They were known as the Four Georgians even though they weren’t all from Georgia and there may have been seven and not four. The prospecting party had been working Montana Territory near Virginia City most of 1864 before trying the Little Blackfoot Creek and then crossed the Continental Divide to begin the summer in Prickly Pear Valley, which had gotten its name during Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery when Captain William Clark had to delay a scouting party to yank cactus spines out of his feet here.
After six weeks the prospectors had little to show for their efforts when they tried a spot they had dramatically named Last Chance Gulch because it was going to be just that for their time in the valley. On July 14, 1864 the Georgians found a gold nugget in the gulch - the first of $200 million (some $4 billion in today’s money) in gold that would be pulled from one of America’s most famous placer deposits. The Four Georgians were gold chasers, not builders, and they didn’t stick around to nurse a proper town into being from the busting gold camp that sprung up in the Prickly Pear Valley. Local lore insists they needed an extra heavy wagon to haul away all their gold dust after selling their claims in 1867.
The streets of the town were laid out by Captain John Wood in 1865 and he didn’t need a straight edge for his drawings - Main Street ran up the winding gulch and side streets had to negotiate around the various claims of the miners. When it came to naming the town suggestions like Crabtown (after one of the Georgians, who was from Iowa), Pumpkintown and Squashtown (it was autumn during the naming meeting) and Last Chance (historic but depressing) were rejected in favor of Helena, after the hometown of one of the committee members back in Minnesota.
Most of the gold was scraped from the surface within a few years but the territorial capitol came to Helena in 1875 and the Northern Pacific Railroad pulled into town in 1883 which insured the boomtown would not turn into a ghost town. In fact by 1888, Helena was home to fifty millionaires and boasted it was the richest town per capita on the planet. The riches were on display along Helena’s streets as its culture and architecture earned the town the sobriquet “the Queen City of the Rockies.”
But the boom times never came back after the gold played out - the town’s population didn’t reach its 1888 levels again for fifty years. When Montana became a state Helena had to survive two elections to maintain its position as capital, first in 1892 in a run-off with every aspiring capital town in the state and again in 1894 to beat back a one-on-one challenge from sore loser Anaconda and its leading cheerleader Copper King Marcus Daly.
The town was rocked by an unusually persistent series of earthquakes in 1935 that caused millions of dollars in damage, but not so much that was lasting. It was a different story in the 1970s, however, when Helena became an enthusiastic player in urban renewal. The carnage included 228 buildings and about 150 businesses. About that time Main Street, which had been switched to Last Chance Gulch Street in 1953, was closed to vehicular traffic, emulating a mania across America for pedestrian malls. Most of the malls have been re-opened to auto traffic but Helena’s remains and that is where we will begin our walking our after a short detour to visit a souvenir from gold camp days...
Pioneer Cabin and Reeder’s Alley
212 South Park Avenue on west side of the road
Most of the original structures from Helena’s first gold camp have been disassembled or incorporated facelessly into other buildings. This is the oldest structure for which there is a known history; actually it was two cabins. The back room was pieced together in 1864 by prospector Wilson Butts and the next year his brother Jonas built a cabin in the front - they would later be joined together. When the structure was saved and restored in the 1930s it was one of first stabs at preservation in the Old West. Behind the cabin stand the survivors of Louis Reeder’s tenant buildings. The enterprising Pennsylvanian erected 32 single-room apartments in his buildings for rent to miners.
WALK ACROSS PARK AVENUE AND WHEN YOU REACH THE PEDESTRIAN MALL (LAST CHANCE GULCH STREET) TURN LEFT. CONTINUE ACROSS WONG STREET.
Uncle Sam’s Block/Colwell Building
62 South Last Chance Gulch Street at northwest corner of Wong Street
This is the site of Helena’s historic gold strike on July 14, 1864. In 1866 the first bank in Montana Territory was chartered here to process the wealth. The ground was so rich that its mortar was permeated with gold, as was discovered when the building was demolished in 1886 to make way for this Victorian rooming house. It sports French Second Empire details such as a mansard roof and richly ornamented window hoods. The building was known around town as “Uncle Sam’s Block” for the money that oozed from the site years before.
Sands Brothers Dry Goods
32 South Last Chance Gulch Street
The Sands brothers were Polish immigrants who operated the oldest exclusive dry goods house in Montana Territory, carrying an immense stock of dry goods, carpets, ladies’ suits and everything pertaining to their department. Morris Sands managed the business from Helena beginning in 1874 while Julius Sands resided in New York City where he was able to procure the latest fashions for shipment west ahead of any other Montana rival. Another brother helmed the Denver Brewing Company in Colorado. This imposing granite building with a profusion of Romanesque-styled arched windows and lion head ornaments was added to the Helena streetscape in 1889.
