA as we know it today.
The cornerstone was laid in 1917 and the $350,000 building opened in 1919. The rectangular structure with a built-up flat roof has a granite-veneered foundation and is of solid masonry construction with brick siding. There are combination stone lintels and keystone with stone sills. Tuscan columns support a balustrade which fronts a window framed by a broken pediment over the main Park Street entrance. One- to three-story windows have a complete molding, while the one- to two-story windows are connected with a stone panel.
The architect for the building was Floyd Hamill of Butte, but the design and focus originated from an unnamed firm which designed and built YMCA buildings throughout the world for the Association. Contractors were the local firm of Nelson and Peterson. Floyd Hamill was a respected local architect, whose work in 1917 and 1918 included Deaconess Hospital, St. John the Evangelist and St. Anne's Catholic Churches, and a residence for the sisters of St. Joseph's parish.
The landmark YMCA building included a bowling alley, a temperance bar, dormitory rooms, a pool, a court carpeted running track, and a two-story gymnasium. The YMCA also included a library that was specially wired to accommodate a "moving motion picture machine" for use by mine rescue and first-aid personnel. Following early 20th Century conventions, boys and men were strictly segregated as the North Washington Street entry inscription, "Boys Entrance," demonstrates.
Photo by Steve Henderson
Durability is the first word to describe the Butte Water Company building located at 124 W. Granite. Constructed in 1907, this three-story edifice has been the headquarters of the Butte Water Company since 1918.
At the turn of the last century, Butte boasted numerous sophisticated buildings that could rival any eastern city of its size. The Butte Water Company building is evidence of this trend. Because large volumes of water were extremely important to a mining town, it was only natural that its company headquarters serve practical needs as well as uphold the architectural rivalry that was common to the age.
Seemingly too grand for its original function, the building started out as the main office of the Montana Independent Telephone Company. Designed by Montana architect George Shanley, the plaque on the front entrance explains the ornateness of the building as symbolic of the "new-found optimism of the era." The classical structure is completely occupied by the Butte Water Company although remains of the telephone company are still visible on the upper floors.
Constructed of brick and stone, the front exterior also has a two-story portico or porch supported by an order of slender Ionic columns with scroll-like ornamentation at the top. The top cornice bears the prominent name "Butte Water Co." There is a wrought iron railing on the second floor between the columns and a wrought iron balcony centrally located on the third floor.
Certain materials on the interior of a structure this ornate were in standardized use as fire prevention. Marble, oak trim, terrazzo (a flooring material of stone chips set in concrete and given a smooth surface), and wrought iron railings remain throughout the building. A large meeting room on the third floor has two skylights, and a basement in the rear of the building is used for storage.
Photo by Dick Gibson
The historic Chambers Building (more recently known as the Anaconda Company Payroll Building) played a prominent role in Butte history. The Montana Historical and Architectural Inventory, from the Butte-Silver Bow Archives, states that "this building is a primary element of the central business and landmark districts because of its association with Marcus Daly and John D. Ryan." Marcus Daly was one of Butte's Copper Kings, founder of the company that became the Anaconda, and John D. Ryan was the third president of the Anaconda Company. These two men also established one of Butte's early banking institutions, the Daly Bank and Trust Co., in this building.
Construction of the building began before 1884. The physical integrity of this masonry structure remains intact and is consistent with the architecture of Butte's heyday. The two-story rectangular building on North Main Street at Quartz has a flat roof and ashlar-coursed dressed granite foundation. The masonry is covered with brick veneer in American bond, with a stuccoed front facade. The building has a central entry with two wooden doors and a clear overhead transom, and two side entries. The first floor has fixed-plate windows framed in brick arches with scalloped wrought iron rails along the bottom of each window. The windows have molded stone sills. A wooden cornice and molding divides the two floors, and the second floor has double-hung wooden window frames with wooden sills. There is a corbeled dentil frieze along the roof edge.
