- Your Day
in the Butte-Silver Bow County Courthouse
- by George
- Unless you arrive handcuffed in an orange jumpsuit
for arraignment, or you are stopping by to pay property taxes,
you might enjoy a visit to the Butte Silver Bow County Courthouse,
one of the West's most beautiful public buildings.
The Silver Bow County Courthouse may be the state's most accessible
example of the elegant and ornate approach to public buildings
that was the model when Montana was young and rich at the beginning
of the last century.
In fact at a time when the real political
power in Montana was centered in Butte, the cost of the Silver
Bow County Courthouse rivaled the cost of construction for the
state Capitol Building. Like other buildings in Butte's Historic
Uptown district, the Courthouse was designed by the Montana architecture
firm of J.G. Link & C.S. Haire in the Beaux Arts (pronounced
Common features of the Beaux Arts style include pilasters and
tall columns that echo the grandeur of ancient Greece and Rome,
and a uniformity of materials, design and height for the cornice
line. The Beaux Arts style became popular and widely incorporated
in civic buildings throughout the country after the 1893
Columbian Exposition in Chicago where it was introduced.
It became the model for the design of Washington, D.C.'s distinctive
and enduring public buildings at the turn of the century.
The Beaux Arts style was popular
in Butte's public buildings constructed during this time and
it resonated throughout Butte's residential structures as well.
Homes built during this period reflect a preference for columns
and pilasters. Ionic columns, Doric columns, and Corinthian columns
grace the front porches and facades of homes all over Butte's
upper west side.
The Silver Bow County Courthouse is Link & Haire's Butte
masterpiece. Construction began on the building to replace a
dilapidated older courthouse in 1910. The new courthouse cost
$482,600 and was financed by public bonds. It was completed and
dedicated on the 4th of July in 1912. By comparison, the original
state capitol building, according to the Montana Historical Society,
cost $485,000 to build.
D.J. Charles of the Butte Chamber of Commerce spoke at the dedication
and said," We can boast of one of the best, if not the best,
and the most beautiful county buildings in the state of Montana
or throughout the entire Northwest."
The heavy front doors are copper
as is the roof except for the stained glass dome that allows
light to enter from above.
The 1,000-pound bronze capstan of the USS Maine, a gift to Butte
and its veterans of the Spanish-American War, is displayed in
the lobby near the entrance. Through the efforts of Senator Thomas
Walsh and Judge J.J. Lynch, the largest salvaged remnant of the
U.S.S. Maine ended up in Butte as a gift from the federal government
to the Henry W. Lawton Camp No. 1 troop
of Spanish-American War veterans. The capstan was unveiled in
a Memorial Day ceremony on May 30, 1914 and was donated to the
Courthouse and the people of Butte on June 14, 1914 where it
has remained ever since.
On the west side of the lobby is a small exhibit of mineral specimens
taken from the Butte Hill and elsewhere
around Montana next to a large relief map of the state of Montana.
A scale cutaway model of a working underground mine sits in a
cabinet next to the mineral exhibits. This working display modeled
after the Belmont Mine was built over 38 years as a labor of
love by Bill Burns. It swallows a pair of quarters and in return
lights come on underground illuminating an ore train, hoists,
headframe and stopes all operating at a scale where you can take
in the whole operation at work.
The rotunda walls are decorated with golden mosaic murals of
personified muses -- Justice, Geography, History and Philosophy.
Above them, Presidents Lincoln, McKinley, Washington, and Wilson
reside on the corners of the dome. Large pillars of Montana-quarried
Travertine draw the eye upward toward the mosaics and stained
The closer you look the more detail catches your eye. For example,
look down as you climb the stairs to the upper floors to notice
the Celtic symbols that decorate the risers of the steps.
The reward for climbing all
the stairs is the contemporary painting by Mike Hamblin that
graces the stairwell on the top floor. The painting depicts Butte's
three copper kings in their prime -- Marcus Daly, Augustus F.Heinze
and William Andrews Clark.
The paint was barely dry on the new building when the courthouse was called into service during
the labor unrest of 1914, serving as a barracks for militia brought
to Butte to suppress labor unrest that followed the dynamiting
of the Miner's Union Hall.
Crowds of thousands have gathered at the courthouse to listen
to political candidates and presidents over the years. A crowd
of nearly 10,000 crowded the street to hear an address by Franklin
Delano Roosevelt from a makeshift podium on the steps of the
Courthouse in 1932. He had spoken to a large crowd from the same
steps in 1920 as a Vice Presidential candidate.
Ironically, during the reign of the Anaconda Mining Company and
the rule of the "copper collar," the Courthouse building
was never the true seat of power in Butte or Silver Bow County.
The decisions that shaped the lives of most Montanans were made
on the corner of Main and Granite streets two blocks to the east
on the 6th floor of the Hennessey building, which was the headquarters
of the Anaconda Mining Company.
Although the Courthouse remains in full use as office space for
county government employees and officials, the building is open
to all, and visitors are welcome to take self-guided tours of
the building. The large copper doors of the Courthouse are open
to the public Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm. To contact
any local government office within the courthouse, visit their
web site at http://www.co.silverbow.mt.us/.
- Where to stay, where to eat
The Courthouse is located in Butte's Historic Uptown District
at 155 W. Granite Street. Take exit 126 and follow Montana Street
all the way up the Hill. Modern lodging and amenities in a historic
setting are available nearby. An elegant bed and breakfasts is
within one block of the courthouse. The
Copper King Mansion, once home to William Andrews Clark,
one of the richest men on earth, is one block west of the courthouse
at 219 W. Granite (406-782-7580).
The Finlen Hotel at the corner of Broadway and Wyoming Streets
(1-800-729-546) offers modern rooms and also sits within a short
walk of the Courthouse and the rest of Butte's historic district.
Fine restaurants within a short walk of the Courthouse include
the Acoma Lounge and Restaurant at 60 E. Broadway (406-782-7001),
the Uptown Café
at 47 E. Broadway (406-723-4735), the Broadway Café at
302 E. Broadway (406-723-8711) and La Hacienda a Taqueria at
116 W. Park St. (406-782-8226). Other nearby examples of beautifully
restored buildings from the same period include the Mother
Lode Theatre (315 W. Park) and the Arts
Chateau (321 W. Broadway).