For Sale: Century-Old Dodge Brothers Building Is a Real Butte

More than a century ago, the largest automobile dealership in the American West was located at the corner of Park and Idaho Streets in uptown Butte, Montana, and it wasn’t affiliated with Ford or Chevrolet. It proudly sold Dodge Brothers motor cars.

Butte, then known as the “Richest Hill on Earth” for its gold, silver, and copper mining operations, was nestled among mountain ranges, rivers, and streams, halfway between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. By the early 1900s, Butte was a bustling town that offered a wealth of opportunity for those who worked hard and weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. At one point, Butte had a population of more than 100,000 and was so diverse that “No Smoking” had to be written in 16 different languages. As John and Horace Dodge soon learned, however, there is no language barrier when it comes to automobiles and innovation.

Copper Mines in Butte
Butte, Montana: America’s foremost copper mining town.Bettmann Archive

The Dodge Brothers Company, originally formed in 1900, had designed and built components for the original Ford Model A, and later complete drivetrains for the Model T, before leaving the company due to what the brothers perceived as Henry Ford’s lack of innovation. Vowing to build a better automobile, John and Horace Dodge completed their first car in 1914, and their reputation for quality and modernization led to more than 20,000 dealership applications. One of those selected was from Butte, which opened a state-of-the-art showroom, auto parts store, and garage and unveiled Dodge’s new four-cylinder Model 30-35 touring car.

Downton Butte Montana Vintage vertical
A winter-themed display dazzles in sight of the front showroom’s

The Dodge was popular, and not just in Montana. In 1915, the automaker’s first full year of production at its Michigan plant, Dodge Brothers became America’s #3 brand, with more than 45,000 sales. Advertising took direct aim at the brothers’ former employer with slogans like “Think of all the Ford owners who would like to own an Automobile.”

Butte’s 20,000-square-foot Dodge Brothers Building maintained its status as the largest dealership in the West as Dodge built hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks, but that began to change in the 1920s. John and Horace Dodge, who were three years apart in age and practically inseparable, both died within months of each other in 1920. Longtime employee Frederick J. Haynes was promoted to manage the business, but the Dodge family heirs had little interest in running a car company. By 1925, with development and innovation practically at a standstill, Dodge tumbled from the third-best-selling automaker in the U.S. to fifth. The family sold Dodge Brothers to a banking firm for $146 million in cash, then the largest cash transaction in American history, and three years later Walter Chrysler took over.


Butte’s Uptown automotive palace eventually folded, but while many historic automotive buildings around the country are being torn down, the historic Dodge Brothers Building still stands and is looking for a new lease on life. Cate Stillman, who co-owns the four-story building with her husband, Winston Welch of ICW Properties, says the site is for sale and is perfect for urban offices, apartments, condos, industrial loft space, and other innovative uses. Stillman and Welch are hoping to find a buyer in the automotive industry or someone related to the Dodge family.

Stillman admits that the building, which broke ground in 1912 before Dodge later took ownership, “needs a lot of work.” It is for sale as-is or can be built to spec. Stillman and Welch already constructed a wine bar and commercial kitchen on the street level, to go along with the parking garage. They hope that the building will play a key role in Butte’s revitalization.

Butte Building Dodge For Sale-1

“Butte is going through a bit of a revival,” Stillman says of the city, which has a current population of 35,000. “It’s beautiful—surrounded by wilderness hiking, hunting, skiing, snowmobiling—and it has this crazy historic town experience … We’d really just love to see this building get into the right hands.”

That’s why, despite some interest already, the two want to spread the word before agreeing to a deal.

“We have offers to basically ‘condo out’ and split it up, [but] we want to give people connected to Dodge a shot at getting this building back,” Stillman says. “To me, the building in its integrity has a lot of potential for more of a unified, cohesive experience between all four floors … I really see a lot of potential for this to be returned to people connected to Dodge and to see what they would want to do with it in the spirit of partnership and the spirit of innovation and the spirit of true brothers in proximity.”


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    Looking at the state of the Dodge automobile company today, it’s hard for me to imagine that there is a future for this building that is related to its original purpose. Butte may indeed revitalize (it’s gonna be a rough go), but the connection with a dying car company is long gone, IMO.

    Butte was indeed a rich town that can be seen in some of buildings in downtown. The Hotel Finlen is a good example, just a few blocks from the featured building, which survives today with much of its original ornate splendor still in tact. It’s design was based of off the Astor in NYC with all the amenities expected of a grand hotel in a big city including a ball room, beauty salon, restaurant and bar.

    We have an old dealer building in a small town nearby. The building is mostly complete accept they removed the garage door. It is an ice cream shop.

    It still has the original wood floors and ceiling. Nice little place.

    I forget the car brand but it was one that was gone by 1930. The building and those around it are from the mid to early 1800’s being an old canal town.

    Best use is going to be condos or loft apartments on the top three floors with office/retail on the ground floor. This building is perfect for that.

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