Project to Light UP Butte's Historic Headframes
Anselmo Night by Bernie
There is no more important symbol
of Butte than its headframes that stand over the Hill's now silent
underground copper mineyards. These tall structures--they range
from 99 to 200 feet--are remnants of the underground copper mining
era that was the engine for the city's renowned prosperity and
the source of its nickname "The Richest Hill on Earth."
Often mistaken for oil derricks
by visitors, they were originally called gallows frames (or gallus
frames) because they were used to lower miners to their stations
below the surface. The double meaning of the name was not lost
on the miners who knew the risks in their daily work. Many died
below the surface in the dangerous business of "getting
the rock in the box."
Today, about a dozen of these headframes have been preserved,
immediately visible from anywhere in the valley below and recognized
far and wide as symbols of Butte, Montana. You can't pick up a brochure or see a TV ad without
noticing a logo that is some configuration of a headframe. They
represent better than any other symbol the substance and spirit
of the Butte community.
They represent Butte's mining
heritage, the submerged sacrifice of sweat, toil and tears to
get the precious metals from beneath the surface that helped
win wars and fuel a global economy. The copper mines beneath
each headframe made widows and orphans but their immense wealth
also fed and clothed thousands of families, many of them immigrants
from around the world who realized their American dreams here.
They still represent the resilience
of a town that stands tall and strong and straight against the
onslaught of time and the elements. They punctuate the Butte
landscape like exclamation points. Yet,
for most of the hours of the day, especially in long winter nights,
they have remained invisible to the millions of people who pass
by Butte each year on their way east or west, north and south.
Now a community project is shining
lights on these shrouded remnants of Butte's heritage. Eight
of these icons have been lit for the world to see and appreciate
in a way that honors what they represent and draws the attention
of the world to their importance and to the interpretation of
Butte's heritage and future. Like Uptown Butte's darkened tall
Uptown buildings, during the day they are portals through which
visitors and residents can easily imagine what life was like
in Butte during its underground mining period. Yet, at night
they have remained invisible.
In 2003, the Travona on Butte's lower west side was the first
headframe to be lit with low-energy, high efficiency red LED
light strings. Leading up to that watershed event, Montana Tech
students studied and measured the structure and tested different
lighting configurations. Lighting the Travona was made possible
by the contributions of benefactors Jon Sesso and Barb Kornet
who donated the funds to purchase the lights (to be lit in honor
of their parents) and took the all-important first steps to ensure
the project's success.
On October 8th, 2004, the second headframe, the Orphan Girl on
the dark grounds of the World
Museum of Mining on the far west edge of the city was
lit thanks to the contributions of local corporate sponsors the
Montana Standard, Town Pump, Arco, MSE, and St. James Healthcare
under the umbrella of a community project called Blueprint
Soon after sponsors Joe and Rosemary Jordan stepped forward to
light the Anselmo--one of the Hill's tallest headframes. The
Anselmo was lit just before Christmas 2004.
July 1, 2005, the Original (left) was illuminated in a brief
ceremony marking the contribution of the Butte Soroptimists'
Club. The Butte Soroptimists' Club donated most of the funds
needed to light the Original headframe in the same neighborhood
where several of its members grew up. Their donation was supplemented
by contributions from individuals and from money accumulated
by setting aside 10 cents for every cellphone handset sold over
several months by Copper City Wireless.
Then, the twin of the Original across Main Street, the Steward,
was completed in September 2005 thanks to the Town Pump Charitable
Foundation and their contribution toward that project. A lighting
ceremony on October 12th, 2005 brought together about 150 people
to commemorate the event, including about 50 retired workers
who had worked below ground at the Steward and at the nearby
Mountain Con just to the north in Centerville.
In December 2005, MERDI illuminated the Belmont headframe on the east
side of the Butte Hill close to the Berkeley Pit. A month later
at the Belmont Senior Citizen's Center in what was once the hoist
house for the Belmont, the new lighting configuration was dedicated
in a lighting ceremony on January 31, 2006.
