We have all seen the ghost signs for Butte Carriage Works. The name of the business conjures images of horse-and-buggy days in Butte.
Partners in the business changed over time, and the business itself changed as Butte grew and changed. An early version of Butte Carriage Works appears in the Polk City Directory in 1895. That business was located at 121-123 South Main, near the present location of the Pekin Noodle Parlor.
In 1899, the business moved to East Galena Street. By 1905, Butte Carriage Works had moved into a new building and, according to the Anaconda Standard, had become “the largest and most extensive carriage manufactory in Montana.”
The first floor of the 1905 building housed the horseshoeing department with the capacity to service 25 to 30 animals per day. That means 25 to 30 horses on Galena Street! A. A.
Gagnor supervised this department. This floor also provided space for a mail-order business that supplied wood and hardware to other carriage works in Montana. The second floor, which was the main floor, was designed for carriage manufacture and repair. John L. Hurzeler and D. H. McKenzie managed this department. The third floor was used for painting under the supervision of L. Zoebel and trimming under the supervision of H. A. Karstead. When working at full capacity, the business could employ 30 to 40 men.
By 1911, a similar Anaconda Standard article touted the ability of the Butte Carriage Works to build specially designed wagons and automobile bodies. According to the article, “there is no sort of thing on wheels which the factory doesn’t make.” The company also manufactured ornamental ironwork that would otherwise have been shipped in from the East or from the Pacific Coast. They made fire escapes, iron fencing, and window grills. One example of their specialty work was a large canopy that was being installed at the Empress Theatre.
In 1917, Butte Carriage Works moved into a new building on Silver Street. A 1919 newspaper article announced that Butte Carriage Works, along with other carriage and automobile works, was reopening after having been closed for three weeks because of a strike by the Blacksmiths’ Union. The strike was settled, but the article specified that “the settlement has no bearing on the metal trades strike against the mining companies, as the down-town or city section of the blacksmiths’ union, has always worked on a different basis from the ‘hill’ section.”
But the blacksmith trade was changing. In 1929, an article in the Montana Standard stated the following, “Twenty-five years ago Butte had nearly a score of blacksmith shops. Today, with a half dozen exceptions, they have gone to join the dodo and the great auk.” According to the article, “Of those old-time shops established 25 years ago only one remains, the Butte Carriage company which now is really an automobile shop. It has not turned out a carriage in 20 years….The automobile sounded the death knell for the picturesque blacksmith and horse-shoer of the earlier day.” Blacksmiths were still in the mine shops, but even that work was threatened by advances in technology.
The article stated that Charles Miller, a partner in Butte Carriage Works, was one of the first to realize that blacksmithing was a dying trade. He decided to try his hand at raising cattle in the Big Hole. He sold his interest in Butte Carriage Works to John L. Hurtzeler. His partners, Christie and Gagner, were sorry to see him go. They really believed he would be asking to buy back into the business by year’s end, but by 1928, Miller had become a successful stockgrower who “sold $54,000 worth of beef in one shipment.”
According to this same 1929 Montana Standard article, in 1903 there was only one gas company in Butte and not one automobile garage. By 1929, there were “30 repair shops, 20 gas stations, 28 garages and more than 85 businesses associated with the automobile.”
Butte Carriage Works is listed in the Polk City Directory until the early 1940s, when Guay Auto Painting and the Safeway Stores Garage moved into the Silver Street location. Only the ghost signs remain.
3 thoughts on “The Butte Carriage Works”
Charles Miller was my grandfather. He also was the best harrier in the vicinity according to a MT Standard article. He shod a 20 horse team in 1 day.
My grandfather, Louis J. Guay, had his automotive paint shop on the second floor, accessed by a steep concrete ramp. My father, Oscar took it over for a time and then my uncle Albert. Another brother, uncle of mine, Clarence also was involved. Great memories!
Charles Miller was my great grandfather! Casey Sparrow is my second cousin.