Butte, Montana’s Dumas Brothel is the only surviving, three-story Victorian brothel in the U.S. It is also the only three-floor brothel standing in the hub of Butte’s once booming red-light district. The second largest bordello in the West (San Francisco’s Barbary Coast owns that distinction), it was constructed in 1890 and operated illegally until 1982 – making it America’s largest and longest-running house of ill repute. The girls who worked at the Dumas and their clients, who partook in their earthly gratifications there, can be imagined by walking the halls of the Dumas Brothel Museum.
The Dumas Brothel experienced hard times in the early 1980s. It closed in 1982 because of community demands, primarily the consequence of a violent robbery on the premises. Thanks to its historical significance – it is believed that the Dumas is the sole surviving model of Victorian Brothel style architecture in the country – the building has until now escaped the wrecker’s ball. In fact, since the late 1990s it has served, on and off, as a museum. As you walk in and out of the equally sized and shaped rooms – some with beds still in them – you clearly understand what they were designed for.
The dark Dumas corridors have small cribs in the cellar, quite a few parlors, middle oval hallways comprised of guest rooms overlooking the first floor, as well as skylights above the innermost area. It is further believed to be linked to the core of Butte’s business district by underground corridors. During their hours above ground, some miners spent time in the two-story brothels that were common along the “Venus Alley” stretch of Mercury Street. Today, all have been demolished except the Dumas. The tales this building conveys, however unpleasant or sordid, are crucial to the cultural composition of Butte.
The Dumas Brothel is under the serious threat of demolition. That’s because the structure’s roof is failing, and underside masonry and brick-clad walls are collapsing. In certain areas the walls are also unraveling from the main structure. Butte historical coalitions believe the only way to save the Dumas Brothel is to pump a considerable amount of money into its renovation; they are seeking a new owner as well as grants for the current owner, who has no money to foot the restoration and maintenance costs.
The Dumas Brothel Museum, open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at unfixed, quite random times, is located at 45 Mercury Street in Butte. Make sure to call ahead to find out if the building is open. For more information call (406) 494-6908 or visit dumasbrothel.com.
The non-profit Butte CPR is energetically seeking monetary donations to save one of the most unique pieces of Butte’s past. To contribute, or for more information about contributing, contact Butte CPR, P.O. Box 164, Butte, Montana, 59870.