Empty Mansions: Follow W.A. Clark through Southwest Montana

Empty Mansions opens in mystery. Two mansions and two palatial apartments dot the country, vacant and pristine, meticulously maintained by an army of workers for an employer neither seen nor heard. As the story unfolds-painstakingly researched and masterfully told-we begin to see that it is in fact two stories. One, the story of Huguette Clark, the mysterious centenarian recluse who owned the houses, and the other, the story of W.A. Clark, her father, whose tenacity and mercurial instinct raised the fortune that built the mansions.

empty_mansionsW.A.’s rise mirrors that of Montana. He came to the Bannack gold rush with five dollars in his pocket, and over the course of the next half century extracted a wealth of imperial proportions from the earth of Montana. In Empty Mansions Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Dedman charts the story of W.A. Clark, from his humble beginnings to his position as one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, in large part because of Butte copper. As you travel through Southwest Montana, visit the sites whose stories intertwine with that of one of America’s wealthiest men.

Bannack-tour the ghost town where Clark began to hone his instincts peddling eggs and produce

Deer Lodge-For a brief time, Clark lived in Deer Lodge, working as a banker. Tour the Deer Lodge Museum Complex for a taste of the life he led.

Helena-Clark’s power and money made Helena the capital of Montana. Take a ride on the Last Chance Tours train to hear tales of the capital fight and to view the ornate houses built by some of Clark’s bitterest rivals.

Butte-Clark made Butte, and Butte made Clark. Visit and tour his grand “Copper King Mansion,” now a B&B. Wander through the Clark Chateau Art Center, onetime home of his son and business partner Charles Clark. Take the Old Trolley No. 1 for a two hour tour through the history of Butte.

Anaconda-Marcus Daly, Clark’s chief rival in the war of the Copper Kings, created and developed Anaconda to serve his smelter, now the focal point of Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park. Anaconda forms part of the Butte-Anaconda Historical District, and features the acclaimed Marcus Daily Historical Society museum.

Wherever you go, be sure to browse the many bookstores for other accounts of the Copper Kings, especially Montana historian K. Ross Toole’s Montana: An Uncommon Land (University of Oklahoma, 1959) whose chapters “Butte to Paris and Return,” and “The War of the Copper Kings,” place Clark in the broader historical context.