Butte’s magnificent homes and commercial and civic buildings attest to its early wealth and importance. Increasingly, vacant buildings and boarded-up windows are more the norm than the exception as the town sadly slumps into a pre–ghost town torpor.
Much of uptown Butte is protected as a national landmark, and many individual buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places; the chamber of commerce provides a brochure with a walking tour of historic buildings. The following are open to the public:
The Copper King Mansion (219 W. Granite St., 406/782-7580, www.thecopperkingmansion.com , 9 a.m.–4 p.m. daily May–Sept., 9 a.m.–4 p.m. weekends April and Oct., $7 adults, $3.50 children) was built in 1888 by William Clark at a time when he was one of the world’s richest men. This three-story brick High Victorian mansion contains 30 rooms, many with frescoed ceilings, carved staircases, inlaid floors, and Tiffany windows. Clark spent $300,000 on the building and imported many craftsmen from Europe. The third floor boasts a 60-foot-long ballroom and a chapel. Immerse yourself more deeply by spending the night; the mansion is also a B&B.
Clark’s son Charles was so taken by a château he visited in France that he procured the plans and had it reconstructed in Butte. Now known as the Arts Chateau (321 Broadway St., 406/723-7600, www.bsbarts.org , 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat. May–Sept., $4 adults, $3 seniors, $2 children, $10 families), it serves as Butte’s community arts center.
The showpiece of Butte civic architecture is the Butte–Silver Bow Courthouse (155 W. Granite St.), built in 1910. A lovely stained-glass dome tops the four-story rotunda, murals decorate the ceilings, and oak fixtures predominate throughout. Butte leaders spent almost twice as much on Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse as the state spent on the Montana capitol.
Down on Mercury Street, the Dumas building (45 E. Mercury St., 406/494-6908, www.thedumasbrothel.com , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $8 tour) was Butte’s longest-lived brothel, in operation from 1890 until 1982. It’s unique in that the building was purpose-built as a brothel: The two-story brick building still has quite a few architectural features peculiar to a house of prostitution, such as windows onto the corridors and bedrooms that the miners more appropriately called cribs. The Dumas is the only surviving remnant of Butte’s once-thriving red-light district. The Dumas is uniquely Butte—be sure to check it out.
Also unusual is The Mai Wah (17 W. Mercury St., 406/723-3231, www.maiwah.org , 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., Memorial Day–Labor Day; $3 admission, $6 extensive tour), a museum dedicated to telling the story of Chinese miners and workers who pioneered in Butte. The Mai Wah building contained several Chinese-owned businesses; Butte’sChina Alley, the heart of the old Chinatown, is adjacent.
Visit the cars of your family’s past at the Piccadilly Museum of Transporation (20 W. Broadway St., 406/723-3034, www.piccadillymuseum.com , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat., Memorial Day–Sept., $3 donation suggested); along with cars there are displays of transportation memorabilia, including license plates, highway signs, and gas station ads.
Another gem of old Butte architecture is the Mother Lode Theater (316 W. Park St., 406/723-3602). This magnificent theater has been refurbished and serves as Butte’sperforming arts center. Although the theater is not open for regular tours, art events and organizations use the facility, so try to have a look.
Overlooking Butte from the vastness of the Continental Divide is Our Lady of the Rockies (406/782-1221 or 800/800-5239, www.ourladyoftherockies.com , tours 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sun., June–Sept., $12 adults, $10 seniors, $9 teens, $5 children), a 90-foot statue of the Virgin Mary. Completed in 1985, the monument was the result of six years of volunteer community work, including building the access road to the site, 8,510 feet above sea level. There is a viewing point at Continental Drive and Pine. Private vehicles are not allowed on the road up to the statue; you’ll need to join a tour bus group (the buses leave from the Butte Plaza Mall, 3100 Harrison Ave.).