Butte's ethnic communities invited to tell stories of family heritage


    The Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives is partnering with the Montana Preservation Alliance to help tell the stories of Butte's Jewish, Hispanic, German and Finnish communities. The Archives has already digitized the stories of Butte's Croatian, Serbian, Lebanese, Norwegian, Chinese, Cornish, Greek, Irish and Italian communities. In this week's Montana Moment we explore the multi-cultural city that made Butte, America, The Richest Hill on Earth.

    The Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives has received a National Endowment For The Humanities Common Heritage grant to help several of Butte's ethnic communities tell their stories.

    The Archives is partnering with the Montana Preservation Alliance.

    Their work will begin in the spring and continue through June, 2020.

    No city in Montana attracted people from more diverse backgrounds.

    The Butte Public Archives has already digitized cultural information from several of Butte's ethnic communities-Croatian, Serbian, Lebanese, Norwegian, Chinese, Cornish, Greek, Irish and Italian.

    Now it's reaching out to more of the tapestry that made Butte 'The Richest Hill on Earth.'

    Butte Public Archives assistant director Nikole Evankovich said the Archives will collect stories from Butte's Jewish, Hispanic, German and Finnish communities.

    "We tell the story of their immigration," said Nikole. "We tell the story of their work."

    That includes oral histories and photographs on all phases of their lives, their skills, dress, recipes-you name it.

    One of Nikole's favorite spots in the Archives is where books of naturalization records are kept.

    She lifts a huge leather bound book and thumbs through it's pages.

    "Here's a Certificate of Naturalization for a James Trelore," she said. " He was a native of England. Here's Antonio Garborino, who was a native of Italy."

    "They loved their new country," she said. "They had an allegiance to the United States. They were proud to be Americans."

    Those immigrants worked to meld into the American culture.

    But most kept their Old World traditions intact.

    In those days when immigrants were coming to Butte from countries all over the world you could hear nearly 20 languages spoken in the streets.

    "Our community is built on the fabric of all these ethnic communities," said Nikole. "It wasn't always easy. They had a lot of struggles but they survived."

    The Butte Public Archives maintains non-current government records of Butte-Silver Bow, as well as historic photos and manuscripts.

    You can find city council minutes from the 1870's, plus tons of extras.

    "We have newspapers that start in the late 1800's," said Nikole. "We have early birth and death records, naturalization, city directories and cemetery data."

    Tom Satterthwaite is a retired Butte High School German teacher.

    He said he became concerned when his students asked him what those "big black things" on the hill were.

    "Big black things," he asked. "What are you talking about?"

    They were talking about the Gallus Frames, where men would be lowered into the mines for work-where loads of ore would be brought to the surface.

    "When teenagers are sitting in my classroom looking at these Gallus Frames that were so much a part of our lives," he said, "and they don't know what they are that's one reason the stories need to be told."

    NBC Montana hopped into his car with a camera, and Tom took us on a tour of his city.

    He wants people to know the landmarks that made Butte famous.

    We drove all over.

    " On the left," he pointed, " is the Original Mine. To the right is the Steward Mine."

    We saw the Anselmo Mine in the Hub Addition, and the rail track where ore would be transported to Anaconda for smelting.

    He took us through his own old Irish neighborhood in St. Mary's Parish.

    He points out where his grandparents lived and where his mother was born.

    We drove through Centerville and Walkerville.

    Tom brought us to the cornerstone of Butte's Jewish community.

    There we met Joel Broudy.

    "I'm standing in B'Nai Israel Synagogue," said Joel, " a Reformed Synagogue that's housed our congregation since 1903."

    "A lot of Jewish people came to Butte,"he said, "to serve the mining industry as merchants, doctors and lawyers."

    We stopped near the Helsinki Bar in what's left of Finntown.

    "Finntown," said Tom, "was a thriving, thriving community."

    We went through Williamsburg, the historic German community, where the streets are named Vienna and Berlin.

    "We're crossing Baden Avenue," he said, "and Stuttgart Street."

    Butte has certainly been called a melting pot.

    But Tom said in the old days it was really more of a "salad bowl. Everybody in it together, but not really mixing."

    Of course that changed through the years.

    The microcosm of so many unique cultures wove into one large community.

    The Archives will put sharper focus on Butte's Hispanic population, many of whom used their mining expertise from Mexico and put it to work in the copper mines of Butte.

    Tom, a man of Irish heritage, who taught the German language, cherishes all of Butte's cultures.

    But it saddens him to see the changes from when he was a kid growing up in Butte.

    What once was a city crammed with buildings and neighborhoods now has many empty lots.

    He remembers a different Butte from vacant space.

    So many neighborhoods vanished inside the Berkeley Pit.

    The Berkeley Pit destroyed so many ethnic neighborhoods," said Tom. " McQueen. Meaderville, with its Italian population, and the people from the Slavic states, Montenegro and Bohemia."

    All these ethnic groups made up what was once Montana's largest, busiest city.

    "Butte," he said," had an Asian population that once rivaled Seattle."

    If a city is defined by its diversity of people, religion, language and fashion, that's Butte.

    "It is," said Nikole. "It is a city. It was a very metropolitan area early on. It was very cosmopolitan."

    "You couldn't pray to the Lord," said Tom, "to find a better place to grow up in. It was a huge amusement park."

    On the wall of the Archives building is a quotation that stands out.

    It's the story of Lizzie.

    Lizzie was a 12-year-old girl who took her mother, Mary Hagan's advice, when she got on the boat from Ireland.

    Tom reads from the words chiseled into the wall.

    "Now Lizzie when you get to the New World," he read, "Don't stop in America. Go straight to Butte, Montana."

    And Tom went on to say-"Lizzie wrapped herself in the warm brogues of her old country and settled into a new life."







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