Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

Museum and research center closed for renovations. For more info, call (406) 444-2694.

Remaking the Wide-Open Town: Butte at the End of the Twentieth Century

By Brian Shovers

Download and read the article in PDF format.


What it means to be a "post-industrial world"
- Superfund sites

- Environmental clean-up

- The future of Butte-- with or without mining


1)    Which two events in the 1970s and 1980s were pivotal in provoking Butte's attempts to remake its economic and political identities?

2)    What five phenomena converged to alter assumptions about Butte's traditional livelihood and challenge the city's survival?

3)    What effect did the construction of the Berkeley Pit have on the residents of the consumed suburbs and their community identities, in addition to the Butte community as a whole? What were the social and economic consequences?

4)    Why did Butte's miners "live for the moment, investing only in what they could take with them-- their memories and experiences?"

5)    Through the Model Cities Program, what projects did Butte and Montana government officials hope to fund?

6)    What circumstances led up to the "inevitable but expected" decision made by ACM to suspend mining operations in 1983? What consequences did the shut down have on the miners and the community?

7)    How did Dennis Washington and ARCO help to revive Butte?

8)    What was the objective of the Metanetix Corporation? Were they successful in their endeavors?

9)    What environmental clean up has been done in Butte? How has it helped to create jobs?

10)    What can local communities do to attract new business and industry? Why do they want to? 


-    Visit the Berkeley Pit and discuss the environmental impact of mining and what some possible clean-up solutions might be.

-    In a two to three-page paper, discuss urban revitalization in your own community. What has been done? Where is it needed? How could it be accomplished? How would it benefit your community? 

-    A further look at urban revitalization- Research other major industrial cities that have gone though an urban revitalization process. Where did the city come from? Where did they end up? How did they get there? How does their situation compare to Butte's? Can Butte pick up any pointers from these other cities? What did other cities do that might or might not work in Butte? How does Butte fit on a national level with the other cities undergoing urban revitalization?

-    Talk about the historical uses of copper, the impact of the metal on the United States' economy and historical events, and the impact of mining on the local environment and worker health and safety. Examine the original Superfund legislation from 1980, its application to the Butte area clean up and debate the pros and cons of the reauthorization of the legislation.

-    Research what situations predisposed the closing of Buttes mines. How did it effect other communities in Montana?

-    The state's nickname is "The Treasure State." How do you think that name fits in to Butte historically? Has Butte's changing landscape and history altered the meaning of the nickname?

-    Research the State of Montana's lawsuit against ARCO.  Take sides and argue the case in  front of a judge (teacher).