Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Butte, MT

Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse Exterior

Building History

The Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse has a colorful history that spans more than 100 years. The frontier town of Butte began as a mining camp, but grew quickly and was incorporated in 1879. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Butte was a vibrant copper-mining center. The mining industry attracted numerous immigrant groups, and Butte developed into a "melting pot" of the frontier. Butte became the site of the government's fourth largest immigration office and consequently needed a federal building.

The building, which was constructed to serve as a combined courthouse and post office, was designed by Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department James Knox Taylor, who was noted for designing many post office buildings between 1897 and 1912. The cornerstone of the building was laid in May 1903. The building was constructed for a cost of $300,000, and was dedicated on December 8, 1904. At that time, it was within a block of several mines and dozens of wood frame lodging and commercial buildings. After the building opened, the elaborate courtroom was the site of numerous naturalization ceremonies as thousands of immigrants became citizens.

One of the most dramatic incidents in Butte history occurred in the courtroom on May 21, 1924, during Prohibition, which outlawed the sale, manufacture, or transportation of liquor. John O'Leary, a convicted bootlegger, began shooting a gun wildly about the crowded courtroom before turning it on himself. O'Leary survived, and no one else was injured. One bullet hit the bench, narrowly missing the judge, and a bullet hole in the upper portion of the side rear courtroom door remains.

The Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is located within the Butte National Historic Landmark district, which was designated in 1961. When the National Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966, the district was also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1979, the building was listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places. The building was renamed to honor Mike Mansfield, one of Montana's most notable and beloved statesmen, in 2002.


The Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Butte, Montana, is located within an area that was once the core of Butte's bustling business district and is also close to local mining activity. Early drawings indicate the presence of tunnels and mine shafts on the building site. Architect James Knox Taylor expertly adapted the building design to the sloping terrain.

Constructed between 1903 and 1904, the building is an excellent example of the Renaissance Revival style of architecture, which was popular during the Victorian era. One hallmark of the style that is present on the building is the rusticated first story, which consists of smooth blocks of terra cotta with deep, horizontal grooves between the blocks. Other typical features include the roof balustrade and the use of corner blocks called quoins. The architect chose the Renaissance Revival style to display the government's taste and refinement; the massing and materials lend a sense of permanence to the structure and assert the federal government's presence in Butte. The building was constructed of fireproof materials in accordance with a local ordinance that was passed after a fire in 1879 destroyed numerous wood-frame buildings in the town.

The facade of the Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is arranged symmetrically and has a projecting central pavilion. The facade features exceptionally high-quality materials. The entrance steps and the basement elevations are composed of coursed, cut granite. The first story is faced with pale terra cotta and is topped by a belt course that encircles the building. Bricks on the second and third stories are laid in a pattern called Flemish bond that consists of alternating headers and stretchers. Many of the decorative components of the building are executed in terra cotta and include the quoins, the elaborate entablature that tops the building, the roof balustrade, and the central cartouche (scrolled, oval ornament). An eagle ornament above the main entrance expresses the federal presence in Butte.

The interior of the building also features high-quality materials. The most impressive space is the courtroom, which dominates the second and third stories. The courtroom doors are solid oak, as is the hand-carved judge's bench. Tall windows are topped with round arches and flanked with marble pilasters (attached columns). The vaulted ceiling displays decorative plaster, adding to the stateliness of the space.

The Copper Street lobby, which features marble wainscot, is another important interior space that retains original finishes. An ornate stairway that extends from the basement to the third story is a focal point of the interior. The stairway's treads are rose-colored marble. Terrazzo flooring is found throughout the building, although some areas have been covered with other types of floor covering. Other portions of the interior contain polished white Vermont marble baseboards, wainscot, and pilasters.

The building originally had a U-shaped footprint, but was enlarged in 1932 and 1933. The addition was designed by James A. Wetmore, Acting Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department at that time. Wetmore's addition respects both the design and materials of the original portion of the building. The addition more than doubled the usable square footage of the building. In 1965, the post office moved out of the building, and the Main Street lobby was altered substantially. Subsequent interior alterations occurred in 1992, when much of the first floor was modernized for new tenants.

