HELENA – Between Great Falls and Butte run more than 2,000 transmission towers that you may drive by all the time, and never know their lengthy history.
The towers run through the Helena valley, starting in Great Falls and ending in the area of Butte and Anaconda.
They came to be as a result of one man’s efforts to power his mines, originally built more than 100 years ago by the Great Falls Water, Power and Townsite Company.
“It was owned by a man named JD Ryan who was also the president of the Amalgamated Copper Company in Butte and so this is one of those cases where he kind of owned the monopoly on the power production for the mines that he was the president of,” said Montana Department of Transportation Historian Jon Axline.
Construction of the towers started in the late summer of 1909 and by May of the following year they were all complete. July 21st, 1910 they went full power and have been running strong ever since.
“This is the oldest functioning and among the oldest of the high voltage transmission lines that were built in the United States,” said Axline.
But it’s not just the towers themselves that can boast of their longevity. According to Axline, “The wires on it were last replaced in 1960 and it’s utilizing the same insulators that were installed in 1910.”
Axline said while the towers may be something we see every day, and don’t necessarily marvel at, they are in fact a piece of Montana history that show the strength of those who built them and the vision of the man who pursued their creation.
“We look at them and say, ah, it’s just an electrical transmission tower, what could that be? But what they don’t realize is that some of these things really were significant to the history of Montana. Some of them have been around for well over a hundred years. And a lot of them are still functioning in their original capacity,” said Axline.