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World Museum of Mining

Experience a Century Worth of Mining History on the Richest Hill on Earth— Butte, Montana

There is probably no more suitable spot in Montana for a World Museum of Mining than in Butte. Better known as The Richest Hill on Earth, the city got its nickname from the area’s unique geology that produced scores of intersecting rich ore veins. Butte’s silver, gold, and copper mining heyday lasted from 1882 to 1982, and that century worth of rich heritage is preserved at the 22-acre World Museum of Mining. Located on an actual silver and zinc mine site, the museum experience includes Hell Roarin’ Gulch, a recreated 1890s mining town, a vast array of outdoor mining equipment, indoor displays of minerals and mining relics, and an underground tour of the Orphan Girl Mine.

Hell Roarin’ Gulch

“Authentic reproduction” might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s the best way to describe Hell Roarin' Gulch, an 1890s era mining town that has been recreated on the grounds of the World Museum of Mining. In addition to 35 buildings that were carefully reconstructed from old materials, 15 free-standing historic buildings, including two churches, the school house, superintendent's house, and others, were relocated here intact. If you didn’t know the village had been recreated, you’d swear the buildings and cobblestone streets were completely original.

As you stroll back in time along the town’s boardwalks, peer into the store windows and wander inside the shops. All are filled with original antiques from early Butte and other nearby mining communities. Want to know what type of hat ladies wore around the turn of the twentieth century? Check out the finery at the milliner. Want to see what potions were available from the pharmacist? Original bottles of medicines still fill the display cases. The Chinese Herbalist Shop is full of real, original herbs. Not-so-fresh cookies and crackers are still in their jars in the dry goods store, and the assay office overflows with core samples, cupels, crucibles, and scales. A redlight district, bank, union hall, saloons, and much more are all part of Hell Roarin' Gulch.

Orphan Girl Underground Mine ToursButte World Museum of Mining

You won’t have a problem finding the Orphan Girl Mine while on the World Museum of Mining property— just look up. The old “gallows” style headframe juts 100 feet into the air. In fact, headframes dot the sky just about anywhere you look in the city of Butte. A headframe was more than a tower of steel, it allowed miners and their tools to be lowered into the mine shaft. During Butte's mining boom, thousands of men worked in the veins below the city. An underground tour of the Orphan Girl Mine gives a glimpse of what hard rock mining might have been like then— and may just be the most realistic underground mine tour that you will ever take! No illuminated, paved tunnel here. Instead, you’ll be outfitted with a miner's hard hat, cap lamp, and battery belts (they weigh more than you think). Visitors’ cap lamps are the main source of light underground, so be prepared to navigate your way in dim lighting on an uneven soggy surface. Good walking shoes and light jackets are recommended. The mine workings are not ADA compliant.

Most of the tour guides are retired miners, so as you walk the 65 feet down into the once 3,200-foot deep Orphan Girl, you will hear their real stories and history about the mine. It gets a little spooky when everyone switches off their battery lights and all you’re left with is the glow of a candle. Now imagine miners working like that for hours on end! 

The “Girl” produced over 7,500,000 ounces of silver between 1875 and 1956. Sounds like a lot, but it’s actually only about one percent of all the silver ever produced in the entire district. The Girl got her name because, compared to many of the other mines of the day, it is relatively isolated on the western side of the Butte mining district. There is also an Orphan Boy Mine. The Orphan Girl was a popular place to work because it was usually a cool 60 degrees. Temperatures in other nearby underground mines often exceeded 100 degrees!

Mine Yard

After the underground tour, your guide will show you around the mine yard and explain the use of the machinery and various jobs that miners held. Not everyone worked underground. There were also blacksmiths, boilermakers, drymen, and hositing engineers. If you did work underground, you might have started your career “running slimes” which was a mixture of processed rock used to fill the stopes that had already been mined. Another important job was being a member of a “rope gang.” These were actually steel cables and not rope that were the lifelines to working underground.

More than 60 major exhibits and dozens of smaller items are scattered about the Orphan Girl mine yard. Looking at all this rusty gold gives you a good feel for the kinds of equipment used from the 1860s through the 1970s. These are not models, they are the real thing— stamp mill, ore trucks, donkey engines, smelter cars and much more.

Before or after your guided tour, take a look at the Orphan Girl Hoist/Engine House in the Underground Mining Exhibit. Real mining equipment is displayed in a simulated underground mine to explain each of the steps in the mining process. And the original photos that line the walls really reveal the hard life and times of a hard rock miner.

Research and Education

Although the complete archives are not on public display, the World Museum of Mining is a resource to authors and the film industry for historical and technical research. If you’re looking for a special souvenir, just ask— more than 7,000 photos can be purchased. The Museum also has an extensive collection of maps, diaries, company day books, payroll records, engineering diagrams, and more that are available for research purposes. The Museum offers fun summer camps for kids, too, so young miners can have an opportunity to learn through tours, crafts and hands-on experiments.

IF YOU GO

The World Museum of Mining

155 Museum Way

Butte, Montana 59703

Phone: 406-723-7211