t one time, Butte was made up of several neighborhoods including Dublin Gulch, Meaderville, Chinatown, Finn Town, East Side, Corktown, East Butte, and the Columbia Gardens. But because of an expansion in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the Anaconda Company, many of these neighborhoods virtually disappeared.
The Columbia Gardens, nestled just below Butte's East Ridge, ceased to exist after Labor Day 1973, and Montana Resources now owns much of East Butte.
Except for the quick hellos through the years, decades have passed since some residents of these neighborhoods have seen or talked to each other, but that's all about to change as the first ever reunion of these neighborhoods will be held Sunday, Aug. 29, at the Basin Creek Reservoir.
The reunion is the brainchild of Butte residents, Rose Marie (Rebich) Ralph, John Thompson, Jerry Bugni, Alice Given, Sue (Caddy) O'Brien, Millie (Oreskovich) Roskilly, Edna (Johnson) Goodman, Diane (Warnstrom) Faroni, and Carolyn (Mayo) Harvey.
With this reunion, they are hoping — with the help of old photographs and childhood recollections — to record lasting memories of the lost neighborhoods.
The group, ranging in age from mid-50s to mid-70s, gathered recently to reminisce about growing up at the Gardens and East Butte and shared memories of their childhoods.
Harvey's family ran a fox farm at the Columbia Gardens and described her childhood neighborhood as a "nice, quiet place to live." As a teen, she was the chief babysitter at the Gardens, charging .25 cents an hour. She also worked at the ice cream parlor.
She recalled how music was definitely a big draw at the Gardens. In the 1940s, bands such as Henry Busse and His Orchestra, Sully Mann and His Orchestra, Gus Arheim and His Orchestra, and Tommy Dorsey & His Record-Makin'-Record-Breakin' Orchestra performed at the pavilion. The 1950s brought the music of Harry James and His Musicmakers, Sammy Kaye and His Music Makers, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.
Growing up in the Big Band era, Harvey was able to see a number of these musicians perform in the Gardens' spacious pavilion. "I can still see Tommy Dorsey bouncing across the dance floor," Harvey recalled.
Millie Roskilly made East Butte her home until her 1954 marriage. Her fondest childhood memories were the great celebrations held in the neighborhood.
"Oh, the parties my parents had," said Roskilly, whose mother and father both immigrated from Croatia. "They'd be singing and having a good time."
Roskilly, whose childhood antics included "chasing the ice man for a bit of ice" and skiing on homemade skis her brother built from an old barrel, felt that it wasn't so much the neighborhood, but the people living there that made East Butte so special. "People were so good," she said.
Edna Goodman was 3 years old, and Rose Marie Ralph was 7 when their
families moved to East Butte.
When Goodman was asked about everyday life in East Butte, she smiled as she recalled how the neighborhood children, whether it was summer or winter, played in the old ore dump. "Of course," Goodman said, "all the kids played kick the can, too."
"It truly was a great place to grow up," noted Ralph, who said she and her neighborhood friends attended Butte's smallest elementary school, the Harrison School, which was located at 2065 Fir.
Ralph also boasted that her alma mater won a lot of school championships. "We had no coaches," explained Ralph, "we just did our own thing."
Diane Faroni and Sue O'Brien are both natives of East Butte. Faroni lived there until her marriage in 1959. She described her old neighborhood as the last great place. "It was a nice, safe place — we never had to lock our doors," she said.
O'Brien, a sports enthusiast, remembered spending many a day playing basketball or shooting marbles. She also enjoyed the "sleepouts" at night and confessed that she was one of "those kids!" who raided the neighbors' gardens
Not many can boast of having such a big backyard, but Jerry Bugni can. He felt the same then as he does now, that he was one of the lucky few to be born and raised at the Gardens.
Alice Given, on the other hand, said that moving to the Gardens was a big adjustment. She went from attending one of the largest public schools in Butte, Emerson, to going to the smallest, Harrison. The family moved to the Gardens after her dad, while out walking, saw a "for sale" sign on a house at the Gardens. "He came home and said `We're moving to the Gardens," Given laughingly said.
As a young boy, Bugni delivered both The Montana Standard and the Butte Daily Post in his neighborhood and as a teen and adult operated, among other things, the Gardens' roller coaster. "It was fun working there," he said.
However, thanks to Ann Meehan, Gardens' playground supervisor, the young Bugni also had an additional non-paying job. Because his family literally lived just a hop, skip and a jump from the Gardens, Meehan would bring kids to his house. "I had to give lessons on how to use the (playground) equipment," he said.
Like Given, John Thompson can thank his father for growing up at the Gardens. In the dead of winter, Thompson's father saw a picture of a home on the wall at Wulf Realty. His father quickly purchased the home.
Thompson, who liked living in a small community, appreciated the fact that people at the Gardens looked after each other. Looking back, Given noted that one of the biggest reasons she liked living at the Gardens was that it was a "tight-knit community." But there are other memories Given has cherished, including playing at the skating rink in winter, and on warm, summer nights, putting the phonograph on her window sill and turning it up real loud, as only a teenager would.
Harvey, on the other hand, enjoyed the "cool and quiet nights," and Rebich liked East Butte because, as a young child, it was a safe haven.
Even after more than 30 years, hard feelings remain when asked about the loss of the Gardens.
"Goddamn them (the Anaconda Co.), O'Brien said.
"All my life I had heard the ACM would close the Gardens," Bugni added. "I never believed it until it came."