Butte began life with the discovery of gold near the Continental Divide in the 1860s and grew from a scattering of mining camps at the top of Butte Hill. The discovery of silver and copper deposits triggered a flood of new settlers, and, by the late 1870s, a bustling city center had emerged. Butte became a world-class copper-producing center; it is estimated that Butte supplied about a third of the nation’s copper in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Over time, however, mines in South America eclipsed Butte, and a shrinking world market and environmental problems led to the closure of Butte’s mines in 1983. The Butte economy has since turned to new energy technologies, the medical sector, service sector, and tourism. Presently the population of the City and County of Butte-Silver Bow, which consolidated in 1976, is 33,093.
The Butte Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1961. In 1991, Congress authorized a NHL theme study on labor history, which led to efforts to expand the Butte NHL district. Nicknamed the “Gibraltar of Unionism,” Butte was a focal point for Western union expansion, and its expanded NHL district now includes more of the Butte mining landscape as well as the nearby industrial community of Anaconda.
Growing out of the efforts to expand the NHL district, Butte has been a leader in a regional effort to promote heritage tourism. The city recently hosted two regional workshops on heritage development and is working to develop a heritage trail system.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2006.