The Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives first opened on September 20, 1980 in Fire Station Number 1. Since then it has become home to many tremendous documents of Butte’s history, from newspapers to death and birth records to personal collections to the Anaconda Company records to the C. Owen Smithers Photography Collection.
Over the years, artifacts continued to fill the Archives and space was running out. The fire hall, in which the Archives was housed, was built in 1900 and it needed evident repairs. When Irish president, Mary McAleese, visited the Archives in 2006 she donated $5,000 to the cause of improving it. She recognized it’s value in the fact that she was able to see historic documents in the Archives that were not available anywhere else. The Archives staff applied for grants to fund the preservation and renovation of the fire hall but could not obtain enough money. In 2007, the board of directors made the decision to approach the council of commissioners for financial help with Butte’s beloved Archives. They presented to the council and won their approval to put a bond issue on a special election ballot. The Archives staff reached out to their community providing them with brochures about the Archives and its importance to Butte. Opinion pieces were written in the Montana Standard urging citizens to approve the bond for the Archives come November. One opinion author wrote poignantly, “the future of our past depends on it”.
The day came for the public to vote on the bond issue and an immense 68% of the population placed their votes. On November 14, 2007 the bond issue to renovate and repair the old fire hall as well as create a separate but adjoined building complete with an ADA compliant elevator, bathrooms and a climate-controlled vault was passed with 75% of the votes in favor!
Upon it passing, a Technical Review Committee was created of 15 members to oversee the bond sale and construction project. $4.5 million worth of bonds were sold in July 2008 and $2.5 million worth of bonds were sold the next summer- all during a recession, showing how strongly Butte loves their history.
A & E Architects was hired for the transformation design and Oswood Construction headed the construction. The staff of the Archives moved artifacts to the Business Development Center at 305 W. Mercury in July 2008 while construction occurred. Besides the construction, other projects were occurring. The exterior was given a fresh coat of paint, brick was restored by Eckerson Masonry and John Weitzel reproduced the No. 1 sign atop the building.
The Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives was finished ahead of schedule and with money to spare! A grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony was held on August 27, 2010. Thanks to the people of Butte the world now has a first-class facility to research and share the city’s incredible history.