Significant Events

1879: Butte incorporated

1903-1904: Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse constructed

1932-1933: Building addition constructed

1961: Butte National Historic Landmark district designated

1965: Post office vacated and Main Street lobby altered

1966: Butte historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places

1979: Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places

1992: Interior remodeled

2002: Building renamed to honor Montana statesman Mike Mansfield

Building Facts

Location: 400 North Main Street

Architects: James Knox Taylor; James A. Wetmore

Construction Dates: 1903-1904 1932-1933

Landmark Status: Individually listed in National Register of Historic Places

Located within the Butte National Historic Landmark District and the Butte National Register of Historic Places district

Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival

Primary Materials: Granite Terra Cotta Red Brick

Prominent Features: Formal facade Courtroom with decorative plaster and marble details

Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse Exterior

The Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Butte, Montana was designed and built, in its first phase of 1903-1904, during the tenure of James Knox Taylor, the Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury Department. The building was originally constructed to serve as a combined courthouse and post office.

The original U-shaped, 7-bay, 3-story building was constructed by the firm of Shackleton and Whiteway. The cornerstone was laid in 1903, and construction was completed in 1904, at a cost of $300,000.

The building was constructed using a steel frame on a concrete foundation with spread footings. The exterior facade materials are granite, brick and terra cotta. The original dimensions were 121'-8" x 82'-0". As designed, the building reflects the Renaissance Revival style. The principal facade (west), which consists of seven bays, is highlighted by a projecting pavilion of three bays. A set of granite steps, which extends the width of the pavilion, leads to the entrance. The basement becomes exposed on the west, east and south elevations as the grade slopes down from the north. It is clad with granite which is visible either as the exposed basement level cladding or as a raised granite foundation base. The first story is clad with rusticated horizontal terra cotta bands which surround the building. All windows and doors at the first level are topped by voussoired lintels with projecting keystones. Terra cotta is used as a belt course that divides the first and second stories. The use of terra cotta continues on the second and third stories. It can be found in the treatments of the flat arch windows, quoins, rustication, as well as in the entablature and parapeted balustrade. The interplay of the light granite and terra cotta with the dark red brick accentuates the decorative details of the structure.

By the time of the Depression, a space shortage had developed and the government decided to expand the building. James A. Wetmore, the Acting Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, supervised the design the addition and the construction was executed by the A.M. Lundberg Company at a total cost of $225,000. The original building was vacated during the construction period of February 1932 through August 1933.

When completed, the building was nearly doubled in size and a two-story interior light court was created. With the addition, the building measures 121'-8" x 157'-7 1/2". The most significant alterations occurred at the side and rear elevations. The 1933 addition continued the lines of the original structure, but without the use of the ornamental terra cotta. The lack of contrast between the brick panels and the decorative detailing as found in the addition is the major difference between the two periods of construction. Red brick laid in Flemish bond was the primary building material used for the addition.

On the interior, the original design continued the monumental character that is present on the facade. On the first floor, the main lobby and postal service area were finished with terrazzo floors with White Vermont marble floor borders, baseboards and wall wainscoting. The second and third floors were designed for use as courtroom and office facilities. The two-story courtroom had a wood floor with marble wall base, wainscot and pilasters with plaster caps, oak woodwork and a coffered barrel vaulted ceiling with decorative plaster cornice molding and hanging plaster light fixtures. At the south basement entry the lobby has a semicircular marble bench opposite the elevator. The southwest stair extends from this lobby up to the third floor and has rose marble treads with grey marble wainscoting.

Drawings dated November 30, 1964, indicate several alterations which have been completed including moving the flagpole from the roof to the west side of the site, converting the two side doors of the main entry to windows, replacing the main entry door and removing the marquee over the loading dock.

