The Richest Hill on Earth

My mystery zoom crew just finished The Richest Hill on Earth by Richard Wheeler.  It is about Butte, Montana and does a great job describing the Copper King era of the late 1800’s.

I’ve posted about Butte before but had an opportunity to pay it yet another quick visit on my recent trip to Montana.  I must admit that I had a deeper appreciation of this historic city after reading Wheeler’s book.

My dad was born and raised in Butte and I have fond memories of visiting Butte as a child.

Butte used to be the largest city between Chicago and San Francisco and is credited with ‘electrifying’ America with its copper.  Here is an article with a bit more about Butte’s history.

On this trip, I stayed at the Hotel Finlin (built in 1924), toured the Copper King Mansion (William Clark was one of the Copper Kings) and had dinner at Lydia’s Supper Club (not worth it anymore).  I took a walk on the Montana Copperway Trail (built on a Superfund site) and, of course, I took a lot of pictures.

I had lunch at Metal’s Sports Bar and Grill, which is housed in the old Metals Bank Building.  This was considered Marcus Daly’s (another Copper King) bank back in the day.

Butte used to have a population of about 100,000, but today it is around 30,000.  Uptown Butte is making a restoration effort and there are some buildings and houses in the area that have been well preserved.  It is so fun to drive around and check it out.  With each visit, a new gem emerges.

Like many places with industrial pasts, Butte is in a tough spot.

With increasing industrialization of the mining process caused the city to enter a period of decline that was most pronounced in 1955, when the Berkeley Pit opened. The pit marked a transition from underground mining to pit mining, which was much less labor intensive.

Jessica Wick, 4/30/17

In 1983, Butte was declared a federal superfund site. The Pit is filled with heavy metals and dangerous chemicals.  Here is a great article from the Washington Post that tells the story.  

Still, Butte is focused on getting past the stigma of Superfund. Matt Vincent, who grew up here, served as the local government’s chief executive and now works as an industry consultant, said Butte’s reputation as a waste site needs a drastic revamp. Given the years of delays and distrust, he knows that won’t be easy.

Kathleen McLaughlin, Washington Post, 2/11/20

I, for one, am cheering Butte and it’s proud residents on.  Without a doubt, I will be back.


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