The Copper King of Butte, Montana

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Our lodging last night was at the Copper King Mansion, which now operates as a bed and breakfast. Our stay included a tour of the mansion. The 34 room home was built between 1884-1888 for William Andrews Clark, at a cost of about $500,000 at the time, equivalent to about $16 million today. Clark was one of three “copper kings” of Butte. The house is of Romanesque Revival Victorian style, with all of the newest technology available, including gas and electric chandeliers. All of the wood was hand carved, no two panels were the same. Each room featured a different type of wood. The house has about 97 doors, pocket shutters on many of the windows (they fit into the wall when not in use.)

After Clark died, his son, Charles inherited the house. Unfortunately, Charles had a gambling problem and had to sell it to cover his debts. All of the furnishings were sold as well. The house was purchased by the Catholic Church and used as a convent and school for girls for several years before being purchased by Mrs. Anna Cote. Fortunately, the nuns left most of the features intact, so we were able to see what it looked like in its days of glory. Mrs. Cote and her daughter, Ann Cote-Smith were avid collectors, and filled the house with furnishings from the Clark era. There are also collections of dresses and hats, dolls, steins, and more.

The Bed and Breakfast is now owned by Mrs. Cote’s granddaughter, Erin Sigl and grandson, John Thompson. Along with Erin’s husband, they have been operating it for several years.

In the 1860s, Clark staked a gold mining claim near Bannack, about 90 miles south of Butte. He worked the mine for a couple of years, then decided he could make more money by helping miners manage their findings. He was right, amassing a fortune estimated at $50 million by 1900, equivalent to $1.6 billion now. Clark became a banker, and acquired several mines when owners defaulted on their loans. Clark also owned several newspapers, a sugar plantation in California, and land with oil wells. He personally financed the building of 1,100 miles of rail which became part of the Union Pacific Railroad. One of the businesses Clark purchased was the United Verde Copper Company in Jerome, Arizona, which was rich in copper, silver, and gold. We have visited Jerome a couple of times and toured their mining museum.

Clark had a colorful history. He campaigned successfully to have Helena named the state capitol, instead of Anaconda. Perhaps that was because Anaconda was founded by one of his competitors for Copper King, Marcus Daly. He had political ambitions, hoping to serve in the US Senate. At the time, US Senators were selected by the state legislators. After being elected to the US Senate by the Montana State Legislature, the Senate refused to seat him, claiming that he had bribed the legislators to vote for him. He was sent home, and campaigned for the seat a couple of years later, successfully, and served one term in the Senate. He supposedly said “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale.”

Regardless of some of his more unsavory practices, he apparently treated the miners and their families very well. He built an amusement park, Columbia Gardens, in 1899, which sat on the site currently occupied by the Berkeley Pit until it burned down in 1973. The 68 acre park had flower gardens, a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and greenhouses. Rides were free to the miners, their families and city residents.

Before leaving town, we visited the Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial, which commemorates the death of 168 men who died on June 8, 1917 when a fire started in the Granite Mountain shaft of the Speculator Mine.

This location provided some great views of the Berkeley Pit. When we viewed the pit yesterday, we saw only a fraction of it. It is truly immense.

A little trivia about Butte: It is the birthplace of Evel Knievel, a famous daredevil who was born in 1938 and died in 2007. He is buried in Butte.

About kcbernick

I love to travel.
This entry was posted in Idaho, Montana, Road Trip, Uncategorized, USA Travel, Waterfalls and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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