The War of the Copper Kings- 2012
By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner
In Montana, there was a true War of the Copper Kings. It took place over a century ago, when copper was king and mining was actually profitable in Butte, Montana. However, that time has long since passed and Butte has been in a slow decline for decades. When I was in middle school in Montana, we had to take a semester of Montana history. My mother, who is from Massachusetts, always thought that was strange as she never took Massachusetts’s history. However, I would argue that most children in the U.S. take a mini course on Massachusetts’s history as its history is so central to U.S history.
I digress. When I was in 7th grade, I gave a report on one of the Copper Kings, Marcus Daly. For some reason, he is frequently portrayed as the benevolent one of the three, whereas W.A. Clark is always portrayed as the one with horns hidden somewhere on his anatomy. To this day, I have more fondness for Daly than Clark, though I suspect they were not that different neither in their desire for riches nor in their tactics in their pursuit of personal wealth and glory. (The third copper king was F. Augustus Henize, a man I never read much about until recently.)
This year’s War of the Copper Kings was a battle between the summer home of Marcus Daly in Hamilton and W.A. Clark’s home in Butte. I will start with Marcus Daly’s home in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley as I visited that first. The day was gloriously clear, the mountains majestic in the background, and the setting is one of my favorites. I love the Bitterroot Valley, so it seemed to me that Daly was a smart man to choose such a place as his summer home.
Daly showed his business acumen by buying a 22,000-acre parcel of land, a size that is almost unheard of in the western part of the state. He raised crops on his land to send back to his company stores in Anaconda and Butte, cut timber from the Bitterroot forests for his mines, began to raise horses, and started the town of Hamilton. When Daly first bought the land, there was a small house on the property. However, he and his wife soon realized it was not nearly large enough for all of their guests and decided to re-design it. Daly did not like this first re-design of the mansion, thinking it looked too much like a church. I also think he might not have liked the fact it was painted purple. The current mansion is not the one he lived in as his widow remodeled it after his death according to what they had always planned.
The mansion as it is now was designed by famed Missoula architect A.J. Gibson. Gibson designed numerous buildings in Missoula, Stevensville and Hamilton including the Missoula County Courthouse, the first 5 buildings at the University of Montana and the First Presbyterian Church in Missoula. The Daly Mansion is huge with “over 50 rooms, with 25 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, as well as 7 fireplaces, 5 of which have imported Italian marble. The home is three stories for a total of 24,000 square feet, plus a full basement.”(From the website)
I really liked Daly’s mansion. Though it was huge, it still felt like a home. I had the sense that we could all be guests there and would feel welcome to sit and enjoy ourselves. The curators of the mansion were fortunate in that they had pictures of every room in the mansion from the time of Mrs. Daly’s death. They have been able to re-create what each room looked like during the time the Daly’s lived there, placing the furniture where it had been. Also, Mrs. Daly always kept extra bits of cloth and wallpaper from every room. This has allowed the preservationists to have exact copies made when necessary. As our tour guide joked, sometimes it pays to be a bit of a pack rat!
On our tour through the mansion, I enjoyed seeing that the Daly’s used the latest technology to help their staff. They used linoleum that was rubber-like in the kitchen to ease the strain of long days standing on one’s feet. They had pull-out bins in the kitchen for flour, sugar and other sundries. The glass-covered cabinets were double paned so that they were easily cleaned by the staff. They also liked to have the most modern appliances of the time including a refrigerator (really a huge icebox with a 500 pound piece of ice cooling it) and a vacuum machine that two people needed to use to make it “run.”
When the Daly family no longer wanted to summer there and could no longer afford the upkeep (and had mounting debts), the home was left vacant and the interior furniture auctioned off to pay their debts. The auctioneers took a photo of every room before they removed the furniture. I believe that many Montanans must still have a fondness for the memory of Daly as they continue to return furniture original to the house that they had purchased at the auction. Each year a piece or two is returned as an elderly relative dies. I find that remarkable as they are antiques and could easily be passed down in a family. Instead, these families are returning them to the mansion so that many more can enjoy and share in them.
Clark’s mansion in Butte, called the Copper King Mansion, is an imposing 34 room Victorian mansion on Granite Street. It was finished in 1888 for around $250,000. Keep in mind, that’s a lot of money for the 1880’s. At that time, most government buildings were built for less in Butte. However, for Clark it was a true drop in the bucket. When he began to amass his fortune from the copper mines, timber and anything else he could extract from Montana, he earned $17 million a month for 15-20 years. And that was before the time of income tax so he was able to enjoy it all. When he died, he was the 2nd wealthiest man in America. I must be fair and say he did give some back. He gave the city of Butte the Columbia Gardens, a lovely verdant escape from the treeless Butte. Unfortunately, today the gardens have gone the way of the Berkeley Pit. Clark also was philanthropic to other cities like Los Angeles.
Back to his mansion. He left his home around the year 1920 and no Clark family member has had anything to do with it since. It has had a few owners, including the Catholic Church who used it for a school for a while. They disapproved of some of the racier frescoes on the ceiling of Clark’s bedroom and had them painted over. The Cote family bought the mansion in the 1950’s and has painstakingly restored it and saved it from time and the harsh Montana weather. Currently, you can spend a night in the mansion as it is a bed and breakfast. There are very few furnishings left in the house original to Clark’s time, though it is filled with beautiful antiques that the family has collected over the years.
The mansion has tremendous woodwork. The artisanship is stunning, especially in the staircase. The stained glass on the landing was beautiful and glowing with the early afternoon sun when I visited. I also loved the fireplaces with the beautiful marble inlay.
One of my favorite rooms, beside the main entranceway where I could see the staircase, was the dining room. The furniture was beautiful and I loved all of the silver. Unfortunately, my photo of it is all blurry. I also loved the front hall antechamber. It had ornate wood carvings, an ornate metal trim over the wood, and a bench that you could have sat on to wait admittance or take your muddy shoes off.
Mrs. Cote, the woman who bought the house in the 1950’s, had a tremendous sense toward preserving Butte’s history. She saved two stained glass windows from a library in Butte (I think it had suffered a bad fire) and saved numerous artifacts from various churches that were being demolished. She had an eye toward preservation in a time when that was not yet fashionable. The upstairs ballroom is filled with gowns, furniture and other paraphernalia that she collected so as to save it for posterity.
I am glad I visited the mansions this summer. I liked both homes and they were in very different settings, with one in the tranquil Bitterroot Valley and the other in bustling Butte. If voting, I would choose Marcus Daly’s home near Hamilton. I enjoyed seeing the personal artifacts from the Daly family and hearing stories about how the Daly family spent their time while visiting during the summers. I’d recommend visiting them both yourself and deciding which you prefer.
© Ramona Flightner