Places to Visit: Helena Montana

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Helena Montana

Helena is the capital of Montana - it has a population of 25,780, (40,000 when the surrounding population is also taken into consideration). Read More

Helena was formed on October 30, 1864, after gold was discovered along Last Chance Creek. This is why Helena's main street is named Last Chance Gulch. It follows the original path of the creek that once flowed through the downtown area.

At first Helena was called "Crabtown" after John Crab, one of the "Four Georgians." When more miners arrived and the town began to grow locals decided to change the name to Helena. John Sommerville suggested this name because his hometown in Minnesota was called Saint Helena.

In 1865 the town site was first surveyed by Captain John Wood, however, most of the streets follow the original winding paths of the miners - passing around claims and following the twisting streambed. Because of this, only a few city blocks match the ideal of 30 x 60. In fact, many major streets abruptly hit dead ends.

By 1888 50 millionaires resided in Helena (this was more millionaires per capita than any city in the world at the time). This is mainly due to the $3.6 billion (in today's currency) of gold that was mined from Last Chance Gulch over a period of 20 years.

One of the most famous placers in the western U.S. is the Last Chance Placer. Although most of the placer is buried under the streets and buildings of the town, as late as the 1970s a vein of placer gold was found underneath a bank.

"The Guardian of the Gulch" is the official symbol of Helena. Built in 1886, there is a wooden fire watchtower that stands on Tower Hill overlooking the downtown. The tower serves as a replacement for a group of observation buildings originally built in 1870 on the same site to serve as a lookout for fires.

Helena is a unique town that balances modernity without sacrificing the old-town character of the past. Visit the Montana Historical Society Museum, Reeder's Alley (a restored miner's village complete with restaurant and historic buildings, shops and cafes), Helena's oldest home, Pioneer Cabin, and the Old Fire Tower.