EarlEarl Craighill’s Butte, Carrie and Walkerville G-Scale La Craighill’s Butte, Carrie and Walkerville G-Scale Layout
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Butte experienced every stage of development of a mining town, from camp to boomtown to mature city to center for historic preservation and environmental cleanup. Unlike most such towns, Butte’s urban landscape includes mining operations set within residential areas, making the environmental consequences of the extraction economy all the more apparent. Despite the dominance of the Anaconda Company, Butte was never a company town. It prided itself on architectural diversity and a civic ethos of rough-and-tumble individualism. In the 21st century, efforts at interpreting and preserving Butte’s heritage are addressing both the town’s historical significance and the continuing importance of mining to its economy and culture.
Butte was one of the largest cities west of the Mississippi for generations. Siver Bow County (Butte and suburbs) had 24,000 people in 1890, and peaked at 60,000 in 1920. Then the population steadily declined to 34,000 in 1990 and stabilized. In its heyday between the late 19th century and about 1920, it was one of the largest and most notorious copper boomtowns in the American West, home to hundreds of saloons and a famous red-light district. The documentary “Butte America” depicts its history as a copper producer and the issues of labor unionism, economic rise and decline, and environmental degradation that resulted from the activity………….
Butte began as a mining town in the late 19th century in the Silver Bow Creek Valley (or Summit Valley), a natural bowl sitting high in the Rockies straddling the Continental Divide. At first only gold and silver were mined in the area, but the advent of electricity caused a soaring demand for copper, which was abundant in the area. The small town was often called “the Richest Hill on Earth”.
It was the largest city for many hundreds of miles in all directions. The city attracted workers from Cornwall (England), Ireland, Wales, Lebanon, Canada, Finland, Austria, Serbia, Italy, China, Syria, Croatia, Montenegro, Mexico, and all areas of the U.S. The legacy of the immigrants lives on in the form of the Cornish pasty which was popularized by mine workers who needed something easy to eat in the mines, the povitica—-a Slavic nut bread pastry which is a holiday favorite sold in many supermarkets and bakeries in the Butte area—-and the boneless pork-chop sandwich. The pasty, povitica, pork chop sandwich, along with huckleberry products and Scandinavian lefse have arguably become Montana’s symbolic foods, known and enjoyed throughout the state and not just in the city of Butte……..
The influx of miners gave Butte a reputation as a wide-open town where any vice was obtainable. The city’s famous saloon and red-light district, called the “Line” or “The Copper Block”, was centered on Mercury Street, where the elegant bordellos included the famous Dumas Brothel. Behind the brothel was the equally famous Venus Alley, where women plied their trade in small cubicles called “cribs”. The red-light district brought miners and other men from all over the region and was open until 1982 as one of the last such urban districts in the U.S. The Dumas Brothel is now operated as a museum to Butte’s rougher days.
At the end of the 19th century, copper was in great demand because of new technologies such as electric power that required the use of copper. Three men fought for control of Butte’s mining wealth. These three “Copper Kings” were William A. Clark, Marcus Daly, and F. Augustus Heinze.
In 1899, Daly joined with William Rockefeller, Henry h. Rogers, and Thomas W. Lawson to organize the Amalgamated Copper Mining Company. Not long after, the company changed its name to Anaconda Copper Mining (ACM). Over the years, Anaconda was owned by assorted larger corporations. In the 1920s, it had a virtual monopoly over the mines in and around Butte. Between approximately 1900 and 1917, Butte also had a strong streak of Socialist politics, even electing a Mayor on the Socialist ticket in 1914.
The prosperity continued up to the 1950s, when the declining grade of ore and competition from other mines led the Anaconda company to switch its focus from the costly and dangerous practice of underground mining to open pit mining. This marked the beginning of the end for the boom times in Butte.”
What a great background for a model railroad! When Earl moved to the San Francisco Peninsula he decided to recreate Butte in his backyard and the Butte, Carrie and Walkerville G-Scale Layout was born. The layout required mega landscaping and like Rome, it was not built in a day.
Alas Earl’s great layout is no more. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he is an active club member, has an embryo G-Scale layout at home, a large O-scale Christmas layout and, listen to this, is building a 7½” track on his property in East Mendocino.