Helena, a capital and a boomtown

A two-day trip to Helena gave us the opportunity to discover what is now my favourite city in Montana.


Helena, a capital and a boomtown

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 9, 2005

This was my second visit to Helena, the Queen City, and this time, with more time on our hands, Justin and I could explore a little more of Montana's capital.

So far Helena is my favourite city in the state. Because it is the capital and thus the showcase for the state of Montana, Helena is a very pretty town filled with public spaces, nice mansions, historical buildings, and museums.

Helena is located at the centre west of the state, in a hilly area close to the continental divide. Born during the Gold Rush of 1864, the Helena area was a transit point for natives. In 1805-1806, the Lewis and Clark expedition crossed the valley. But the real story starts when the "Four Georgians" discovered gold in the Last Chance Creek in 1864. The city boomed quickly and soon, and a lot of wealthy people made Helena their home.

When the gold ran out, Helena became a center of trade and distribution, thanks to its location and trade and banks settled here. In 1875, Helena became the capital of the territory of Montana. It remained so in 1893, when Montana became a state (and pitted a bitter fight against Anaconda for the title).

Today, it's a dual city where three-piece suits meet cowboy boots and VW station wagons. With lots of outdoor activities and a beautiful downtown area and capitol, Helena is a charming town that should not be missed.${QuickSuggestions} A good source of information is the Helena visitors website: http://helenacvb.visitmt.com/. On arrival, a visit to the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center is a must-do to fill up on brochures. The office is located at 225 Cruse Avenue. Call toll-free at 800/743-5362.${BestWay} Helena is not very big, and everything is in walking distance. However, the Helena Area Transportation Service (or HATS) is managing three lines: a checkpoint bus that runs through the city, a trolley bus that runs mainly downtown, and an East Valley bus linking the suburb of East Helena to the city. In addition, HATS runs a Dial-A-Ride for passengers with special needs and people who don't live near a bus stop. Passengers have to call HATS the day prior to traveling and will be picked up at the nearest curb and dropped off at the nearest curb of their destination.

See more information at http://www.ci.helena.mt.us/works/hats/index.php#check.


Coffee House

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 9, 2005

Well... there are a lot of them! Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact name of this place, but it was towards the end of N. Last Chance, before the Atlas House. On this chilly November afternoon, a good coffee and homemade muffin were perfect, and the reds inside the room where particularly warming.
Coffee House
North Last Chance Gulch Street
Helena, Montana

Montana State Capitol

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 9, 2005

The most imposing building in town is the state capitol, symbol of the authority of Montana.

After a bitter and controversial fight for the capital title with Anaconda, Helena won after a statewide election. Construction of the capitol started in 1899, and the building was open on July 4th, 1902. In front of the building is a statue of General Thomas Francis Meagher, added in 1905. He was an officer in the Union Army and replaced the governor of the territory of Montana when he was away. He also wrote a draft of the Constitution for Montana, in case it would become a state. He died mysteriously in Fort Benton, on the Missouri River, while waiting for a gun shipment. To this day, no one knows if he drowned or was murdered.

A few years later, as Montana grew, other wings were added to the building. The Capitol is now undergoing a renovation, so the statue might not be here, and the building can be accessed through the back entrance. The first thing you'll notice in the building is the big painted rotunda with medallions representing important people in the history of Montana at the time: cowboys, natives, explorers, and miners. The tones are warm red and yellow, with touches of green. A grand stairway goes up from the lobby, and you'll be bathed in a golden light coming from the stained-glass overlooking the gardens in the back and covering this aisle of the capitol.

All three powers used to be housed in the building: the House and Senate of Montana, the Governor's office, and the Supreme Court (now in another building close by, but the old Supreme Court remains). The building is filled with paintings depicting important moments in Montana's history. The most important one being is "Lewis and Clark Meeting the Indians at Ross Hole," a remembrance of the moment when the two explorers' party met with Salish Indians and asked them for the best way to cross the mountains and reach the Pacific. You can see it in the House room, above the speaker's chair.

