In 1876, the Country celebrated its 100th birthday. In honor of this auspicious event, William Adams filed a claim in Horse Canyon and named it the Columbia. Adams failed to develop the claim as a mining venture and instead opted for a recreational retreat. He built a beer hall that supported gambling, horse racing, and cockfighting.
In 1899, William A. Clark purchased the 21-acre Columbia claim and requested Jessie Wharton develop an amusement park and spare no expense.
The claim name stayed with the place and the park was named the Columbia Gardens and for the next seventy-five years, the Gardens would provide a retreat for every generation of Butte citizens and many Montanan’s.
Over time, the Gardens hosted events in the pavilion, baseball field, race track, lake, zoo, playground, and of course the gardens.
No amusement captured the thrill of every man, woman, and child as did the rollercoaster. The rollercoaster was patented in 1885 by Le Marcus Thompson and the first one constructed was at Coney Island, New York. Some 21 years later, Jessie Wharton commissioned a rollercoaster for the Columbia Gardens.
The rollercoaster was added to the Gardens in 1906. Its construction was managed by Michael Walsh, Carpenter. He had a team of eight carpenters leading the construction.
The roller coaster was constructed of wood with an ironwood rail. Ironwood was imported from South East Asia and took 6 to 8 months to arrive in Butte. In the 1960s, the Carpenters convinced the Anaconda Company that using white maple would be more efficient time-wise, as well as more affordable.
The rollercoaster cost $20,000 to build in 1906. It took 8 carpenters to build the structure it was originally 1,760 feet long and was shortened in 1918 to 350 feet long and 80 feet wide. When it opened it offered 10 cars holding 4 people and from beginning to end the ride took 1.5 minutes.
The coasters were referred to as “Velvet Toboggans.” They were constructed of wood covered in tin or other metal. The cars had steel rollers on the sides and underneath. The structure had steel side rails which kept the coaster in place.
The cars of the Velvet coaster are to be made of hammered brass and mounted on a framework constructed of timber four by six inches in dimension and braced by two by fours. The cars will be heavily upholstered and absolutely safe, having no defects in construction as do the iron cars used on most roller coasters. A depot fifteen by thirty feet is to be used for storing the cars when not in use.”
-Butte Miner, March 24, 1906
The Roller Coaster took its last ride in the fall of 1973.