Historic building repurposed as a brewery revitalizes downtown Anaconda, Montana

The town of Anaconda is located in southwestern Montana at the foot of the Anaconda Range (known locally as the “Pintlers”).

Downtown Anaconda. Photo credit:
Montanabw via Wikipedia

The population of the consolidated city-county is roughly 9300. It had earlier peaks of population in 1930 and 1980, based on the ups and downs of the mining industry.

But mining isn’t what it once was, and Anaconda’s downtown has long suffered as a result.

One sign that the downtown’s worst days are behind it can be found at the Smelter City Brewing Company, which opened the first week of July, 2017 in the historic Electric Light Building. The redevelopment got financial assistance from the city’s Tax Increment Financing District.

Luke Carlson, owner of Smelter City Brewing, has a creative mind in more ways than one.

Not only does the Anaconda resident have a BFA in creative writing from the University of Montana, but he also restores old, mostly Victorian, homes for a living.

Carlson said a lot of work went into converting the Electric Light Building into a brewery. “It was 15,000 square feet of mess,” said Carlson, noting that the building had sat vacant for years.

The project was a long time coming. It started growing legs in 2014 when the Carlsons received a $17,615 grant from the state’s Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund to compose a feasibility study.

Since the 2014 study, Carlson devoted his weekends toward renovating the property, which consists of two stories with 10,000 square feet of usable space.

Built in 1895, the building is included on the National Register of Historic Places. The Anaconda Co. purchased the building in 1910 and used it to house its payroll, electric light and railway and water departments.

The historic property got its name after the company fashioned a row of lights on the building’s exterior, advertising the Smelter City as one of the first electrified towns in the state of Montana.

Carlson said he tried to get the building as close to the 1895 version as possible.

Carlson, who has been home brewing for about 10 years, said brewing beer is one among his many creative outlets. “Making beer, it’s a creative process,” said the 37-year-old, whose father is from Anaconda, and his mother from Butte.

Smelter City Brewing’s Head Brewer, Luke Steadman, says that he likes to know the sources of his ingredients.

For me, it starts with the farmers,” said Steadman, who added that the new malting facility slated for the Montana Connections Business Development Park west of Butte is right up his alley.

I’m really, really excited about that,” added Steadman. “That’s the direction of the industry, local guys forming the styles that they need.

Anaconda was founded by Marcus Daly, one of the Copper Kings, who financed the construction of a smelter on nearby Warm Springs Creek to process copper ore from the Butte mines.

In June 1883, Daly filed for a town plat for “Copperopolis”, but that name was already used by another mining town in Meagher County. Instead, Daly accepted the name “Anaconda”, suggested by the United States postmaster of the time, Clinton Moore. Moore chose the name because of the important mine already existing in the area.

The Anaconda Company expanded smelting capacity over time; by 1919 the Washoe Reduction Works could boast that its 585-foot smokestack (the Anaconda Smelter Stack) was the tallest masonry structure in the world, and that the smelter-refining complex constituted the world’s largest non-ferrous processing plant.

In 1980, Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) closed the smelter, bringing an end to almost a century of mineral processing. While some aspects of the operation had been cleaned up under environmental laws, closing the smelter resulted in a large area contaminated with hazardous wastes.

Since then, an operation for environmental cleanup was put into place by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and executed with the assistance of ARCO.

The multi-million-dollar cleanup and redevelopment has seen the land repurposed and revitalized as the Old Works Golf Course, a championship 18-hole course designed by Jack Nicklaus.

Now that they’ve got some good, fresh, locally-produced beer to drink on the “19th hole”, let’s hope that Anaconda continues its recovery from a dirty, depleting economy to a regenerative one.

See Montana Standard article by Annie Pentilla.

See Smelter City Brewing Facebook & photo credit.

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