Charles W. Clark Chateau period museum

Charles W. Clark Family

Clark Chateau History

This twenty–six room, four–story house was built at the turn of the century by Charles Clark, oldest son of W. A. Clark, a copper king. Construction began in the summer of 1898, after Will Aldrich, architect, applied for a building permit July 15, 1898. Charles and Katherine Roberts of Butte had been married in 1896, three years after Charles graduated from Yale, and they went to Europe on their honeymoon. On July 5, 1898, the Butte Daily Miner, Butte's oldest newspaper, then owned by W. A. Clark, reported their return from European capitals; on July 17 The Miner stated the young couple would erect this residence at Washington and Broadway. They were living at W. A. Clark's mansion on Granite at the time.

According to legends, this building was a French chateau they saw on their honeymoon, had dismantled, shipped, and reassembled here. In 1900, Sears–Roebuck offered as many as 100 house plans of pre–cut homes to be assembled by numbered parts; this could have sparked the legend. Another story had the Chateau patterned after a wing of a chateau in France which the Clarks loved and had built on a scale one–seventh the original size. The latter seems more likely since the plain east side, abutting the next residence, gives the appearance of having been cut off from a larger edifice.

The architect of this building, Will Aldrich, was from Boston, having graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1884. After traveling in Europe, he lived in Butte in 1898–1900 at 132 West Granite during the building of the Chateau, then returned to Boston to work for the firm Peabody and Sterns. From there he moved to New York to join McKim, Mead, and White. In 1910 he went to St. Joseph, Missouri, where he joined in the partnership of Echel and Aldrich, a firm which subsequently designed many notable buildings in that state.

Chateau Architectual Specifications

The home was constructed originally using wood from each continent. Satinwood from India is in the large reception room on the first floor; the painted area may have some teak because one time the furniture for that area was teak with an Oriental decor and wallpaper of Oriental motif. The wainscoting was antiqued ivory and gold–leaf. There is bird's–eye maple in the library; the stair banister is of South American or African mahogany; cross–cut English oak is in the main dining room (or banquet room) with an oak ceiling, and in the adjoining petit salon with stained glass windows with copper, not lead, framing. The front entrance and ceiling are oak. The oak may have been obtained from select logs in the Midwest. Most floors are oak with pine or fir in less important rooms on the fourth floor. Hand–planed redwood paneling and beams are in the ballroom. Circassian walnut is of a dark variety from the northeastern area of the Black Sea. Some of it may have been used in the furnishings in the Chateau.

The craftsmanship and design in the interior of the Chateau are of outstanding quality, the circular stairway being its most prominent interior architectural feature. The hand rail was carved in place. Decorated brass doorknobs, keyhole covers, and other artistic details abound. Some cornices and fireplace mantles are moulded plaster and wood. Each piece of the wood cornice in the room off the Washington Street entrance is hand cut, and custom fitted, with each nail hole meticulously filled. Butterfly joints are evident in the banquet room. Protruding wood trims of shell shape and ornate clusters were purchased pre–cut as stock items carried in stores of that day.

Original scenic painted murals in the ballroom depict the story of Pocahontas and hunting scenes. Pictures concerned with sports, especially horse–racing and fox–hunting, enjoyed great popularity, particularly on the continent of Europe and in England, in the early 20th century. The blue satin damask draperies, hand painted French wallpaper, hand–woven Belgian carpet (reported to be Aubusson) in the first floor drawing room, and Louis XVI wall sconces are evidence of the splendor of that time. Aubusson is a market town in central France, famous for its manufacture of tapestries and carpets since the sixteenth century. They had an imposing grand piano in the first floor circular room, along with a large marble–topped table, and two Aubusson chairs near the fireplace.

No lawn surrounds the house because it was built when green vegetation would not grow in Butte, inside or out, because of sulphur fumes of smelter emissions. The newlyweds had the yard flagged with cobblestones. Later owners cemented this over inside the iron fence, The sidewalk is still primarily the original two–tone stepping stones. Copper rain gutters and spouts, now greenish–blue against the antique cast brick and grey stone windowsills, were uniquely fitting for the son of a copper king.

