The area around Butte offers all the usual summer outdoor recreation you’d expect in the Rocky Mountains: fishing in blue-ribbon trout streams and lakes, hiking, biking, rafting and camping in four federal wilderness areas.
Just as big a draw, though, is the abundance of historic attractions - mostly connected with the region’s rich mining past.
Known as “The Richest Hill on Earth,” Butte revels in its history. Thanks to the vast deposits of copper, gold, silver and other ore, this city of 35,000 boomed in the early 1900s - reaching its zenith in 1917 with a population of 100,000. Two of its top historic sites are polar opposites of society - one’s a mansion, the other a brothel.
The Copper King Mansion - built in the 1880s by Butte’s “first, last and wealthiest Copper King,” billionaire W.A. Clark - is a bed-and-breakfast that’s also open for tours.
This Victorian gem cost more to build than the nearby county courthouse. The stained-glass double front doors and golden oak floor and wall panels in the main hall are your first clue. Then there’s the hand-carved mahogany fireplace, hand-painted ceiling frescoes, a billiard room detailed with cypress inlaid with cherry and cues built into the mantle, a gold-embossed leather ceiling bordered with oil murals in the dining room (which also features an ornate gas and electric chandelier) and 7-by-13-foot stained-glass windows up the staircase.
Period antiques fill the 30-room, red-brick mansion. The bathroom in the master suite features a collection of antique combs and beaded purses.
Open daily for guided tours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Oct. 31. Room rates are $55 to $95. 219 W. Granite. (406) 782-7580.
The Dumas, this city’s last parlor house, operated from 1890 to 1982 in Butte’s notorious Red Light District, which covered two city blocks. Designed as a bordello, the two-story brick building is the last known example of Victorian Brothel architecture and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The front door opens into a long hallway, with numbered “work” rooms lining both sides. Patrons could peer through the windows of each room to see which woman took their fancy.
The basement has a similar design. Miners frequented both of these floors, but were not allowed upstairs, where Butte’s businessmen and upper crust partook of their fun in larger and better-furnished rooms and suites. Many of these power brokers would walk through some of the 3,000 miles of tunnels beneath Butte to get to the Dumas.
Since the building is now an antique mall, many of its 43 rooms offer collectibles for sale. But others are just as the prostitutes left them, with quilts on the brass beds, empty booze bottles on tables, clothes draped over chairs and naughty artwork on the walls.
Rudy Giecek bought it in 1990 from the last madam, Ruby Garret, who began working there in 1942. Giecek offers a fact-filled tour and tells about the ghost that moves things around in the night and about the special refrigerator, where one of the girls would hide during police raids since it was modified so she could lock it from the inside.
Giecek also will take photos of you and your significant other as, ah, businessperson and client.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 45 E. Mercury St. (406) 723-6128. $2 for guided tour.
The Berkeley Pit, once the largest truck-operated open pit copper mine in the country, is huge - 7,000 feet long, 5,600 feet wide and 1,800 feet deep. Worked from 1955 to 1983, it yielded 1.5 billion tons of material (including 290 million tons of copper ore). A viewing stand offers a great look at the hole, which is filling with water.
Entrance off Continental Drive. Open daylight hours through November.
The World Museum of Mining contains a replica of an 1899 mining camp with 37 businesses built on 12 acres surrounding the Orphan Girl mine. The hoist house, which once lowered miners into the ground in cages, is now filled with mining memorabilia. The businesses, ranging from a saloon, general store and funeral parlor to a depot, lawyer’s office and Chinese herb store, are loaded with period goods and belongings.
At the end of West Park and Granite streets west of Montana Tech University. Open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily through Labor Day. Admission is $3 for adults. (406) 723-7211.
Our Lady of the Rockies is a 90-foot statue of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, standing atop the Continental Divide overlooking Butte. It was hoisted atop the east ridge of the city in 1985.
Connie Kenney, executive director of Butte’s Chamber of Commerce, will tell you that the city’s economic turnaround began after the statue was completed.
The Lady of the Rockies Center is at 434 N. Main. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. (800) 800-5239.
For more information about Butte, contact the chamber at (800) 735-6814.