21-25 South Last Chance Gulch Street
This picturesque commercial block began life in 1890 as the home of the Boston Clothing Company where the Helena shopper would find “One Price, Square Dealing, Plain Figures.” Like many of the buildings on this block, street level storefronts have been compromised by modernization efforts. After Helena’s once thriving red light district was shut down during World War I, the remnants of the prostitution business moved upstairs here under the direction of madam Pearl Maxwell. She continued in the trade until 1953, leaving Helena’s last bordello next door in the...
St. Louis Block
17-19 South Last Chance Gulch Street
This Italianate commercial building was raised in 1882 and over the years had business tenants that included a vaudeville theater, a tenpins bowling alley, a bootsmith, and a bank. It was connected to the St. Louis Hotel that once stood on Jackson Street. In 1927 Ida Levy, who ran the Silver Dollar Bar downstairs, launched “Ida’s Rooms,” although anyone inquiring about residency would be politely turned away. In the 1950s Dorothy Baker took over the brothel, becoming the last in a long line of Helena madams, known for her generosity around town and the discreet fashion in which she maintained her premises. Baker was finally put out of business by a not-universally-popular police raid on April 17, 1973. She died less than a month later, still in her fifties, before her trial and, quite possibly, going back into business.
west side of South Last Chance Gulch Street
When the Northern Pacific Railroad chugged into town in 1883, Joseph O’Neil hitched his horses to a trolley car and began hauling passengers between the depot and downtown Helena a mile away. It was the beginnings of the inter-urban line around southern Lewis & Clark County that would continue until buses started to roll in 1928. The horses were soon put to pasture in favor of small steam locomotives and electrified cars in 1890. This souvenir was donated by Charles and Sue Bovey. The Boveys began collecting and preserving relics of early Montana after visiting a crumbling Virginia City in the 1940s. Their pioneering efforts saved artifacts, equipment and buildings before many people ever heard of the word “preservation.” The Boveys even recreated a railroad and donated this heritage trolley car to the City.
Historic Livestock Building
2 North Last Chance Gulch Street at northwest corner of Broadway
Charles Arthur Broadwater came from Missouri at the age of 22 to begin his Montana business career as a livestock trader in Bannack. Over the next thirty years he built one of he state’s great fortunes in transportation and banking. On this corner in the 1880s Broadwater erected a five-story Romanesque showcase for his Montana National Bank. Not all of Helena’s citizens shared Broadwell’s rosy outlook for the future of the gold mining town, snarkily predicting that buffalo would soon be grazing on the remains of Last Chance Gulch. So Broadwater had a carved buffalo head installed over the bank’s entrance - it now resides at the county library at the south end of Last Chance Gulch. All that remains from one of Helena’s historic landmarks is a pillar at the corner of this 1949 Art Deco-tinged commercial building. Look around on the Broadway Street side at the Women’s Mural that was created in 1979 to recognize the achievements of Helena’s women. Charles Broadwater constructed one of Montana’s grandest hotels a few miles west of Helena, a Moorish fantasy with the world’s largest indoor pool, fed by over one million gallons of hot mountain spring water each day. Broadwater died of influenza at his hotel in 1892; more than 5,000 people attended his funeral.
7 North Last Chance Gulch Street
S.J. Jones constructed this exuberant Helena landmark as an advertisement for the insurance companies that populated his office building in 1889. Look up to see a drama played out that symbolizes the protection afforded by insurance - the salamander representing fire attempts to infiltrate the urn guarded by two winged lizards. Architects F. J. Shaffer and James Stranahan tapped the Richardsonian Romanesque style for the four-story building with a powerful entrance arch and polished columnettes. A stone depiction of Atlas holds the building together from the center.
15–27 North Last Chance Gulch at southeast corner of Grand Street
With 173 rooms, this was the largest hotel between Minneapolis and Seattle when it opened on New Year’s Eve in 1913. Much of the financing came from donations intended to bring a first-class big-city hotel to Helena. Architect George H. Carsley, a disciple of celebrated Minnesota architect Cass Gilbert, blended Craftsman, Italian, and Mission styles for the U-shaped building and appointed the exterior with generous helpings of ceramic tile and wrought iron. Over the years The Placer became the place to see and be seen for Montana’s movers and shakers. After closing in the 1970s the hotel was converted into residential space.
AT THE BULLWHACKER STATUE TURN RIGHT AND WALK TO JACKSON STREET. TURN RIGHT.