Near the end of the Victorian era, an American inventor came up with a speedy economical solution for time–consuming architectural embellishments: to cast decorations in iron, then bolt them together. Foundries turned out hundreds of different pieces. These elements were available through catalogs. It was the beginning of prefabrication, a technique Henry Ford soon applied to automobiles. The Butte Ornamental Iron Works used this technique constructing the fence in 1901.

Off the Washington Street entrance is a closet lined with white tile on wainscot and floor, complete with drain, to accommodate wet and muddy outerwear. A similar one on the fourth floor, for house servants, has its own interior side window to admit daytime natural light.

In 1899, electricity came to Butte, one of the first cities in the world to be so–lighted, with power brought from the Big Hole River near Divide. The Chateau, then, was wired for electricity from the beginning. Due to the unreliability of continuous electric power, which might have been off for several hours or days at a time, some of the same fixtures were also gas lights. The small coffee room with the copper–stained–glass windows still has original brass fixtures providing for both services.

George W. Dairs in "Sketches of Butte" called the "rise of ground", in which the Chateau and three houses nearby of Spanish architecture were built, the Hibernian Terrace. He wrote that the house originally had, among other embellishments, authentic Oriental rugs. The floors, laid with a border, provide for rugs, not carpeting. According to Dairs, an owner with an Irish brogue, claimed her husband and she both slid across the floor "on one o' thim Sherooks" so she "wint downtown" and had a "foine round carpet made" for the drawing room which the Clarks had had furnished in Louis XIV and XVI furniture. For comparative value, a Louis XV desk was auctioned recently in England in the de Rothschild collection. The desk was declared "of pre–eminent value". The owner refused to sell it for less than half a million dollars, the highest price ever paid previously for a piece of furniture.

Ownership of the Chateau

In 1898, Charles organized the committee to elect his father to the U.S. Senate from Montana; Charles served as treasurer of that committee. Since Montana elected its senators in the state legislative assembly at that time, it was not until the eighteenth ballot, through political ploys and shenanigans, that W. A. Clark was finally elected in February, 1899, by the Sixth Legislative Assembly. His son was taken to court. In 1901, Charles established his legal residence in California, and on September 26, 1901, he deeded his home shortly after its completion to his wife, listing the consideration as "love and affection". Judgments, mechanics' liens, and attachments were filed on this property against Charles Clark. Katherine died in New York on January 27, 1904, when Charles was thirty–two; eventually the property was sold as part of her estate. In the meantime, her father–in–law, U.S. Senator from Montana in 1900–1906, for one term, may have used his son's unoccupied home in which to entertain and house out–of–town guests as it was just two blocks from his own mansion. W. A. Clark's multi–millions and his art collection attracted both protagonists and Tartuffes.

As heirs to Katherine's estate, Katherine's parents, George and Emily Roberts, deeded the property April 18, 1904, to Alexander Johnston, administrator, who in turn, on March 12, 1906, deeded it to Patrick and Margaret Wall. On September 24, 1908, the Chateau was deeded by the Walls to E. Creighton Largey. Creighton was a multi–millionaire's son, he inherited one–quarter of his father's estate, his father was Patrick A. Largey a prominent banker of Butte.

According to Goddard in "Butte Old Timers Handbook," it was at a gala party in the midst "of the Panic of 1907" in the Chateau that Joe Howard sat at the piano and spontaneously composed "Montana", the state song. Howard and Julia MacIntyre, close friends of the Largeys who where there, recalled the conviviality and the contributions of words by the guests for the lyrics. Hostess of the $15,000 costume ball was Ursula Largey, who had a flair for the stage. Three hundred quests enjoyed a salad supper at 1:00 a.m. and breakfast at 4:30 a.m.. Fancy dress parties were in vogue; they danced to the music of two bands. Butte citizens lined Broadway to watch the guests arrive in carriages. F. Augustus Heinze arrived as Napoleon.

