Discover a whole new world, down under at the World Museum of Mining, Butte, Montana
Views of the World Museum of MiningClick thumbnail to view full-size
What a pleasant surprise - World Mining Museum in Butte, MT
My inlaws are our guides when we travel to Montana. They've lived there for about 15 years now and are major fly fishers so they traveled all over the state, although they are not likely to stop at the major tourist spots on their way to the trout stream. So when we asked them to take us on a detour into Butte and to the World Museum of Mining, it was a pleasant surprise for all of us.
This all volunteer museum is located on the grounds of a former mining operation (one of many that are spread all throughout Butte proper and the surrounding hillsides) called the Orphan Girl mine and encompasses 44 acres in total. Its also next to Montana Tech which boasts a free mineral exhibit if you have time after your visit to the museum.
The museum itself consists of a gift shop, doll museum, mineral exhibit, a miners memorial, a recreated mining town and outdoor mining exhibits including mining equipment of all sorts, including steam trains, ore cars, head frames, mine shafts and just about any sort of mining equipment you could imagine.
The town of "Hell Roaring Gulch" is a sort of Disney-fied version of a mining town rather than a real ghost town. For the real thing travel down the road to Philipsburg which is a mining town that nearly became a ghost town and some of the true ghost towns like Granite in the hills behind Philipsburg. Hell Roaring Gulch consists of some real antique buildings moved to the site and some recreated buildings made from old lumber. The interior are filled with antiques from the area including very well stocked stores and businesses including social clubs and doctors offices.
The museum got its start in 1963 when the local Butte citizens decided that they needed to preserve a bit of their heritiage. Butte after all in its heyday was one of the top towns in America, sporting trolley lines and electricity before New York City. Copper (mostly) and silver poured out of the mines. In the 1920s the Anaconda Mining Company (originally the Anaconda Copper Company) was the fourth largest company in the world. In the 1950s shaft mining gave way to the more lucrative and safer, if not more ugly, open pit mining. The infamous Berkley Pit not missed from the highway as you enter the city limits unfortunately is now the largest Superfund Site in America due to heavy metals leaking into the water.
As history buffs, photography buffs and model railroaders we all had a great day at the museum. The only bummer was that when we arrived in the afternoon we were told that the mine shaft tour was done for the day. I guess you really have to get to the museum in the morning, instead of handing out at the Fairmont Hot Springs pool, if you want to go 65 feet down the old Orphan Girl mine shaft.