The O'Rourke Building: A Brief History, Part 1

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

The O'Rourke Building was built more than 100 years ago. We've shared photos, videos, tips and insights as we work to return it back to it's former glory. But, what is the history of the building? Let's start with the building's namesake; the man who inspired it.

The O'Rourke Building


In the mid-1800s, at the prime age of seven, John O'Rourke immigrated with his parents from Ireland to the United States, settling in Ohio. By 1864, and old enough, John moved to Virginia City, Montana at the start of the gold rush to become a placer miner.

Placer mining led John all over southwest Montana; the work proved to be highly physical, profitable work— not too far away, Butte was growing. Silver ore took 2the forefront of desirability in mining, which eventually led John to Butte around 1877, more than 10 years after first arriving in Montana.

While mining brought him to Butte, John never had to physically mine; instead, he began selling wholesale liquor to businesses and saloons. This new career path allowed him to invest in real estate and copper mining (a resource more valuable than silver ore.)

John O'Rourke was able to invest in the copper industry, which would prove to be quite lucrative. The image shows head frames of copper mines in Butte, circa 1880s.

Around 1885, John O'Rourke met Mary Nason, a Nebraska native who had relocated to Montana with her parents around 1870. The two later married and had five children: three boys and two girls. While the exact years aren't known, at some point in the not-so-distant future, John, Mary and the family moved into a new, two-story brick house at the northwest corner of West Quartz and North Alabama; a lot of land that John owned.

A few years later in 1890, John sold his liquor wholesale business. For his next business venture, John joined a fellow businessman to work at his boot and shoe retail and repair shop in uptown Butte. In five years, John O'Rourke took over the business and renamed it to The Red Boot & Shoe Company.

Due to the copper boom and the rapid growth of Butte, a housing shortage occurred; to help, John O'Rourke financed the construction of an apartment building on the empty space behind his home on West Quartz Street: a building known as the Merrimac. The three-story building offered high-end apartments which included a front room, bedroom, full kitchen and bathroom. At the time, the standard multi-unit residential facility only offered single rooms and shared bathrooms.

Formerly known as The Merrimac, the north building is now more commonly referred to as the annex.


The O'Rourke Family stayed on West Quartz and called Butte home for several more years before relocating to southern California. John continued to oversee the shoe business, still frequently returning to Montana for business.

John passed in April of 1907, a mere five years after relocating to California. Upon his death, Mary and the children inherited a robust estate which included The Red Boot & Shoe Company, residential and commercial properties in Butte and several mining claims scattered across five Montana counties.

Not so long after becoming a widow, Mary made a decision regarding the family home on West Quartz in Butte; she wanted to tear it down.

To be continued.


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