In 1913, May Murray, claimed the Largeys left the building unoccupied and hadn't paid on a promissory note. The building was vandalized and small fires set within. James E. Murray, her brother, decreed an auction of the home to foreclose on the mortgaged note.

The Murrays take Ownership

May Murray bought the Chateau at a sheriff's sale on the courthouse steps in August, 1915, having been deeded the surface rights five months earlier from the Largeys. She transferred ownership to Monidah Trust – a personal holding company of which James A. Murray, her uncle, was president. When James A. Murray owned this property in 1926, Marshall Field of Chicago was engaged to redecorate and to furnish the lower floors for the Murrays.

Charles W. Clark Spiral Staircase

Charles W. Clark Chateau Spiral Staircase

It is probable the stairwell, spirals, and ground floor entry and reception room may have been re–painted in the redecoration from creme to white. The inside narrow concealed stairway originally for guards (or servants) to pass unnoticed from the ground floor to the first floor servant's dining room (or guards' sentry post) was blocked by the installation of linoleum flooring.

At the same time the Oriental rugs were replaced, the library was stained mahogany to keep up with the style of that day, and probably held some Empire mahogany furniture. Its windows are of small leaded panes with one large window in which there is an unsigned reproduction of a Whistler sailing scene.

Oriental and French motifs on the backs of the fireboxes of the fireplaces are evidences of Americans' being enamored with those countries' objects d'art in the early 29th century. Each of the seven fireplaces has tiles or marble imported from a different country in the world.

During the ensuing years, the Chateau was rented out as a music conservatory and as five individual apartments. The trap door above the second floor stairwell was cut in the ceiling to accommodate the hoisting of a piano to the ballroom. For thirty years from 1915 to 1945, the house remained in the Murray family.

Senator Murray and his wife, nee Viola Horgan, and their six sons resided here until he was elected to the U.S. Senate and they moved to Washington, D.C. In the beginning their youngest was six years old, and the older boys moved in and out as they pursued their education in eastern colleges. The third floor was their dormitory with four small bedrooms, the ballroom area being reserved for the two oldest brothers. Some young guests remember riding to the dormitory in the dumbwaiter! Prominent house guests had the rooms next to the owner's on the second floor, and had breakfast and lunches in the room off the kitchen.

Not to be excluded is a real fairy tale about this Chateau. Multi–millionaire Patrick A. Largey's granddaughter, the girl next door and across the street, Lou MacDonald, married one of Senator Murray's sons, Judge W. D. Murray, in 1938. Numerous pre–nuptial parties and dinners were held in their honor in the Chateau. Two years later the couple moved into the Chateau when the Judge was Assistant U.S. Attorney.

Mrs. W. D. Murray amusingly recalled her life for three years in the Chateau as a young mother and homemaker. With no household help, she cleaned one floor at a time on a rotating schedule. She got her exercise answering the front door bell, and in winter used a portable heater in the kitchen to keep from having to heat all the rooms. World War II began and the Murrays moved away. Thus ended the long and colorful Murray era as the furniture was divided among the sons and put in storage. The W. D. Murrays still have the dining room furniture and two fireplace chairs. The Judge recalled that upon his return from the Navy as legal counsel for an admiral, his father offered him the Chateau as a gift – but, with no endowment for maintenance.

So on March 26, 1945, James E. and Viola E. Murray sold the Chateau to Leslie and Fay Waite, who deeded it on November 21, 1949, to the Fez Club, a Shriner social organization. The Waites furnished the lower floors tastefully. The crystal chandeliers in the dining room date from their ownership.

In 1976, the Butte–Silver Bow Bi–centennial Commission purchased the original Charlie Clark home from the Fez Club for the citizens of Butte to use as a cultural center. For over seventy–five years most residents of Butte looked upon the Chateau as a mysterious place. The Chateau was operated by the Butte Silver Bow Arts Foundation until 2013.

In 2013, the Butte–Silver Bow County took the chateau from BSBAF, and now operate the building with their own agenda.

©2006 Butte Silver Bow Arts Foundation