Update on Sewell’s Window Restoration

Posted August 27, 2019


Volunteers are nearing the end of a summer-long project to restore a decorative transom window that for decades has adorned the Sewell’s building on East Park Street in Uptown Butte.

Mary McCormick, Butte-Silver Bow historic preservation officer, said Monday that the project should be finished in a few weeks. Once complete, the window will be remounted with a primary window in front of it to protect it from the elements.

“We’re getting pretty close,” said McCormick.

The project, organized by the Butte-Silver Bow Historic Preservation Commission, Butte Citizens for Preservation and Revitalization, and building owner Joe Floreen, has been ongoing since April and has attracted a cadre of around 20 volunteers. Its mission has been to clean and remount hundreds of glass tiles inside the window that for decades has adorned the circa 1910s building.

The building, 221 E. Park St., was once home to Sewell’s hardware store, which operated for more than 60 years. The business closed in the 1970s, but its transom window lived on, collecting years of pollution and exhaust. Gravity had also taken a toll on the window, causing it to sag and buckle in places.

Monday volunteers worked diligently repairing the grid-like “came” or “lead” that holds the glass tiles, which are about the size of a small square coffee coaster.

As volunteers positioned the tiles inside the grid, Great Falls craftsman Mike Winters led the crew, giving firm but direct instructions.

Winters has worked in glass-feature restoration for around 40 years. The Sewell project was awarded a $3,250 grant from the Montana History Foundation to hire Winters to train and lead volunteers.

The glass tiles volunteers have been working with throughout the summer are made of a special kind of ribbed “prismatic” glass that is intended to throw light deep inside a building, reducing the need for artificial light. The tiles in the Sewell’s building were manufactured by American 3-Way Prism Co.

The fixture, totaling around 30 feet, consists of multiple panels, which include a stained-glass piece that [bears] the Sewell’s name in bold red lettering.

Another notable feature is its borders of decorative tiles, which are backed with a dewdrop pattern.

Around 20 people have volunteered for the Sewell restoration project, including 81-year-old Irene Janson, a descendant of the Sewell family.

Other volunteers have included artists, restoration enthusiasts, craftspeople and contractors who want to learn how to work with fixtures similar to the Sewell’s transom window. According to McCormick, such features are numerous in Butte.

As for Winters, he said he has enjoyed working with the Butte crew. Learning to work with glass can be easy or difficult, he said, adding that the outcome depends on two things.

“It depends on an instructor who doesn’t think he knows everything and it depends on the people who want to learn,” he said.