Montana Nature April 30, 2017
Here’s Why This Montana City Is Called The Richest Hill On Earth
Every part of Montana is steeped in history, perhaps none so much as the old mining community of Butte. Some of their old buildings, like the
Pekin Noodle Parlor and the Dumas Brothel Museum, help to tell the stories of Butte’s past. But this little city is best known for the time in which it was The Richest Hill on Earth. In fact, it’s still called that to this day.
Butte was the first major city in Montana.
It's hard to believe it now, but at one time it was the largest city west of the Mississippi between Chicago and San Francisco.
Founded in 1879, Butte's primary purpose was a mining mecca.
As copper mining ramped up and the city grew, it attracted workers from all over the world, creating a cosmopolitan setting against the backdrop of the Continental Divide.
The demand for copper increased, and Butte's mining industry became one of the first centralized and industrialized businesses in the world.
And thus, the nickname was born.
Butte's population peaked around 1920. Up to 100,000 people were living in the area.
But increasing industrialization of the mining process caused the city to enter a period of decline that was most pronounced in 1955, when the Berkeley Pit opened. The pit marked a transition from underground mining to pit mining, which was much less labor intensive.
This city, which once produced an estimated $48 billion worth of metals, is still recovering from that decline.
The Berkeley Pit operated until 1982, when increasing costs and low copper prices resulted in a total shutdown. Today the pit remains, and its most pressing problem is that toxic water levels are rising to dangerous heights.
But don't worry about the people of Butte... they're doing just fine.
Known as the Festival City, Butte makes national headlines with its annual St. Patrick's Day celebration honoring the city's Irish population, Evel Knievel Days and Folk Festival, just to name a few. In some ways, this is still very much the Richest Hill on Earth.
Love Butte? You’re not alone. This is one Montana city that is
anything but ordinary.
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