In 1965, the post office moved out of the building and soon afterwards, the main lobby was extensively altered. The front entry doors were altered, carpeting or linoleum was installed covering most of the original terrazzo and marble floors and suspended ceilings with inset fluorescent light fixtures were also installed. A 1992 remodeling of the first floor for the F.B.I. and the U.S. Attorney continued this trend toward modernization in this space.

Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse Exterior

The Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Butte, Montana is situated on the northern edge of the central business district. The building was designed by James Knox Taylor, the Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury Department, in the Renaissance Revival style and was constructed in 1903-1904. Taylor chose to design a building which exhibited the taste and refinement of the federal government. This was during the time period that America's interest in classical architecture was being reborn. Classical architecture provided the symbolic appearance of federal authority in those communities that were becoming commercial or governmental centers in the early 1900's. The Renaissance Revival style of architecture was frequently used for public buildings, institutional structures and larger residences. The style is identified by its use of Greek and Roman architectural elements, such as columns, pediments and round arches. Plans and exteriors are usually symmetrical, with entrances or perhaps wings projecting from the main structure.

The state of Montana was admitted to the Union in 1889 and this building represented a major federal presence in a city that was quickly changing from a frontier town to a modern 20th century city. At the time of construction, the area was alive with copper mining activities and the Federal Building, the nearby Silver Bow County Courthouse, and the Washington Public School were the most important structures in this section of Butte. The Courthouse cornerstone was laid in May 1903 and the building was constructed from 1903 – 1904 at a cost of $300,000. Shackleton and Whiteway was the contracting firm. Colonel Jordan was the construction engineer and was well liked by the citizens of Butte, who expressed sorrow when he left following the completion of the building.

Additional land was purchased on April 9, 1909, at a cost of $2,800 from the Washoe Copper Company. The purchase of this land provided the necessary space to construct an addition, which by the time of the Great Depression was needed due to a space shortage. In 1931, James A. Wetmore, the Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury Department, designed an addition enlarging the building using fairly similar materials and details. The building was completely vacated from February 1932 through August 1933 while the addition was constructed. During this time postal operations were relocated to the Hennessey Building, two blocks south of the site. The exterior, by virtue of its architectural quality and the absence of adjacent structures, is still the predominant visual focus at the northern end of the city.

Since its completion, the Mike Mansfield Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse has played a role in the lives of the citizens of Butte. Located on the fringe of Butte's commercial district, it has stood as a landmark of the downtown area. Built as a combined Post Office and Courthouse, the structure has played a role in much of Butte's history. The Post Office operated out of the building for over 60 years until it moved to a new location in 1965. The courtroom has been the scene for thousands of immigrants (to work in the copper mines) to become U.S. citizens and also the site of many cases to enforce the Volstead Act during Prohibition. A dramatic incident occurred in the courtroom in May 21, 1924, when a convicted bootlegger, John O’Leary, arrived for his sentencing. Within 10 minutes of his arrival, O’Leary began shooting wildly into the crowded courtroom and finally inflicted the last bullet on himself. Miraculously he lived and no one else was hit, although visual evidence remains of this incident. One bullet hit the bench narrowly missing Judge C. N. Pray and the evidence of another bullet can be seen in the upper portion of the side rear courtroom door. O’Leary was later tried on the shooting case and was acquitted much to the dismay of Judge C. M. Bourquin who criticized the jury’s action as an “abominal act.”

Description Architect
1903 1904 Original Construction James Knox Taylor, Super. Architect
1932 1933 East Addition Construction James A. Wetmore, Super. Architect
1964 Front Doors/Flagpole Alterations Unknown
1968 1969 Interior Conversion & Remodeling GSA - Region 10
1991 1992 Interior Alterations for FBI & US Attorney Silver, Nayler & Associates
1993 Exterior Brick & Stone Repairs Oliver & Hellgren, Architects
1994 Window Replacement Silver, Naylor & Associates
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13