It is also filled with statues, one of which is Jeanette Rankin, the first woman to be elected to the US House in 1916. Speaking of that, the House and Senate floors are pretty neat. The dark woods and paintings give them a stately and solemn air that's guaranteed to make you take the state's business seriously. The Senate and Old Court are located on the second floor (if I'm not mistaken), around the rotunda, while the House is on the third floor in another part of the building. The Governor's office is on the first floor, at the end of the aisles starting from the lobby (the other side is the State Secretary’s office).

Montana State Capitol
1301 East Sixth Avenue
Helena, Montana

Last Chance Gulch Mall

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 9, 2005

Helena's main street is located where the Last Chance Creek stood. This is where the "Four Georgians" (John Cowan, Daniel Jackson Miller, John Crab, and Reginald, or Robert, Stanley) found gold in 1864. The claim was staked and named "Last Chance Gulch." The group worked there until 1867 and then went back East after becoming rich.

Nowadays, North Last Chance Gulch is a pedestrian mall filled with historical buildings, saloons, restaurants, shops, coffee houses, etc. Along the mall, you will find many works of art representing the heritage of Helena: cowboys, trains, mining, the press (Helena owes it to having won the capital title)... a very enjoyable walk indeed!

See more info about what's going on downtown at http://www.downtownhelena.com.

Last Chance Gulch Mall
Gulch Street
Helena, Montana

Saint-Helena Cathedral

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 9, 2005

I would have really liked to spend more time in this cathedral! Modelled after the Dom of Cologne and the Votive Church of Vienna, this Gothic-style cathedral is a beauty! You cannot miss it! The twin spires are 230 feet high. The building was open for Christmas of 1914.

When I was there, there was a very important funeral about to begin, so we only had a glimpse of the inside, but it is really majestic, with imposing columns, marble, gold leafs, and stained glass imported from Bavaria.

The St. Helena Cathedral is open year-round from 10am to 4pm. Daily Mass is held in the Day Chapel on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8am and on Tuesday and Thursday at 5:20pm. Pre-arranged guided tours take 1 hour.

Saint-Helena Cathedral
530 North Ewing
Helena, Montana

The Fire Tower

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 9, 2005

On top of Tower Hill stands one of Helena's landmarks: the Fire Tower. From that vantage point, the tower serves as a guardian of the city. There's been a tower since 1869, but this one dates from 1884.
The Fire Tower
Warren Street
Helena, Montana

Montana Historical Museum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 9, 2005

For those interested in Montana history, this is the place to go. From Native artifacts to painting; from firearms to tools used in mining, farming, and ranching; from gems to costumes, this museum covers a lot of ground. The cow skull gracing the entrance is the work of a native artist. There is also a library and research center.

Opening hours:

May 1 through September 30
Monday through Saturday, 9am to 5pm
Thursday evenings until 8pm
Closed Sundays and holidays

October 1 through April 30
Monday through Saturday, 9am to 5pm
Thursday evenings until 8pm
Closed Sundays and holidays

Entrance Fee:
$5 per adult
$1 per child
$12 per family
Members Free

Group tours by reservation only.

More information at http://www.his.state.mt.us/

Montana Historical Museum
225 North Roberts
Helena, Montana

The strange story of the Goddess of Liberty

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 9, 2005

Like many capitols in the US, Helena has its Lady Liberty atop the building, but the story of how it got there is really strange.

During the "capital fight", the people responsible for the plans ran off with all the papers and records. Then, during construction, a statue of a goddess of liberty arrived at the Helena train station from a foundry in Ohio, with no indications of who ordered it or for what use. With the building documents gone and the fact that the company who made the statue had all their records lost in a fire, there was no way to tell, and eventually, no one claimed the abandoned goddess. The builders wanted such a statue to put on top of their building, and that's how she ended up there.


Getting there...

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 9, 2005

From Billings, there two ways to get there. Either take I-90 past Bozeman, then 287 morth to Helena, through rolling hills, with the moutains in the distance. This is the main road. Another scenic route is to take 89 north by the Crazy Mountains and Castle Mountains and then 12 west. This was the road we took this time. This is a picture of the Crazy Mountains at sunset. Both are really worth the ride.

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j38905-Helena-Helena_a_capital_and_a_boomtown.html

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