My American Road Trip, Part 6: Heavy Metal

Posted on: June 26th, 2012 by Lauren Walser

The drive from Jackson, Wyoming, to Butte, Montana, was an adventure that fit perfectly into our Wild West weekend. On the way out of town, Blaise and I had to stop to let two moose cross the highway. Then we drove through snow in Idaho and a torrential rainstorm near Norris, Montana, so we were all too glad to spot the mining rigs rising up from the mountains, signaling we had finally made it to Butte.

Butte, Montana's historic Hotel Finlen.

We checked into our room at the 1924 Hotel Finlen in the town’s Historic Uptown District. You could spot the towering hotel from the highway -- a testament to the original owners’ vision of building the grandest hotel in the city.

Once we settled into our room, we drove around town to check out a few of the old mining rigs, then out to the Berkeley Pit, an old copper mine that operated from 1955 until 1982. It also holds the dubious distinction of being part of the country’s largest EPA Superfund site, thanks to the toxic heavy metals and acidic water filling the pit.

The Berkeley Pit in all its glory.

Dinner that night was down the street from Hotel Finlen at the M&M Cigar Store. It was founded in 1890 by a pair of miners as a 24-hour spot to drink and gamble; 122 years later, neither its hours nor its primary activities have changed. And just a couple years ago, a local resident purchased and completely renovated the restaurant, refurbishing the sign out front and taking much of the interior back to its earlier days. 

We had also heard about an old bank building that’s now a popular local hang-out, Metals Sports Bar and Grill (named for the building’s original tenant, Metals Bank), so we walked down the street to check it out. It did not disappoint. The restaurant was filled with diners and groups of friends watching a basketball game, and despite the ruckus, I could still make out the bones of an old bank -- namely in the large vault toward the back of the restaurant, which housed slightly more intimate seating.

The former bank building that houses the Metals Sports Bar and Grill.

As rowdy as downtown Butte was on Saturday night, it was perfectly peaceful on Sunday morning, which gave Blaise and me the chance to walk around and study the old buildings. A lot of them, it seemed, were vacant, though just as regal as I imagine they were back during the town’s prosperous mining days. I was told that many of the buildings are in the process of being refurbished, if they haven’t already. I can’t wait to go back and check out the progress.

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Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

General, Reflections, Travel