Helena Light & Traction Company
17 North Jackson Street
The Helena Rapid Transit Railroad organized to bring streetcar service to town and continued until 1927. The company went through a series of name changes to the Helena Power & Light Company in 1894, the Helena Light & Traction Company in 1905, the Helena Light & Railway Company a few months after that and, finally in its death throes in 1926, the Montana Power Company. Amidst all the new orders for letterhead, the utility company built this classically flavored stone plant in 1903. The Latin inscription on the Corinthian entrance portico translates to “from water comes light and power.”
Ming Opera House/Consistory Shrine Temple
15 North Jackson Street
John Ming was a Virginian by birth, descended from Dutch ancestors. His family moved to St. Louis when John was nine in 1840 and like so many others his age he left for California in 1851 to chase gold. He wound up operating a grocery store in Denver and then moved on to Virginia City, Montana to start a mercantile business. Ming was appointed Treasurer of Montana Territory in 1866 and moved to Helena to run a bookstore. All the while he was investing in ranching, mines and real estate. In 1880 Ming plowed $40,000 into a spectacular three-story brick showcase for America’s top stage performers. He continued to upgrade his Opera House until he died in 1888 and after that the performance house trundled on until 1901. The Masons bought the building in 1912 and three years later local architects George Carsley and C. S. Haire gave the building an Egyptian Revival makeover.
AT BROADWAY STREET LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD UP THE HILL TO SEE...
Fire Tower Park
With a lack of abundant water and a paucity of equipment, fires plagued Helena in its earliest days. Before this watch tower was erected here in 1874, Tower Hill was used for fireworks celebrations on Independence Day. In 1878 a telephone was added and in 1886 a one-ton bell was shipped from Troy, New York causing the tower to be shored up for its installation. It was rendered obsolete, however, by an electric alarm system installed in 1889 which operated until 1956.
TURN LEFT ON BROADWAY STREET.
104 East Broadway Street at northeast corner of Jackson Street
The Masons, the world’s oldest fraternal organization, first gathered in Helena in 1865 for the funeral of Rodney Pococke, who had requested Masonic final rites. In November that year Helena City Lodge No. 10, A.F. & A.M. received its charter. This was the third temple in town for the Masons, completed in 1885 on plans drawn by local architects Fred Heinlein and Thomas Mathias who delivered a lively French Renaissance design. This crown jewel in Helena’s architectural tiara served the Masons until 1942.
106 East Broadway Street
Henry M. Parchen was the youngest of four children raised by George and Mary Parchen, Prussian immigrants who started their American journey in New York and would up farming in Nebraska. Parchen began his business career as a clerk and bookkeeper who came to Montana in 1865 at the age of 26 to build back his health. In Helena he built the state’s most prosperous wholesale and drug house and had interests in the Helena Gas Company, the Helena Cab Company, the Helena Motor Company, the Lakeview Land and Boating Company, the Montana Phonograph Company and others. He hired architect Thomas W. Welter to design this commercial block in 1886 who tapped the French Second Empire style for the three-story structure.
U.S. Assay Office
206 East Broadway Street
The federal government announced its presence in Helena in 1875 with this impressive Romanesque-styled brick building from the office of William A. Potter, Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department. It was the second federal building in Montana Territory, following the construction of the territorial prison at Deer Lodge in 1871. Ovens constructed in the basement smelted nuggets and gold dust into bars - one of five United States assay offices to execute the conversion. Some $30 million of gold was processed here by the turn of the 20th century; the assay office ovens continued firing until 1934.
Lewis & Clark County Courthouse
228 East Broadway Street at northwest corner of Ewing Street
Minnesota architects Edgar J. Hodgson, Charles A. Wallingford and Allen Hartzell Stem, who would later be involved in the design of New York’s Grand Central Terminal, came out in the 1880s to design this house of justice for Lewis & Clark County. The three-story courthouse incorporates elements of Norman and Romanesque architecture and is fashioned from rough-cut gray limestone trimmed with brownstone shipped from Bayfield, Wisconsin. The building as created was even grander - a 130-foot clock tower was removed following an earthquake in 1935. When completed in 1887 the building served as the territorial capitol and continued as Montana’s first statehouse until the completion of the current capitol building in 1902.
303 East Broadway Street at southeast corner of Ewing Street
This splendid Carpenter Gothic residence with steep-pitched roofs and lancet windows was considered Helena’s finest home when it was raised in 1868 for Charles W. Cannon as a present to his new bride, Catherine. Cannon was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1835 and showed up in Montana in 1864 to engage in the merchandising trade. He built his fortune through the familiar triumvirate of mining, ranching and real estate.
