Have you ever walked through one of those historic mansions owned by some multi-millionaire captain of industry and wondered what it would be like to sleep in one of those bedrooms? At the Copper King Mansion in Butte, Montana, the museum by day becomes your inn by night. You can sleep where one of the richest men in America at the time slept, or maybe in the room of his youngest daughter, who became more famous in modern times after publishing a memoir. In the morning you’ll have breakfast where the family did, in style.
William Andrew Clark made his fortune through copper mining first and quickly expanded into other business ventures fueled by those copper earnings as electricity and telephone lines went up all over. He grew up poor and failed in several mining business attempts before studying mining back east and then returning with a knowledge of how the process actually worked. He did so well with copper mines and smelting facilities the second time around that he bought sugar plantations, financed an 1,100-mile railway to Salt Lake City, and built a big ranch in a remote part of Nevada that became Las Vegas.
When he built the Copper King Mansion in Butte in the 1880s, his aims were to make a grand statement and to spare no expense in the process. The cost was equivalent to $7 million in today’s dollars, which was reportedly less than he earned in a week. Each room displays the kind of craftsmanship that’s increasingly rare in today’s buildings and materials imported from around the world. On the first floor, where you meet if you’re coming in for a tour, there’s a parlor, a billiard room, a grand dining room, kitchen, and hallways filled with antiques. You see a carved mahogany fireplace, an embossed leather ceiling, original parquet floors, and “back up plan” dual chandeliers powered by both electric and gas.
Two impressive stained glass windows light the staircase leading to the second floor. Most of the bedrooms are on the second floor, including the master suite of Mr. Clark himself, so I got to sleep in the room of a multi-millionaire. I’m still waiting for the effect to rub off on me.
It was a bit surreal to sit in the living room area sending e-mails from my laptop while surrounded by antiques and 150-year-old oil paintings. It was even more strange to wake up surrounded by heavy velvet drapes, a hand-painted ceiling, and the kind of personal possessions the owners would have had around them in the late 1800s.
There are four other rooms for rent at the Copper King Mansion: the Family Suite, Huguette’s Room, Andrea’s Room, and the small Butler’s Bedroom.
On the top floor were the servant’s quarters, along with a grand ballroom where the family would host events. It’s now stuffed with period antiques and a too-big pipe organ that makes the space feel smaller than it is.
Soon after we launched Hotel Scoop earlier this decade, our contributor Jamie Rhein stayed at the Copper King mansion. She was fascinated with Huguette Clark, the very, very rich recluse who died in 2001 at age 104. She didn’t want to leave the hospital in New York after going in for treatment, so she bought the place and stayed in it her last 20+ years.
Huguette, who grew up to own three apartments in New York City, plus several other properties, was the youngest daughter of William Andrew Clark. She was worth more than $300 million when she died. A book about her experiences has been a best-seller for years: Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. (You can see more about it here.)
Because Huguette’s room was already booked, Jamie stayed in her sister Andrea’s, pictured above, equally exquisite with its antique furniture and Victorian-era decor.
“My favorite item was the circular shower in the shared bath,” she reported. “The shower, an interesting contraption to turn on, works beautifully. Water jets come out via tiny holes all along the metal pipe.” Guests staying in Huguette’s and Andrea’s share the bathroom, but each bedroom has a pedestal sink.
Today, the Elizabethan-style mansion is owned by the Coat family who bought the house four generations ago and restored it to the splendor of the Clark era. Operating it as both a B&B and a museum helps pay the bills–plus offers the public a unique account of Butte’s copper mining glory days and the lavish ways of the Clarks.
In the dining room, guests have the chance to visit over a full breakfast with crystal and fine China plates. Current proprietors Erin Sigl and Maria Gibbs are happy to visit and offer area travel tips while the staff serves up artfully prepared dishes. They were a wealth of information on local restaurants and places to visit.
Because the bed and breakfast Copper King Mansion is also a museum, with daily tours that start at 9 a.m. from May 1 through Sept. 30, you’ll have to put up with a few quirky inconveniences in the busy months. You need to put all your personal items away in the bedroom closets if you are staying another night, or check out early if not. When checking in, you need to wait until all the daily tours are done before you can get into your room.
Guests can take the tour for free though, so you can preview where you’re staying in its pristine state before you move in and unpack. Otherwise, Butte has plenty to see, so spending the day out and about is not difficult.
There’s quite a colorful history behind the life of Copper King William A. Clark and it’s not always a pretty one in U.S. history. I loved this description in the book The Big Burn:
He was also a United States senator from the Big Sky state, a position he had initially purchased with bundles of crisp $100 bills handed out to legislators in monogrammed envelopes — W.A.C. stamped on the fold. Clark purchased cops and courts, newspaper editors and ministers, grand juries — any source of opposition or fair play.
Rates run $105 to $200 including breakfast and the tour. For reservations, either for a tour or to stay overnight contact the inn direct at their website or at 406-782-7580.
*Tours during the off season are available by appointment
Review and photos by editor Tim Leffel except for Huguette’s bathroom photo by Jamie Rhein. Leffel was hosted by the Copper King Mansion B&B for purposes of review while touring Southwest Montana researching a travel article for another publication.