In 1920, Butte was home to as many as 100,000 people from all over the world. It was a large city for its time – up there with cities like Kansas City and Jacksonville, Florida – and an even larger city for the sparsely populated state of Montana. What brought all these people and all this history together in Butte? Copper.
As the copper boom began in the early 1900s, Butte’s reputation as the “Richest Hill on Earth” grew, attracting workers from the U.S., Ireland, Wales, Lebanon, Canada, Finland, Austria, Italy, China, Montenegro, Mexico, and more. The city grew to a metropolitan area in the mountains, with attractions for workers in the red light district and bustling saloons.
While the transition to a less labor-intensive open pit mining put the city’s population into a slow decline, remnants of Butte’s strong mining history remain. Today, the city’s natural environment is being restored through the federal Superfund program and its unique culture and history is celebrated through museums, festivals and more.
For history buffs, Butte is a must-visit. As you plan your trip to Butte, consider these important historical sites in the area.
For those who want to dive deep into the history of mining in Butte and beyond, the World Museum of Mining is your place. Learn what it was like to be a miner in the early 1900s by exploring the Orphan Girl Mine Yard and the equipment miners used every day. Walk through a faithful recreation of the old mining city, complete with period artifacts and original buildings. You can also examine a wide variety of minerals and rocks, or walk through the Memorial Garden, remembering those who were lost to the mining profession during this period.
The Berkely Pit, started in 1955, was a large truck-operated open-pit copper mine until mining ceased in 1982. By 1980 nearly 1.5 billion tons of material had been removed from the Pit, including more than 290 million tons of copper ore. While no longer in use, it remains a prominent feature of Butte at 7,000 feet long, 5,600 feet wide and 1,600 feet deep – now full of acidic water, heavy metals and unique microscopic lifeforms. Visit the mine and get an up-close look from the Berkeley Pit Viewing Stand.
The Copper King Mansion – a 34-room Victorian mansion in Butte – was commissioned by William Andrew Clark, a banking and mining entrepreneur who was one of the wealthiest men in the world in 1900. At one point, his income was recorded as $17 million dollars a month. His Butte home is the remnant of a true Copper King at the height of the mining industry. Today, you can tour the mansion during the summer months or even stay the night in one of its rooms with a bed and breakfast open year-round.
Butte is the unlikely home of one of the nation’s oldest known Chinese restaurants, the Pekin Noodle Parlor. Started by the Tam family, the restaurant was built in 1909 during a period when many Chinese immigrants lived in Butte to work the mines, settling and opening businesses in what was known as “China Alley.” More than a century later, the restaurant is still owned by a fourth-generation Tam family member and serves classic Chinese dishes like its famous chop suey. The iconic restaurant is a snapshot of Butte’s melting-pot history when the city was bustling with people from all over the world.
For those who want a guided overview of Butte’s history, trolley tours and underground tours are incredibly popular. The Butte Chamber of Commerce runs daily trolley tours run by local experts, allowing you to visit landmarks like the Copper King Mansion, Dumas Brothel, World Museum of Mining, Berkeley Pit Viewing Stand, Mai Wah Museum, Clark Chateau, Montana Tech and much more.
Or explore Butte’s hidden side in an Underground City Tour with Old Butte Historical Adventures. Delve into prohibition-era speakeasies, brothels, and the underground city jail.
Ready to book your trip to Butte? The Butte KOA Journey is the ideal place to stay, within walking distance to the trolley tours and a quick drive to other historic landmarks in the city. Bring your RV, your tent or stay in a cozy cabin with access to all of Butte’s must-see attractions.