TURN LEFT ON EWING STREET.
Myrna Loy Center
15 North Ewing Street at southeast corner of Breckinridge Street
Lewis & Clark County’s second jail was constructed in 1891 in the brawny Richardsonian Romanesque style based on the works of Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson, the most influential American architect of the post-Civil War era. The jail features such hallmarks of the style as bold arched entrances, rough-hewn stone and a corner turret. On its 100th birthday the jail was converted into the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing and Media Arts. Myrna Adele Williams was born into a ranching family in 1905 in Radersburg, 40 miles southeast of Helena. Her father David became the youngest lawmaker ever elected to the Montana State Legislature and the family moved to 5th Avenue in Helena in 1912. When her mother contracted pneumonia she and Myrna were sent to California. As Myrna Loy she began appearing in silent films and rose to movie stardom as Nora Charles, appearing opposite William Powell in six installments of the wildly popular Thin Man series beginning in the 1930s. The same year the Myrna Loy Center debuted she received an honorary Academy Award at the age of 86; when she died two years later her ashes were interred at Forestvale Cemetery in Helena.
Piercy Boarding House / Cornell Apartments
300-312 5th Avenue
As soon as the courthouse was erected in the late 1880s stylish homes began appearing in its shadow. This eclectic Victorian sandstone structure was erected as rental property by William C. Child. Child migrated to Montana Territory from Iowa in 1870 as an agent for Wells Fargo Express. He invested wisely in mining properties and built an expansive ranch east of town where he established one of Montana’s first herds of purebred Hereford cattle.
TURN LEFT AND RIGHT TO CONTINUE FOLLOWING EWING STREET.
Joseph K. Toole Mansion
203 North Ewing at northeast corner of 5th Avenue
Joseph Kemp Toole was a Missouri man who came to Montana Territory at the age of 18 in 1869 and within two years he was practicing law in Helena with his brother. He won his first election at the age of 21 to become a district attorney and entered the Montana legislature in the 1880s, becoming one of the leading cheerleaders for statehood. In 1889 Toole was elected the first governor of Montana and would be elected again in 1901 and one last time in 1905. Toole constructed this house during his second term, and it did duty as the governor’s mansion during his third stint in office. Architect Eugene Fiske provided the stately Neoclassical form, fashioned from red porphyry granite hauled to the site from local quarries. Shortly after the Tooles moved in a prisoner broke free from the jail down the block amidst a hail of gunfire. He attempted to take shelter in the Toole house but it is said the First Lady blocked his way with a broom and the fugitive took his life in the basement stairwell.
210–218 N. Ewing at southwest corner of 6th Avenue
John Ward operated the town’s first newsstand and built a small brick house on this corner with his wife Reta in the early 1880s. William A. Chessman, who left his native Massachusetts for the California goldfields when he was 19 years old in 1849, came to Montana for mining and served five sessions in the territorial legislature as his wealth spread through banking and real estate ventures. In 1891 he constructed five three-story Victorian townhouses on this corner, oozing with Queen Anne style details including turrets, gables, bowfront bays, and multi-textured building materials. The rental properties were located across 6th Street from his residence.
Original Governor’s Mansion
302 North Ewing Street at northwest corner of 6th Avenue
The same architectural team that built the county courthouse, Minnesota architects Edgar J. Hodgson, Charles A. Wallingford and Allen Hartzell Stem, was retained by William Chessman to build him a suitable home in 1888. The resulting Queen Anne corner house, rendered in red brick and terra cotta is a standout of the form with a varied roofline, wraparound porch, richly textured dormers and turret. Chessman suffered financial reversals during the nationwide Panic of 1893 and was forced to sell his home to railroad man Peter Larson. In 1913 the State of Montana acquired this handsome brick mansion as the first official governor’s residence; between 1913 and 1959, it was home to nine Montana governors and their families.
east side of 300 block of North Ewing Street
This distinguished block is anchored at the corner opposite the Governor’s Mansion with a house constructed in 1906 for County Commissioner Wesley Biggs; fortunately architect Eugene Wallace Fiske didn’t throw out the plans he used for the Toole Mansion before creating this Neoclassical composition. In the middle of the block is one of the first homes in the neighborhood, constructed by territorial land registrar Wiliam C. Child in 1873. In the 1880s Child took advantage of a federal mining law that gave away precious metals, minerals, and even the title to the land itself for less than $10 an acre and gained title to an estimated 150 acres of Montana lands. On the northern corner is land once owned by territorial governor Benjamin Potts; the current house was constructed in 1906 for railroad baron Peter Larson who gifted it to his daughter as a wedding present.