In 1897 the primary occupant was the Daly, Donohue, and Moyer Bank, which by 1900 had become the Daly Bank and Trust. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company also became a tenant in the building by 1908, housing its General Mines Office and Purchasing Office on the second floor. In subsequent years the bank moved further down Main Street, and the Anaconda Co. housed its payroll office in the former bank, on the first floor of the building. The building housed the payroll office for over 60 years until the closing of the Anaconda Company in the early 1980s. During the 1920s, the armored payroll car would pick up payments - in cash, usually gold or silver - to transport to the mines for distribution to the workers. This armored car is now on display at the World Museum of Mining.
Photo by Dick Gibson
The Thomas Block, 37 - 47 West Park Street, was designed by Butte architect Herman Kemna, and built for Adolph Pincus in 1913. The original Thomas Block, at this same location, was destroyed by fire on September 1, 1912.
In an interview with The Butte Miner, July 30, 1913, Adolph Pincus said, "I am a firm believer in the future of Butte, and the fact that I am investing $75,000 in the new Thomas Block is very certain that I look to see this city keep right on growing and advancing. Butte is getting better every year, and this is going to be the best business year the city has ever had." The newspaper added that Pincus was building the Thomas Block as a credit to Butte and had already rented every room. The main floor was to be used for stores and the second floor was to be devoted to offices and a large billiard hall.
Architecturally, the building was representative of the multi-storied commercial masonry structures erected in Butte between 1880 and 1920 and mimicked the business buildings common in eastern US cities. In 1916, a saloon (one of hundreds in Butte), a delicatessen, and a drug store occupied the main floor, a candy factory was in the basement, and the promised Marquette Billiard Hall was found on the second floor. According to local legend, whiskey was easily obtainable in the billiard hall during Prohibition, but this was not unusual in Butte in those days.
A number of small, independent businesses, such as the P&R Drug, the Post Office News Stand, and the Jack and Jill Shop put down roots in the Thomas Block through the mid-1900s. With the rash of fires in uptown Butte during the 1970s, many of these small businesses changed hands and ultimately were closed.
Photo by Dick Gibson
An overabundance of copper on the world market all but halted building activity in Uptown Butte in the 1920s. This splendid, long-established theater is one exception, completed in 1923. Following the example of Butte's most significant Twentieth Century buildings, the Masons commissioned the architectural firm of Link and Haire to create the impressive Beaux-Arts style structure. Four colossal engaged columns with Ionic capitals, lions' heads, decorative iron work, and multi-colored terra cotta highlight its monumental facade. Today the Fox Theater continues to provide entertainment to the public.
The brick and stone building at 101 S. Idaho was built in 1899-1900 as the St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church. Although some alterations have taken place, the building retains the basic integrity of a church. Architect, William White, included details such as Gothic lancet windows, stained glass, Romanesque arches and wooden tracery which are still evident. Missing today from the original design are a large steeple with bell tower and a smaller, hip-roof turret on the northeast and southeast corners respectively.
The building is historically significant not only for its architectural elements but also as the site of momentous events in Butte history. In the early years of the 20th century much of the world's copper came from the Butte mines. As mining production increased, the city grew and along with that came unrest and strained relations between miners and their corporate bosses at the Anaconda Company.
The International Workers of the World (I.W.W.) also know as "Wobblies" began using the former church for meetings around 1917. By the next year a leading socialist reformer and political leader, William F. Dunne, with support from Burton K. Wheeler and other lawyers, was using the building to publish the Butte Daily Bulletin. The paper, a successful publication which gave voice to the interests of labor, was begun to counteract the local press owned by the Anaconda Company.
In September 1918 the paper published a call for strike by the I.W.W. Within hours after publication, the building was raided by Butte police, Anaconda Co. gunmen and U.S. Army troops commanded by Major Omar Bradley. Men were arrested and items were seized including galley type and the subscriber list. Despite this upset the paper continued to operate into the 1920s.
In contrast to sensational events of the past at 101 S. Idaho, recent affairs have been quiet, with the building being home to a funeral chapel and finally a bridal shop. At present it is not in use, but renovation is in progress to save the building. CPR applauds the efforts of Bob Baide, who plans to keep the fixtures and stained glass to preserve the historical integrity of this important building.