Wake Up to Butte Montana
Long before Las Vegas became Vegas, Butte was Butte. In the late 19th century, as demand for copper exploded due to the electrification of America, Butte became internationally notorious for its mining riches — and for its Wild West, anything-goes culture.
Men who spent all day deep underground in the copper mines often spent all night carousing in “the Copper Block,” a throbbing uptown thicket of saloons and brothels. Disputes between the city’s powerful labor unions and fabulously wealthy “Copper Kings” occasionally erupted into violence: In one incident in 1920, seventeen miners were shot in the back by mine guards as they fled the scene of a strike.
At the same time, the city became something of a cosmopolitan anomaly in the sparsely populated West. Immigrants from around the world flocked to this high valley flanking the towering peaks of the Continental Divide; by 1890, Butte was the largest inland city west of the Mississippi River and one of the most culturally diverse locales in all of North America.
Today, Butte’s underground mines are long closed. But Butte is hardly history. The city built on the Richest Hill on Earth has transformed into a bubbling melting pot of disarmingly friendly people, beautifully preserved early 20th-century architecture and historical sites, unique restaurants, destination festivals and outdoor activities. Located an easy and scenic drive from both Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, Butte is a popular destination for visitors who want a draught of true Montana culture amidst the stunning scenery of the Northern Rockies.
Make your way uptown and you’ll find streets lined with weathered brick buildings that bespeak the city’s fascinating past. Look through the windows and you’ll see what’s really happening here.
Restaurants such as the Uptown Café and Hummingbird Café bustle with foodies and friends. Headframe Spirits creates its own buzz with handcrafted spirits named after the mines that made Butte famous. Quarry Brewing keeps five favorites on tap, augmented by a tantalizing rotation of seasonal beers that keep the place hopping (so to speak) year ’round. And an array of locally owned retail shops, antique stores, coffeehouses and galleries provide visitors with unique shopping opportunities.
To delve into Butte’s past, book a trip with Old Butte Historical Adventures, which offers tours of the largest historical district in the United States, including an authentic underground speak-easy from the Prohibition era, a 1955 barber shop under a six-story building, the city jail that housed Evel Knievel in 1956, a brothel and much more. During summer months, you can also tour Butte’s historic sites aboard the enclosed, temperature-controlled Butte Trolley. In about two hours, you’ll see where the characters, famous folk, miners and scoundrels lived and worked. Plus, you’ll hear how they made Butte the lively, urban center it was. Drivers are especially chosen for their knowledge and entertaining presentations of Butte history and folklore.
Even if you don’t hire a guide, you’re bound to get wrapped up in the city’s mining history and fascinating stories. Note the 14 tall, black, steel structures scattered across the Butte hill. Variously called “gallows frames,” “gallus frames” or “headframes,” these mark the remnants of underground mines that honeycomb the hill. And wherever you go in Butte, you can’t help but marvel at Our Lady of the Rockies, a 90-foot-tall, white statue dedicated to women and mothers. Perched atop the Continental Divide, it is the second-tallest statue in the United States (after the Statue of Liberty) and a remarkable sight, day or night. For a close-up look, take a bus tour to the statue that overlooks Butte from 8,015 feet.
No city reflects Montana’s past like Butte. But if you want a full immersion in the region’s colorful contemporary culture, make sure to schedule a visit during one of Butte’s trio of destination summer festival.
The Montana Folk Festival, held annually on the second weekend in July, is a free, three-day experience that fills Butte’s downtown streets with music, dance, workshops, storytelling and ethnic cuisine presented by artists from across America.
The last weekend in July, Butte hosts Evel Knievel Days, celebrating the legacy of the World’s Greatest Daredevil. Free weekend events include feats by some of today’s greatest stuntmen and daredevils, along with live music from a variety of genres.
At the An Ri Ra Irish Festival, renowned national and international musicians perform sensational Irish music each August in historic Uptown Butte. The festival includes Irish history, lectures, films, children’s activities, music and dance workshops, food, vendors, an outdoor Gaelic Mass and more.
All in all, a stop in Butte is always the start of a great story, friendships and memories not soon forgotten. Learn More at www.buttecvb.com