Saturday, August 8, 2015

Butte, Montana

August 2 - 5, 2015:

We travel about 90 miles entirely on I-90 on our way to Butte, Montana.  It’s mostly open range and grain fields and then up and over a long steep pass.  We arrive at the 2 Bar Lazy H RV Park, (quite a name), about noon time and get set up quickly.  It’s another full hookup site, pull through, roomy and level.  The pull through is no issue anymore with this RV, but I like the level part as we don’t have automatic levelers.  The man at the campground office tells us he is giving us the best site in the park with a shade tree.  It is a good site, but we had to laugh as the tree was more like a bush.  

Monday morning I get out at 8 AM to start exploring downtown Butte, Twinkles is not sharing my enthusiasm for the beauty of the old victorian buildings.  Livingston (last post) was great, but Butte is the true mother lode !  The Butte uptown area (the city is on a hillside) is the largest National Historic Landmark District in the US with an amazing 6,000 structures. The entire downtown could be a museum.  The historic society has done an excellent job of putting historical information on the building and old downtown photos in store front windows.  Twinkles sees the decay of the downtown (from its glory days) as a sad, depressing thing.  I agree it is, but I also see the bright side, that many of these buildings are now being saved, resurrected and appreciated.  I also love the old weathered advertising signs on the buildings, ghost signs, which many times become exposed when an adjacent building is torn down.  Butte has hundreds of these signs for all sorts of by gone products.

The new Tait Hotel

Butte special beer

Love the deep blue front on the Club 13

Cures the Blues

Ask Dad he knows

Hotel Finlen has a wild outside fire escape system

The M & M Cigar store 

Interesting mining sculpture

Old auto repair shop

Nice Highlander Beer sign

An early mine, now a park

My start for the day was a great breakfast at the Gamer’s Cafe, in business since 1903.  It is on the ground floor of the remarkable Curtis Music Hall building.

The Curtiss Music Hall

I bought a door key and fob to room 415 of the Hotel Thornton in Butte  back in the early 1970's.  I have used this as a key chain for at least the last 30 years or so.  One of my objectives in Butte was to see if the Hotel Thornton still existed.  Happy to say, it has survived and actually has been restored, but as an office building, not a hotel.

The Thornton Hotel 

The key to room 415

In the afternoon, we took a ride to the Berkley Pit Overlook where you can see into the open Mine Pit. The Pit is 1,780 feet deep, of which the lower 1,000 feet is now filled with toxic sulfuric acid laced water.  It is a Super Fund site and will be probably forever.  The water level continues to rise, but there is a plan to drain off the excess in a few years and run it through a treatment plant so that it can be released into the local River.  Originally the entire area was mine shafts, 10,000 miles of them until the mid 1950”s when it became cost effective to dig it all out and convert it to an open pit mine.  It is an impressive site no matter how toxic it is !  The town of Butte Butte started with Gold and Silver placer mining, then tunnel mining developed, then Copper tunnel mining and finally open pit Copper mining.  Butte’s mining area is called the “Richest Hill on Earth” with an estamated 48 billion dollars worth on minerals removed.  The Mining ended in 1982, but recently a company, Montana Resources, has resumed limited open pit mining in one area again.

The Water filled Berkley Pit Mine and super fund site

We then toured around downtown some more finding one of the stores that sell Pasties which were an original mining food of the Cornish miners from Cornwall, England.  They were small enough to fit into a lunch pail, would stay hot a long time, were easy to eat and could be reheated on a shovel over a candle down in the mine.  They are essentially meat and potato pies and I love these things.  They can be found on the menu at many Butte area restaurants and bakeries.

One of several Pastie shops in Butte

Another great town to visit is Anaconda which was established by Marcas Daly around 1883 as the site for his Smelter Mill where all the Butte Copper ore would be refined. A railroad line was established, the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railroad to move the Copper ore to the Smelter site.  This Smelter was a huge operation in its day and lasted almost 100 years until 1980.  Everything is now gone except for the “Big Stack”.  The Big Stack was a smoke stack built in 1918, that is 585 feet tall and is so massive that the Washington Monument could fit inside it.  You can not get to it presently, but there is a viewing area that is a small Montana State Park which is also a memorial to past Smelter workers. Anaconda has many interesting old buildings and houses and the Washoe Theater, one of the most authentic, ornate and still operational movie theaters in the country.  We went to see the 3D movie "The Minions" there in the evening.
The Deer Lodge County Court House is equally impressive, open to the public, in totally original condition and beautiful.  Another interesting attraction is the Jack Nicklaus designed golf course called “Old Works” built on the former Super Fund clean up Smelter site.  Piles of slag, a by product of the Smelting process, are left along the course and are used as bunkers.

The old Montana Hotel currently under restoration.  Sadly the
upper two floors were removed.

The Anaconda Smelter "Big Stack"

The Deer Lodge County Courthouse

Ground floor of the Courthouse, the water fountain seems unusual

View of the Rotunda in the Courthouse 

Upper floor of the Courthouse

The Hearst Library in Anaconda donated by Phoebe Hearst who
was William Randolph Hearst mother.  It seems she was an
invester in the Smelter

Original Butte, Anaconda & Pacific railcar

Great beer signs are everywhere, lot's of drinking in this town

The Anaconda Smelter in it's glory days

Twinkles inside a smelter bucket

The Washoe Theater during a rain shower 

Incredible interior details
Interior of Theater from the balcony

I found out about open mike night at the Silver Dollar Saloon and just had to go.  The Silver Dollar is a true dive bar, but it has a lively live music scene and is a friendly place.  The talent was not that special, but it was a good crowd and most interesting.  First was an elderly man way past his prime playing days, then a decent player doing 50’s music, then two young studs doing punk rock and lastly an attractive woman who looked a little out of place playing violin.  The MC was great and explained his idea on how to eliminate the people who walk around with the phone in their face constantly texting.  His idea was to set up a sign with a trivia question to get their attention, then as they were preoccupied on their phones to herd them onto a ramp where they would walk off the end (as the indians did with their Buffalo Jumps) into the toxic waters of the Berkley Pit. This would would absorb the toxic acids in the water and help purify it.

That would be the Silver Dollar Saloon on the right
The cozy interior of the Silver Dollar Saloon

Next stop is Missoula, Montana, 
Twinkles and Slick

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