In the spring of 2006, Floyd and
Margaret Bossard and their family stepped forward to pay for
the lighting of the Mountain Con with the help of co-sponsors
Bob and Pauline Poore, long-time community benefactors. Bossard
is a retired mining HVAC engineer who learned his trade in the
The mine actually descended to a depth of one mile, giving birth
to the phrase about Butte "Mile High, Mile Deep" which
has been painted on the front of the structure at the request
of the Bossards. That headframe was illuminated in a brief ceremony
on April 15, 2006.
In September 2007, the Bell Diamond was illuminated. A generous
contribution by Northwestern
Energy extended electrical lines to the headframe where
there was no power available before. Butte Silver Bow County
built a road to allow equipment to more readily reach the site.
Thanks to the major sponsorship of the O'Keefe Family, Mainstreet
Uptown Butte ordered lights and they were installed by county
workers Larry Morales and Sean Coates.
The Bell Diamond headframe is
lit in honor of Butte pioneers, the Hickey brothers, who are
ancestors of the sponsors, the O'Keefe family, and who, among
many other things named the Anaconda mine before selling it to
Marcus Daly and located and filed the Diamond claim.
The Bell-Diamond brings to eight of the Hill's most visible headframes
that have been received lights
Most recently, in the fall of 2009, Mainstreet Uptown Butte collaborated in a project led by Butte-Silver Bow County to refurbish the lights on headframes on County property. Sections of lights were repaired and dark sections were replaced with lights provided by Mainstreet. Then, in a culmination of this project to upgrade the nighttime landscape, a new sponsor stepped forward to relight the Orphan Girl which had gone dark for almost a year. Lights were replaced and just before the holidays and the Orphan Girl headframe was lit at night once again, now in honor of the Robins Family thanks to sons Bert and Mike in loving memory of their mother. A dedication ceremony for the reilluminated Orphan Girl took place in July 2010.
Throughout this project, Mainstreet Uptown Butte has focused
on keeping the effort moving forward by encouraging tax-deductible
contributions to pay for the work to install the lights and looking
ahead to ensure that the lights continue to be lit for years
to come. Since the headframes are owned by different private
and public entities, Mainstreet has worked with each to contact
property owners and request permission to install lights on the
structures. Several are owned by Butte-Silver Bow county. The
Belmont is owned by MSE/MERDI and the Orphan Girl is owned by
the World Museum of Mining.
After receiving permission, the next step has been to measure
the structure. Research uncovered that there are no existing
measurements of the cross members and other features of the structures
on file anywhere so they have required careful measurements to
determine how many lights are needed to light each.
Engineering students from Montana Tech provided detailed measurements
for the Belmont and the Travona.
In 2004, the project received
a major donation from Pioneer Technical Services in Butte. They
provided the time and expertise to measure all of the remaining
lighting candidates. Using state-of-the-art equipment that allows
measurement from a distance, Pioneer Technical Services surveyors
were able to measure the Orphan Girl, Original, Mountain Con
and Anselmo headframes.
The condition of electrical service to each headframe is also
an important consideration for the project. Some have excellent
electrical service, while others have required an upgrade and
a couple have had no service at all. The county-owned headframes
have received attention to upgrade their electrical service. Northwestern
Energy made a generous and substantial contribution when
they extended power lines to the Bell Diamond in 2007 to allow
electricity to reach the lights on that headframe.
After measuring the linear feet to be covered with lights and
assessing the suitability of electrical service to the site,
the next step has been to order and install the lights. The lights
specified for the project are low-energy, low-maintenance light-emitting
diode (LED) light strings that are available for about $2 a foot.
Finally, efforts will begin before all of the headframes are
lit to defray the costs of replacement lights, maintenance and
electrical costs in coming years. Ultimately, the property owners
will be responsible for future energy bills and it will be up
to the community to help defray these costs in return for permission
to install the lights.
The goal is to spread the costs broadly through participation
from a coalition of volunteers, property owners and citizens.
Funding sources outside the community continues to be sought
to help defray the costs of maintaining the lights and defraying
the electrical costs of lighting the headframes in future years.
To help lighten up Butte's headframes and help defray the costs
of maintenance and electricity costs to keep them lit, send a
tax-deductible contribution to Mainstreet
Uptown Butte, P.O. Box 696, Butte, MT 59703; or call
406-497-6464 for more information.