June 17th, 2024

Helena Montana History

1890 annotated photo Helena MT HelenaHistory.org

Helena is Montana’s capitol city. Originally know as “Crabtown,” for John Crab.

Helena, MT was established October 30, 1864 and is near the Great Missouri River.

Helena, Montana Yesterday and Today

Four miners from Georgia, John Crab, John Cowan, Daniel Jackson Miller, and Reginald/Robert Stanley (the “Four Georgians“) found placer gold (quartz gold, silver, and lead, too) along “Last Chance Creek,” today’s “Main Street.” The Crabtown name was changed to Helena at the suggestion of John Sommerville, who originated from Saint Helena, Minnesota.

What is the Capital of Montana? Helena
Helena, Montana Photo, Courtesy of TripAdvisor

Though Captain John Wood surveyed the property of the original town site in 1865. By 1868, most of the $3.6 billion (in present dollars) of gold had been taken from Last Chance Gulch.

Today, Last Chance Gulch is part of a pleasing, three block long walking mall with a strip of useful stores and a mock stream, simulating the original Last Chance Creek, running the length of this downtown Helena walking mall.

Interestingly, Helena’s circuitous street pattern is due in part to the early Helena gold miners’ chaotic system of paths through these Montana gold fields.

Much of Helena, Montana’s remaining stately real estate (like Butte’s) consists of the many mansions built by those who struck it rich in the Montana gold mines.

Slightly north of the Mansion District is Reeder’s Alley, home to Helena’s oldest house, at 212 S.Park Ave, and a restored remnant of 1870’s commercial real estate in the form of miner’s village with its historic buildings, now home to cafes and shops.

Helena, Montana was the capitol of Montana Territory from 1875-1888. When Montana became a state in 1889 it continued on as the capitol, and in 1902 the State of Montana’s Capitol, designed in the architectural building style of Greek Renaissance, opened.

The Governor’s Mansion, constructed in 1888, offers regular tours. The twin spires of St. Helena Cathedral, a replica of the Votive Church in Vienna, are visible above the downtown streets. The Mackay Gallery houses a large art collection of the great western artist, Charles M. Russell.

Helena, Montana has a modern airport; both national chain and local retail stores; great schools; a vibrant night-life; art galleries; music venues; pubs and eateriesabundant outdoor activities, from hiking to boating; and the Capitol campus to explore.

Regional Geographic Attractions

Gates of the Mountains Wilderness, whose name was coined by Meriwether Lewis; Lake Helena; Holter and Hauser Lakes, created by two of the three Missouri River dams; The Elkhorn Mountains and the 129,000-acre Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area; the Continental Divide; Canyon Ferry Lake; Mount Helena City Park; the one million acre, Helena National Forest; Spring Meadow Lake State Park; The Missouri River; The Big Belt Mountains; and the Great Divide Montana Ski Area.

Helena Geography

  • latitude 46°35’45″N
  • longitude 112°1’37″W
  • elevation 4090 ft.
  • 14.0 square miles


Tags: About Helena Montana, Canyon Ferry Lake, Elkhorn Mountains, Montana's capitol

Taunya Fagan

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