Other travel stories

Butte Lunches
Going for the Gold in Montana
Montana's Hot Spring Resorts
A Trip to Lewis & Clark Caverns

by George Everett

The World Museum of Mining is a 22-acre museum of mining technology, history and frontier culture that was established in 1963 on the far western edge of the city by Butte volunteers who wanted to preserve the city's hard rock mining history and the culture that surrounded it.

The museum and recreated town were built with thousands of hours of volunteer labor and donations of money and artifacts from throughout Southwest Montana. Today, the museum welcomes tourists from around the world and is Butte's premiere museum attraction. In 1999, the museum hosted more than 20,000 visitors.

Over the past few years, the museum has been making a deliberate transition to a professional attraction with the help of a paid staff that includes a full-time museum director, education director, gift shop manager and a part-time maintenance person.

One of the more recent additions to the musuem grounds is an exhibit that simulates the experience of underground miners in Butte's famous underground copper mines. The exhibit was partially funded by a $30,000 state Travel Infrastructure Investment Program grant and opened to the public in June of 2002. The museum has also helped to organize tours of mineyards and an underground mine tour that is being developed in the Lexington Tunnel near the Anselmo mineyard.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of exhibits to see and things to do at the museum. The World Museum of Mining sits on 22 acres once occupied by the Orphan Girl Mine silver and zinc mine which was owned by legendary Copper King Marcus Daly.

The museum inherited that mine's 100-foot steel headframe, or 'gallows frame'. The headframe, along with the Nordberg double drum hoist in the remaining engine house, allowed miners and their tools to be lowered into the 3,200 foot mine shaft in search of silver and zinc ore. In 2004, with the help of community funders, the museum added lights to the frame of the Orphan Girl as part of the community project to illuminate these icons that stand and testify every day and night to the underground mining heritage of Butte, Montana. For more details about this ongoing community project of which the Orphan Girl is now a part, visit Lighten UP, Butte!.
Many of the tools and equipment used in underground mining can be viewed at the museum.

Built in the shade of the gallows frame is Hell Roarin' Gulch, an authentic reproduction of an 1890's mining camp that offers a bank, funeral parlor, jail, post office, city hall, union hall, school, church and Chinese laundry and herb shop. These are only a few of the more than 35 buildings you can visit. All are carefully arranged with authentic antiques from early Butte.

Tucked away inside a few of these buildings are exhibits of old drills, hoists, and other technology used in Butte's underground mines. Other exhibits display artifacts and interpret what miners and other residents of a frontier mining camp did when they were not pulling ore from underground veins. The Roy Garrett Mineral and Rock Collection contains mineral specimens from the rock formations around Butte as well as from around the world. The collection also includes arrowheads, fossils and bones.

The museum also contains a collection of antique vehicles including fire engines, wagons, and a bulletproof 1928 LaSalle armored payroll car used by the Anaconda Company that still finds its way into an occasional 4th of July parade.

The World Museum of Mining has also made preserving photographic images of Butte a priority and over the last three decades they have assembled a large collection of Butte images. The pictures are now available to the public to view and purchase.

The black and white prints available are of people, places, mines, buildings, and events of Butte's past. During the past 35 years, volunteers have catalogued and copied more than 6,000 photographs that have been donated to the World Museum of Mining. Prints from most of the archive's photographs can be purchased.

Researchers, writers, and organizations have used these photos to tell the story of Butte's rich heritage in print and in film.

If you decide to visit the World Museum of Mining on your next visit to Butte, the museum is open through October 31st. Admission is also free to visitors who pay annual dues ($10) to become members of the Museum.

Bus tours are welcome and guided tours by knowledgeable docents are available, if requested in advance. For more details, visit the World Museum of Mining's web site: http://www.miningmuseum.org.
This site is designed and maintained by George Everett.
© 2005 by George Everett. All rights reserved.
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