Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Roller coaster ...

Here's a bit of trivia that most of you probably didn't know, unless you've lived in Butte: Montana was once home to a real, old-fashioned roller coaster!

It was, of course, at the old Columbia Gardens amusement park outside of Butte. Established in the early years of the twentieth century by William A. Clark, the copper magnate, the Gardens was Butte's primary recreational venue for some seventy years; the author John Gunther called it a "threadbare little park," but it was all that Butte had. And threadbare or not, the roller coaster looks like it was pretty cool.

Columbia Gardens was acquired by the Anaconda company in 1928, and they kept the place going until 1973. In typical Butte fashion, the park's grand old carousel was destroyed in a mysterious fire that year, while the roller coaster and nearly everything else was torn down. The town has wanted to build a new Columbia Gardens ever since, but (again, in typical Butte fashion) the plans haven't gone anywhere.

Today, most of the old park site is beneath hundreds of feet of mine waste rock.


  1. I'm so glad I found this site! About a month ago I happened upon a rerun of "Route 66," a hit TV show that aired from 1960 to 1964, starring Martin Milner and George Maharis. It was a superior series which I was too young (10-14) to understand at the time. Now, I want to see all of them. The one episode I caught took place in Butte, Montana, where the two men had temporary jobs in the mines. It's Episode #31, "A Month Of Sundays," the season opener on September 22, 1961. Anne Francis guested as a Broadway star who was returning home to Butte to reconcile her past, upon learning she is terminally ill. To cheer her up, Milner takes her to this amusement park, and yes, there's an on-ride shot of them riding this very coaster, and yes, it's pretty zippy. The final scene has Anne dying at just this location shown in the photo, with the circle planes in the foreground and the coaster (lit up for nighttime) in the background. I hadn't known about this park until that show, and I appreciate your diligence in finding it. Best, Gary Kyriazi (author, "The Great American Amusement Parks")

  2. Hi, Gary ...

    Many thanks for your note! I was excited to read it, in part because until today I hadn't realized that any episodes of Route 66 were filmed in Montana! It turns out there were two -- this episode, and the one following -- both filmed in the Butte area in July 1961. I'll be looking forward to watching them, and reporting about them in a future blog post.

    The Route 66 show was just slightly before my time, but I've heard lots of good things about it ... I think it was a show my parents enjoyed. Butte, with all its faults, would certainly have been an atmospheric place to film a show like that.

    Thanks again!