Roadside Oddity: Anaconda Montana

Anaconda is a small town of 9,000 people in Montana, six miles west of I-90 between Missoula and Butte. The town rests in foothills near the great plain basin, founded in 1883 to take advantage of the ample copper ores nearby. Mining magnate Marcus Daly built a smelter to process ore on an overlook above the town, named the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. The original plat was filed as Copperopolis, however it was changed because another mining town was already using the name. The postmaster instead suggested Anaconda, probably after opening the dictionary to page 3 and randomly selecting a word, and Daly apparently wasn’t too concerned by little things like names.  By 1919 the ore processing facility was so active, that the masonry smokestack built to vent noxious gasses from the smelter became the tallest masonry structure in the world, at 585 feet tall. The smelter was finally closed in 1980, resulting in massive environmental contamination.  While the smelter was dismantled, the smokestack was preserved as a historic site. Today the stack can be seen from the freeway, looming large in the distance where it rises up over the plain from it’s perch on a hill like some ancient lighthouse.

Anaconda has some interesting things to check out, if you have time. It’s no travel destination, but is worth a pass through for the historic architecture, including some art deco clubs built in the 1930s. Unfortunately when I visited the town I was in a hurry, and it was raining so I didn’t get photos of these buildings.

My first look at Anaconda while traveling east. Dark, stormy mountain skies cast deep shadows over the plain, giving an eerie atmosphere for the distant smokestack.
Closer view of the stack on my return trip. Still rain-soaked skies, but no mountain storms this time.
Tailings from 100 years of copper ore mining. The tailings are as tall as small hills, and pitch black. The ground around the smokestack looks like a fever dream of Mordor incarnate.
Looking up at the stack from Smokestack Point Park in town. The property is still owned by ARCO, and fenced off.
Ore smelting pot at Smokestack Point Park.
The edge of town shows wear from uncertain economies. Lots of empty, abandoned industrial buildings sit quietly rusting.
Memorial outside of town, likely for a child. It’s touching, yet very creepy with the stuffed animals twisting on the fence as the prairie breeze blows across the sagebrush.

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