Helena, Montana

Helena Montana 2006.jpg
Helena Cathedral1.jpg
Montana State Capitol by T. Elizabeth.jpg
Benton Avenue Cemetery (2012) - Lewis and Clark County, Montana.png
Carroll College Helena, Montana.jpg
from the top: skyline; Cathedral of Saint Helena; Montana State Capitol; Benton Avenue Cemetery; Original Montana Governor's Mansion; and Carroll College
Flag of Helena
Official seal of Helena
Queen City of the Rockies, The Capital City
Location within Lewis and Clark County
Location within Lewis and Clark County
Helena is located in Montana
Location within Montana
Helena is located in the United States
Location within the United States
Coordinates: 46°35′44.9″N 112°1′37.31″W / 46°35′44.9″N 112°1′37.31″W / 46.595806; -112.0270306
CountryUnited States
CountyLewis and Clark
FoundedOctober 30, 1864
 • MayorWilmot Collins
 • State capital city16.39 sq mi (42.45 km2)
 • Land16.35 sq mi (42.35 km2)
 • Water0.04 sq mi (0.10 km2)
3,875 (Helena Regional Airport) ft (1,181 m)
 • State capital city28,190
 • Estimate 
 • Density1,700/sq mi (660/km2)
 • Metro
Time zoneUTC−7 (Mountain)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−6 (Mountain)
ZIP code
59601-02, 59626; 59604, 59620, 59624 (P.O. Boxes); 59623, 59625 (organisations)
Area code(s)406
FIPS code30-35600
City of Helena, Montana

Helena (ə/) is the state capital of the U.S. state of Montana and the county seat of Lewis and Clark County.

Helena was founded as a gold camp during the Montana gold rush, and established in 1864. Over $3.6 billion of gold was extracted in the city limits over two decades, making it one of the wealthiest cities in the United States by the late 19th century. The concentration of wealth contributed to the city's prominent, elaborate Victorian architecture.

At the 2010 census Helena's population was 28,190, making it the fifth least populous state capital in the United States and the sixth most populous city in Montana.[4] It is the principal city of the Helena Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Lewis and Clark and Jefferson counties; its population is 77,414 according to the 2015 Census Estimate.[5]

The local daily newspaper is the Independent Record. Semi-professional sports teams include the Helena Bighorns Tier III Junior A hockey team. The city is served by Helena Regional Airport (HLN).



The Helena area was long inhabited by various indigenous peoples. Evidence from the McHaffie and Indian Creek sites on opposite sides of the Elkhorn Mountains southeast of the Helena Valley show that people of the Folsom culture lived in the area more than 10,000 years ago.[6] Before the introduction of the horse 300 years ago, and since, other native peoples, including the Salish and the Blackfeet, visited the area seasonally on their nomadic rounds.[7]

Early settlement and gold rush

Helena, Montana in 1870

By the early 1800s people of European descent from the United States and British Canada began arriving to work the streams of the Missouri River watershed looking for fur-bearing animals like the beaver, undoubtedly bringing them through the area now known as the Helena Valley. Yet like the native peoples none of them stayed for long.[8]

Gold strikes in Idaho Territory in the early 1860s attracted many migrants who initiated major gold rushes at Grasshopper Creek (Bannack) and Alder Gulch (Virginia City) in 1862 and 1863 respectively. So many people came that the federal government created a new territory called Montana in May 1864. The miners prospected far and wide for new placer gold discoveries. On July 14, 1864, the discovery of gold by a prospecting party known as the "Four Georgians" in a gulch off the Prickly Pear Creek led to the founding of a mining camp along a small creek in the area they called Last Chance Gulch.[9]

