Exploring a once proud mining town which is sadly in decline
Butte is built around a mountain, once known as America’s most valuable mountain. This community was created as a result of the discovery of the precious materials, in particular copper. The emergence and wide use of electrical power caused a huge surge in the demand for copper, resulting in the meteoric growth in this town and in the wealth of certain of its inhabitants. The mountain is a mile high and the mine system is reputedly a mile deep. Today the mines are exhausted and the town is past it’s hey day – and reminded us somewhat of some of the old mining communities in Cornwall and Wales. As is always the case once those resource are done what happens to the town? For the most part Butte looks run-down and dismal, which is not helped by the dour weather for the time we have spent here. To try and make the most of their assets the city has decided to illuminate the head frames of the mines dotted across the mountain – which actually did cut quite a dash but not exactly enough to draw in the crowds.
Originally we only planned to spend on night here before moving up to Glacier National Park, but the weather is so gloomy and wet we decided to hang around another day and see what Butte had to offer. At least there is a semblance of a town here where as we were not sure what we’d find up near Glacier.
Anyway today we decided to go and visit the World Mining Museum. The museum is located on the old, disused Orphan Girl Mine from which the minerals zinc and silver were mined until its closure in 1956. This mine is over 3000 feet deep but has filled up like most of the local mines with water to a few tens of feet from the surface. Although this is called the World Mining Museum it is really about the mines in the Butte area and,in particular, this mine. Some of the original mine’s buildings and structures still exist (including the Head frame and hoist house) as well as a reconstruction of a 1890’s mining town called Hells Roaring Gulch, complete with 2 churches, a school house, a bank, a saloon and an undertakers. Unfortunately as well as being wet it is extremely cold so we don’t hang around outside among the exhibits for too long. I am not sure we’d have made good miners this being said. Up here in Montana the winter temperatures can reach down to -20 oF (-30 oC) and conversely the underground temperatures can be 100 oF. Mark had to leave to make some phone calls so the rest of the crew went on a tour that went down to the underground exhibits – with a guide who had worked the mines in the past. It was a great experience to hear the stories of mining life and how the equipment operated from a person who have lived through this.
|155 Museum Way, Butte, MT 59701
t: (406) 723-7211
|Open April 2 thru October 31
Monday – Saturday 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Sunday 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Museum Only Admission
Adult – $8.50
Senior (65+) – $7.50
Student (5-17) – $5.00
Under 5 – FREEUnderground Mine Tour Admission ~ includes Museum entrance
Adult – $21.00
Senior (65+) – $18.00
Student (6-17) – $14.00
Under 6 – Not Available