Mountain View stained glass

This window graces Mountain View Methodist Church.

Richard Gibson, for The Montana Standard

As an upscale, well-to-do metropolis in the mountains, Butte was cutting edge in terms of its architecture as well as the details that embellish so many of our buildings.

From 1892 to 1904, The Butte Art Stained Glass Works provided beautiful stained glass for businesses, churches, and residences. In 1897, they were “the only exclusive glass house in Montana…manufacturing mosaic, stained, and art glass figure work.”

The shop was located at 326 S. Main south of Silver Street, in a neighborhood of blacksmiths, lumber yards, tin shops, and hardware stores. William H. Johnson ran the factory from 1892 through 1899, the pinnacle of stained glass. Partly because of changing tastes (favoring clear glass) and perhaps somewhat because of competition from the short-lived Decorative Glass Works at 136 W. Granite, new manager Alvin Sheldon was unable to revive Butte Art’s popularity, and the business closed in 1904.

In the early 1900s, two more businesses began to market art glass, although neither F.T. Britton nor William White & Co. manufactured glass here, as Butte Arts and Decorative Glass both did. When Butte Arts closed in 1904, manager Sheldon began a new company at the same location called simply Butte Glass Works. That company had added auto glass to its line by 1918, and after several moves, this successor company landed on South Arizona Street where it is still in business as Butte Glass.

Are there any Tiffany stained glass windows in Butte? You’d think there were dozens, but the likelihood is that there are none. The admittedly incomplete Tiffany catalog lists none, while there are many windows in Butte of Tiffany quality and even style. But none are documented as definitely made by Tiffany. Tiffany’s competitors were highly skilled in their own right, even if their names are less renowned. Opalescent stained glass, such as that found in First Baptist and St. Mark’s Lutheran Churches, was patented by John LaFarge, a bitter rival to Louis Tiffany, and other manufacturers from Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, and elsewhere contributed to Butte’s spectacular assemblage of stained glass.

Butte Art’s stained glass is seldom (if ever) signed, but its distinctive knurled surfaces (designed to transmit and refract light more interestingly) together with timing of construction make it reasonable to infer origins for some local glass. The windows in 1899 Mountain View Methodist Church and in many late 1890s homes in the Hub Addition, just west of the uptown business district, were almost certainly created by Butte Art.

Local geologist and historian Dick Gibson has lived in Butte since 2003 and has worked as a tour guide for various organizations and museums. He can be reached at rigibson@earthlink.net.

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