Panoramic map of Helena from 1875 with some statistics sites listed

By fall, the population had grown to over 200, and some thought the name "Last Chance" too crass. On October 30, 1864, a group of at least seven self-appointed men met to name the town, authorize the layout of the streets, and elect commissioners. The first suggestion was "Tomah," a word the committee thought had connections to the local Indian people. Other nominations included Pumpkinville and Squashtown (as the meeting was held the day before Halloween). Other suggestions were to name the community after various Minnesota towns, such as Winona and Rochester, as a number of settlers had come from Minnesota. Finally, a Scotsman, John Summerville, proposed Helena, which he pronounced ə/ LEE-nə, in honor of Helena Township, Scott County, Minnesota. This immediately caused an uproar from the former Confederates in the room, who insisted upon the pronunciation ə/ HEL-i-nə, after Helena, Arkansas, a town on the Mississippi River. While the name "Helena" won, the pronunciation varied until approximately 1882 when the ə/ HEL-i-nə pronunciation became dominant. Later tales of the naming of Helena claimed the name came from the island of St. Helena, where Napoleon was exiled, or was that of a miner's sweetheart.[10]

The townsite was first surveyed in 1865 by Captain John Wood. Many of the original streets followed the chaotic paths of the miners, going around claims and following the winding gulch. As a result, few city blocks are consistent in size; they have an irregular variety of shapes and sizes.

In 1870 Henry D. Washburn, having been appointed Surveyor General of Montana in 1869, organized the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition in Helena to explore the regions that would become Yellowstone National Park. Mount Washburn, within the park, is named for him. Members of the expedition included Helena residents: Truman C. Everts - former U.S. Assessor for the Montana Territory, Judge Cornelius Hedges - U.S. Attorney, Montana Territory, Samuel T. Hauser - President of the First National Bank, Helena, Montana; later a Governor of the Montana Territory, Warren C. Gillette - Helena merchant, Benjamin C. Stickney Jr. - Helena merchant, Walter Trumbull - son of U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull (Illinois) and Nathaniel P. Langford, then former U.S. Collector of Internal Revenue for Montana Territory. Langford helped Washburn organize the expedition and later helped publicize the remarkable Yellowstone region. In May 1872 after the park was established, Langford was appointed by the Department of Interior as its first superintendent.

Wealth boom

By 1888 about 50 millionaires lived in Helena, more per capita than in any city in the world. They had made their fortunes from gold. About $3.6 billion (in today's dollars) of gold was taken from Last Chance Gulch over a 20-year period. The Last Chance Placer is one of the most famous placer deposits in the western United States. Most of the production occurred before 1868. Much of the placer is now under Helena’s streets and buildings. (As late as the 1970s, when repairs were being made to a bank, a vein of placer gold was found under the bank's foundation.)

This large concentration of wealth was the basis of developing fine residences and ambitious architecture in the city; its Victorian neighborhoods reflect the gold years. The numerous miners also attracted the development of a thriving red light district. Among the well-known local madams was Josephine "Chicago Joe" Airey, who built a thriving business empire between 1874 and 1893, becoming one of Helena’s largest and most influential landowners. Helena’s brothels were a successful part of the local business community well into the 20th century, ending with the 1973 death of Helena's last madam, "Big Dorothy" Baker.

Helena’s official symbol is a drawing of "The Guardian of the Gulch", a wooden fire watch tower built in 1886. It still stands on Tower Hill overlooking the downtown district. The tower replaced a series of observation buildings, the original being a flimsy lookout stand built in 1870 on the same site in response to a series of devastating fires in April 1869, November 1869, October 1871, August 1872 and January 1874 that swept through the early mining camp. On August 2, 2016, an arson attack severely damaged the tower and it was deemed structurally unstable. The tower is to be demolished but will be rebuilt using the same methods as in its original construction.

The Montana State Capitol building.

In 1889 railroad magnate Charles Arthur Broadwater opened his Hotel Broadwater and Natatorium west of Helena. The Natatorium was home to the world's first indoor swimming pool. Damaged in the 1935 Helena earthquake, it closed in 1941. The property’s many buildings were demolished in 1976. Today the Broadwater Fitness Center stands just west of the Hotel & Natatorium's original location, complete with an outdoor pool heated by natural spring water running underneath it.

