When an “Uptown” goes “Underground”, keeping the history alive in Butte, Montana…

Beautiful Butte...

Beautiful Butte…

Who wouldn’t want Evel Knievel as their cell mate, or meet Carrie Nation as she entered drinking establishments shouting “Good morning, destroyer of men’s souls”, just to proceed in destroying the bar with her swinging hatchet.

Heading through "Centerville"...

Heading through “Centerville”…

“Butte also has something few other cities can claim – a rich and incredible history. Visiting Butte, even today, one can literally step back into time. Butte is also one of only two cities to be recognized as a National Historic Landmark (the other is Lowell, MA) – with more than 4000 historic buildings of one kind or another. Butte is literally teeming full of historic buildings – and makes other “restored” historic towns seem rather lame in comparison. And if all the historical buildings and “ghost signs” aren’t enough, there is always the every present old mining rigs (over 40 of them dot the sky in Butte) to help remind visitors what built Butte into the town that it is today.” Butte Travel Guide, Big Sky Fishing.

The by-gone years...

The by-gone years of Walkerville, Montana

Butte would become our first stop on our Arizona via California road trip of 2013.

After settling into our hotel, which had two rooms numbered “129”, we ventured out to tour “Uptown” Butte.   During our previous trip to Butte in 2012 (minus the kids) we had the opportunity to take an “Underground Tour” of the Uptown area with “Old Butte Historical Adventures”.  We discovered that Butte remained mostly untouched by prohibition and since people could easily move from one building to the other due to the underground walk-ways located right beneath the sidewalks, alcohol and other goods were easily smuggled from here to there with ease.   When stopped at downtown intersections, we would point to staircases leading to the underground; as much as the kids were intrigued , we decided to peek their interests even more by driving past “Centerville” to head over the hill into the hamlet of Walkerville, just north of  Butte.

The "Trophy House" in Walkerville...

The “Trophy House” in Walkerville…

“Walkerville – Miners north of Missoula Gulch struck silver in 1872, and three years later Rollo Butcher located the Alice, one of the richest silver mines on the Hill. Butcher is credited with building the first permanent residence in Walkerville, and the Butchertown neighborhood bears his name. Word of Butcher’s rich claim soon filtered back to Utah, where Montana’s silver ore was sent for processing. The Walker brothers (Joseph, Samuel, Matthew, and David) of Salt Lake City sent their agent, future copper king Marcus Daly, to investigate. Daly, for whom Daly Street is named, recommended that the Walkers purchase the Alice, and in 1876 Walkerville was born. Although other mining entrepreneurs filed profitable claims, the Walkers dominated the camp. They owned the largest boarding house, financed the Broughton Brothers general store, established the Alice Hospital, the Alice Reading Room, the Alice Fire Department, and the Alice Mine and Mill Band. In 1878, that band paraded with over 150 members of the newly formed Butte Workingmen’s Union, protesting because the Walkers cut wages from $3.50 to $3.00 per day. The Walkers restored the $3.50 rate, giving the union its first victory. After Walkerville incorporated in 1890, William Hall, the Alice Mine’s superintendent, became its first mayor, naming the streets William, Rose, Pearl, and Sybil for his children. A cable car connected Walkerville to Butte in 1889, and Walkerville grew as Butte miners moved into densely clustered houses. Nevertheless, evidence of Walkerville’s origins as a silver camp remain. Many Main Street buildings date to the 1870s and 1880s, and the community retains an independent spirit.”  National Register – Silver Bow

An old school... Of course I had to jump out of the car, while it was raining to scurry up the hill to take this picture, all the while; the kids were frantically asking me return to the vehicle, as if I was going to be sucked-up into some unknown void.

An old school…
Of course I had to jump out of the car, while it was raining to scurry up the hill to take this picture, all the while; the kids were frantically asking me return to the vehicle, as if I was going to be sucked-up into some unknown void.

As with Butte, this hamlet had its share of the boom and then the incredible bust that swiftly followed. Old buildings, relics of the past still stand providing a glimpse of its old glory days when the money was plentiful as the silver.

A summer thunderstorm moved in quickly, which just added to the ominous atmosphere.   Driving around the streets of Walkerville, we soon came across a bar called “Pissers Palace”.  Yes, there is a bar called this, and no, I did not take a picture of it, we were too busy trying to get this white car off our trail, because for some reason they found us very interesting.  Perhaps they were visitors to the town as well and just wanted to find their way back to Butte, but who knows.  I finally lost sight of them at a corner where a boy crossing the street decided to wave his hands and make faces at me – not to worry, I returned the gesture, much to his surprise.

"Barber Shop", part of the Underground Tour...perhaps a prohibition shop instead?

“Barber Shop”, part of the Underground Tour…perhaps a prohibition shop instead?

Underground Speakeasy...

Underground Speakeasy…

Driving along the streets...

Driving along the streets…

During our travels we found the road that would take us up the hill just underneath the giant “M”; the kids were a little uncertain of this steep, gravelly dirt road, but I told them it was part of the adventure.  When we reached the top there was a man sitting on his ATV overlooking the view of Butte.   He waved us over and we started to chat.  A native of the Hamptons on the east coast, we asked him what brought him to Butte.  He told us it was the scenery and the people.   He started explaining the history of Butte and the surrounding land, he continued on about the people and how warm and inviting they are and I couldn’t agree more.

For many, Butte is just a gasoline stop as they travel along interstate 15 or 90; however for myself, I will continue to stop and explore Butte, and I suggest the next time you are the area to do the same.  I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

Butte, Montana


Categories: Driving around the States, Road Trip Pictures

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5 replies

  1. Wow – I had no idea, and this comes at the perfect time for me. I’m headed towards Montana on my return to California, so I’ll be sure to stop and explore. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Heh, I visited Montana recently but we only stuck to the border! Next time I’m going to suggest Butte as a place to visit for my aunt. She loves historical places.


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