Mining is Butte and Butte is mining and with that comes the tales of the Berkeley Pit.
Opened in 1955 by the Anaconda Mining Company, the Berkeley Pit was the largest truck-operated open pit copper mine in the United States. Due to falling copper prices, mining was shut down in 1982. With the closing of the mines and all their water pumps, highly acidic water laced with toxic heavy metals filled up the pit. Today the Pit is a reminder of Butte’s mining past and now lays claim to being one of the largest Superfund, or environmentally hazardous, sites in the country.
With the expansion of the Pit, thousands of homes in the Italian neighborhood of Meaderville were destroyed. The photographs show the contrast of what used to be the town of Meaderville in 1942 and what has become of the area in 2007.
Despite environmental damage wrought by years of mining, Butte rejoices in its beauty. Nestled in the mountains at an elevation of around 5000 feet, Butte also has huge lengths of mining tunnels thousands of feet underground. As the saying goes, Butte’s a mile high, a mile deep, and the people are on the level.
Relics of Butte’s mining history remain. Besides Copper Street, there’s Mercury Road, Iron Road, Platinum Road, and a host of others. Headframes of mines dot the landscape, towering hundreds of feet into the air, stark steel signifiers of what once was the Richest Hill On Earth.