Helena has been the capital of Montana Territory since 1875 and the state of Montana since 1889. In 1902 the Montana State Capitol was completed. A large portion of the conflict between Marcus Daly and William Andrews Clark (the Copper Kings) was over the location of the state capital. Until the 1900 census, Helena was the most populous city in the state. That year it was surpassed by Butte, where mining industry was developing.

In 1916 the United Daughters of the Confederacy commissioned the construction of the Confederate Memorial Fountain in Hill Park.[11] It was the only Confederate memorial in the Northwestern United States[11] The fountain was removed on August 18, 2017, after the Helena City Commission deemed it a threat to public safety following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.[12]


The Cathedral of Saint Helena and the Helena Civic Center are two of Helena’s many significant historic buildings.

Many Helenans work for agencies of the state government. When in Helena, most people visit the local walking mall. It was completed in the early 1980s after Urban Renewal and the Model Cities Program in the early 1970s had removed many historic buildings from the downtown district. During the next decade, a three-block shopping district was renovated that followed the original Last Chance Gulch. A small artificial stream runs along most of the walking mall to represent the underground springs that originally flowed above ground in parts of the Gulch.

The Archie Bray Foundation, an internationally renowned ceramics center founded in 1952, is just northwest of Helena, near Spring Meadow Lake.

A significant train wreck occurred on February 2, 1989, in which a 48-car runaway freight train slammed into a parked train near Carroll College, setting off an explosion that blasted out windows up to three miles away, causing most of the city to lose power and forcing some residents to evacuate in subzero weather.[13] There were no major injuries.[13]

With the mountains, Helena has much outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing. Great Divide Ski Area is northwest of town near the ghost town of Marysville. Helena is also known for its mountain biking. It was officially designated as an International Mountain Bicycling Association bronze level Ride Center on October 23, 2013.

Helena High School and Capital High School are public high schools in Helena School District No. 1.

In 2017 Helena voters elected as mayor former Liberian refugee Wilmot Collins, who was widely reported to be Helena's first black mayor.[14] The Independent Record reported contested research indicating that in the early 1870s one E. T. Johnson, listed in the city directory as a black barber from Washington D.C., had been elected mayor, before Helena became an incorporated town.[14]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Helena, Montana
aragonés: Helena (Montana)
asturianu: Helena (Montana)
azərbaycanca: Helena
Bân-lâm-gú: Helena (Montana)
беларуская: Хелена
български: Хелена
brezhoneg: Helena (Montana)
čeština: Helena (Montana)
Esperanto: Helena (Montano)
estremeñu: Helena (Montana)
français: Helena (Montana)
hrvatski: Helena, Montana
Bahasa Indonesia: Helena, Montana
interlingua: Helena (Montana)
Interlingue: Helena (Montana)
Kapampangan: Helena, Montana
kernowek: Helena, Montana
Kiswahili: Helena, Montana
Kreyòl ayisyen: Helena, Montana
кырык мары: Хелена (Монтана)
latviešu: Helina
lietuvių: Helena (Montana)
Lingua Franca Nova: Helena, Montana
lumbaart: Helena, Montana
македонски: Хелена (Монтана)
Malagasy: Helena, Montana
Bahasa Melayu: Helena, Montana
Mirandés: Helena (Montana)
Nederlands: Helena (Montana)
नेपाल भाषा: हेलेना, मोन्ताना
Napulitano: Helena (Montana)
norsk nynorsk: Helena i Montana
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Helena (Montana)
पालि: हेलेना
پنجابی: ہیلینا
Papiamentu: Helena, Montana
Piemontèis: Helena (Montan-a)
português: Helena (Montana)
română: Helena, Montana
Runa Simi: Helena (Montana)
संस्कृतम्: हेलेना
sicilianu: Helena (Montana)
Simple English: Helena, Montana
slovenčina: Helena (Montana)
српски / srpski: Хелена (Монтана)
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Helena, Montana
தமிழ்: ஹெலேனா
Türkçe: Helena, Montana
українська: Гелена (місто)
Tiếng Việt: Helena, Montana