Helen Jones Photography

The place-names of Butte and the surrounding area, like many towns, embody its history.

Opportunity, Wisdom, Anaconda; Clear Grit, Quartz, Agate, Granite, Platinum, Diamond, Aluminum, Iron, Mercury, Steele, Silver, and Copper Streets; Oro Fino Gulch, Silver Bow, Mill, Mine, and Lost Creeks; Orphan Girl, Orphan Boy, and Neversweat mines; the Pit.

The minerals found underneath Butte hill brought wealth, a boomtown grew atop 10,000 miles of tunnels. With this mineral wealth came economic opportunity and a big city. But also dangerous working conditions, intense labor rights struggles with hard-won victories, and environmental destruction (the area is now the largest superfund site in the US). The Berkley pit, a mile long and half a mile wide open-pit mine filled to 900 feet with water loaded with heavy metals, dominates the landscape in much of town. A constant alert sounds at the pit to keep birds from landing in the deathly water — a reminder of the catastrophic results industry can enact on nature. Most animals sense the danger of getting close. While, in other parts of town, deer graze in yards most evenings beneath nearby mountains that form a backdrop for everything you see.

I found both the land and buildings of Butte to be equally beautiful. As a Resident Artist at the Imagine Butte Resource Center during April of 2018, I was one of the last people to explore and document the artifacts left in the soon to be redone upper floors. The Phoenix building got its name in 1907 when it 'rose from ashes' at a site of a previous fire. It has had many uses and inhabitants over the years, and on the upper floors, evidence of them is everywhere. I sorted, sifted through and photographed ephemera strewn about, tiptoed over papers and pigeons, and delighted in dusty forgotten treasure trash that remained from old businesses. When it got too dim upstairs, I would hop in my car and 'chase the light' to one of the many overlooks above Butte.

We live our lives in places where others have dwelt, and worked, and dreamt, as we walk our own paths every day we burry traces of the former. But, in some places, the past is bold; it looms large and is not easily covered over. Butte is one of these places.