BUTTE — One is now a cultural center, one is an Airbnb, another is becoming a recording studio. Changing population and culture has forced many of Butte’s historic Uptown churches to also change with times.
“We’re not preserving them exactly how they were, but we’re giving them new life and something else that they can be a benefit to the community and to the people of Butte,” said Jeff Riggs.
Riggs purchased the First Baptist Church in the summer of 2020 and converted it to an Airbnb. The church, which was built in 1907 and had more than 450 members in its heyday, eventually closed in 2018.
“It’s a bummer that it isn’t used as a church anymore, because that’s what it was built for and, look, it’s not going to be a church anymore, but we’re honoring what this was,” said Riggs.
Several historic churches, including the B’Nai Israel Temple, have shut down and been converted into other uses as membership drops. Many entrepreneurs are finding new uses to preserve the historic structures.
Riggs said he’s received plenty of positive feedback from people who have used his newly converted Airbnb.
“We had a group in here the other day that came in and said, ‘we got married in this church 58 years ago,’ and we’re like, wow, you can’t beat that,” he said.
Built in 1881, St. John’s Episcopal Church is the longest continually operated church in Uptown Butte, and the folks that run it understand just how difficult it is to keep a church going in this day and age.
“We need to stay alive and we need to share that enthusiasm, find new ways to minister to people. You know, can we do something different with how we relate to people? Can we bring people in that aren’t just like us? We need diversity,” longtime church member Jim Fay said.
While some lament the loss of churches, many are glad to see historic buildings preserved.
“I see good things happening in Butte. We’re growing, people are fixing buildings. I think we have hope for the future. Some of the hope comes from above,” said Fay.