Greening a copper city : parks, mining, and community in Butte, Montana, 1879-2020

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2023-08

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“Greening a Copper City: Parks, Mining, and Community in Butte, Montana, 1879-2020,” examines one mining community for nearly 150 years to tell its urban, environmental, and cultural history through its parks. I argue that community members, mining companies, and government officials leveraged parks as tools for remediation agendas seeking to fix social, economic, and environmental problems in Butte. This interdisciplinary study employs methods from labor history, leisure and recreative studies, environmental humanities, and garden and landscape studies to tell a layered history of people, place, and policy. Key sources include archival collections of government documents, maps, personal papers, tickets, programs, and ephemera, as well as census and vital records, oral histories, newspaper and magazine articles, literature, and photographs. The first two chapters study local figures who built a specific culture of land use, business practices, social behavior, and leisure. Chapter one details the earliest entrepreneurial endeavors promoting organized exurban recreation, the social problems which arose in these spaces, and the physical and cultural infrastructures implemented by the mining industry to rein in public behavior. Chapter two analyzes emerging public health responses to air pollution from heap smelting of ores. From this crisis of air quality, I draw out the organization of responses, particularly by society women who sought to define local identity and good citizenship through city beautification. The third and fourth chapters consider the growing influence of federal programs in local planning through park creation. Chapter three details how the Works Progress Administration and the Model Cities Program shared ambitious goals, but ultimately could not stabilize a community defined by the volatility of mining. The cessation of underground mining and implementation of pit-mining fundamentally changed work and land use in the community and increased distrust in both mining companies and the federal government. The fourth chapter shows how the development of historic preservation and environmental remediation policies coalesced to promote heritage tourism and public parks as responsible end land use in the federal Superfund program. Parks were not originally part of toxic waste remediation policy but became “responsible end land use” because of local organizing in places like Butte.

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