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Mining City History: A modest house, and a rich history

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10 O'Neill

The Kelly house at 10 O'Neill Street in Walkerville is still standing.

The heart of Butte’s contribution to American history is in the stories and residences of common men and women.

John B. Kelly of 10 O’Neill Street in Walkerville was one of 38 Kellys or Kelleys listed in the 1900 city directory. Three carpenters, one teamster, one railroad man, one timekeeper, one bartender, one blacksmith, the county sanitary inspector, and 29 miners. Our John Kelly had worked in several mines including most recently the High Ore since he had arrived in Butte and O’Neill Street sometime before 1895.

In the early hours of September 23, 1898, 34-year-old Kelly was found in a prospect hole between 24 and 26 Center Street, east of Main and three short but steep blocks downhill from his home, with a broken collarbone and a seven-inch laceration in his scalp. He was unemployed at the time and “had been drinking” excessively of late, according to newspaper reports.

Kelly had no memory of falling into the hole or anything else from the pervious evening, and he was incoherent and drunk when he was discovered at about one in the morning. His friends later examined the hole, and insisted that with its sandy floor, there was no way he could have sustained the injuries he suffered. The friends were convinced he had been assaulted and possibly robbed while inebriated and left for dead in the hole, but the Anaconda Standard reporter was of the opinion that the steepness of Center Street including a 10-foot stair, and the heavy rip-rap of rocks between the two houses where Kelly fell suggested no foul play.

His cuts and broken bones were dressed by Dr. Nevin at Sisters’ Hospital, and within two days a short item in the paper reported Kelly to be much improved. His assailants, if any, were never identified.

Kelly’s home on O’Neill Street survives, a typical four-room miner’s cottage mirroring hundreds of similar houses in Walkerville, Centerville, and Butte. About 1902, the house was home to miner Michael Reed and his wife Mary and two children.

Over the next ten years the Reeds had three more children, and typical for the time, in 1912 the tiny house was home to the Reed family of seven plus two miners who boarded there. Michael died of tuberculosis in 1912 and Mary died of diabetes in 1914, and the children began to live with Michael’s sister, Mary Casey, at 155 East Center Street, but she and the Reed children returned to #10 and next-door #12 O’Neill Street in the 1920s. Michael’s son Thomas Reed and his wife Agnes lived at #10 from 1934 to 1971, according to research by historian Christine Brown.

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


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