Lewis and Clark named nearby Belt Butte for its girdle of rocks and, in 1877, John Castner named his town Belt. Coal brought Castner here, and Fort Benton was the first market for his Castner Coal Company. Then, in 1889, the Boston and Montana Consolidated Copper and Silver Mining Company built their reduction works at Great Falls—in part because of the availability of Belt coal. Castner sold his claims to the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, which had absorbed the Boston and Montana, and their mine soon employed a thousand men. The town experienced a boom time and in 1900 was Cascade County’s second-largest community, with a population above 2,800, including French, Finnish, Slav, German, and Swedish immigrants. It was during this boom that the jail was constructed, late in the 1890s, when 32 saloons flourished in town. Fire destroyed the Anaconda mine in 1915 and, in 1930, the smelters stopped using coal. Belt’s population fell off, but it remained a center for this agricultural area. The jail itself survived major floods in 1909 and 1953, and a 1976 fire caused by a train derailment, which destroyed five homes and three businesses.

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Map

Castner Street, Belt, Montana ~ public