328 North Ewing Street at northwest corner of 7th Avenue
Wilbur Fisk Sanders was a New Yorker and Civil War veteran who came to Montana as a young lawyer where he soon gained fame for his speechmaking. Sanders achieved notoriety in Nevada City in 1863 when he was the only lawyer bold enough to prosecute George Ives, a notorious road agent accused of murder. Amidst threats of reprisal by Ives’ confederates, Sanders not only obtained a conviction but led a hanging party that carried out the sentence that very night. A political animal, Sanders lost elections to the United States Congress in 1864, 1867, 1880 and 1886 but he won enough territorial elections to move from Virginia City to Helena in 1875 and build this Victorian home. In 1890 Sanders was elected as a Republican to serve as one of Montana’s first two United States senators. He lost reelection in 1893 and came home to live in his house that had been given a Queen Anne facelift that it retains today.
335 North Ewing Street
James Porter was one of Helena’s pioneer developers; here he erected a stylish three-story Italianate apartment building in 1884, one of the earliest multi-unit buildings in town. Each of the six units sported a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, dining room and parlor. The handsome brick structure with elongated windows and skillfully carved window heads attracted a lawyer, a doctor, a minister and a mining superintendent as the first guests. Five sisters of the Nagel family operated one of Helena’s favorite eateries here. The building was treated roughly by earthquakes in 1935 and ultimately condemned but was resuscitated in the early 1990s.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO 7TH STREET AND TURN RIGHT, WALKING PAST THE SANDERS MANSION. CONTINUE TO WARREN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
348 North Warren Street
On this hilltop above the town rose Montana Territory’s first graded school in 1875 replacing an old mining camp cemetery. By the 1890s a sprawling complex on this block included Helena High School, Central Elementary School, an auditorium and a public library. None still stand, although a new Central School was constructed between 1915 and 1921 on plans drawn by George Carsley. In the southwest corner of the lot a central heating plant for the buildings was added in 1908. In addition to the boilers, the building boasted the best appointed gymnasium in Montana. It dished out heat to Central School until 1993 and still serves the community as an event center.
First Baptist Church
359 North Warren Street at southeast corner of 8th Street
Montana’s oldest Baptist congregation started with a petition signed by 21 Baptists sent to New York City requesting a missionary in 1879. Five years later the first sermon was preached in this church by that missionary, J.T. Mason. The price tag for the red brick sanctuary was $11,000. In its time the church has endured a fire in 1916 and earthquake damage in 1935 that led to the exterior being stuccoed.
Cathedral of St. Helena
511 North Warren Street at northeast corner of 9th Avenue
They say that when Thomas Cruse, a miner of Irish extraction, arrived in Helena in 1867 he was so poor he spent his nights on the street huddled under a blanket. For the next eight years Cruse worked claims in the Montana mountains, scraping out a living. On May 19, 1875 Cruse came to town to file a claim for a mine he called Drumlummon after his parish in Ireland. In 1883 he finally found what he was looking for inside his 200-foot long tunnel - the man who could neither read nor write had discovered a vein of gold that would be estimated to be worth $6,000,000. When he was 50 years of age in 1886 Cruse proposed in town to 23-year old Margaret Carter and staged the grandest wedding Helena had ever seen. Unfortunately Maggie died in childbirth ten months later and Cruse grieved the remainder of his life. His benefactions to the community included carrying $350,000 in bonds to construct the Capitol and $350,000 to help construct this showcase cathedral on its perch above the town, begun in 1908 and modeled after the Votive Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Vienna, Austria. The church, with twin spires 230 feet high, was consecrated on December 25, 1914. Thomas Cruse had passed away five days earlier at the age of 78. His funeral was the second service to take place, after Christmas Mass.
TURN LEFT ON LAWRENCE STREET AND WALK DOWN THE HILL ACROSS CRUSE AVENUE AND JACKSON STREET TO NORTH LAST CHANCE GULCH STREET.
C.W. Cannon Building
401 North Last Chance Gulch Street at northeast corner of Lawrence Street
C.W. Cannon always claimed that when he was new to business and Helena was a western village of meager pretensions that he woke up startled by a dream that Helena was a great metropolis. Afterwards he invested every dime he earned into real estate and he was reputed to be the wealthiest landowner in the city when this commercial building was raised in 1890. Spruced up to its 19th century appearance it stands as a fine representative of Helena’s historic retail landscape.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH LAST CHANCE GULCH STREET.
Windsor/Iron Front Hotel
415 North Last Chance Gulch Street
After the Civil War cast iron enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity as a building material in America. It was inexpensive, easy to form in ornamental designs and quick to erect. Helena architects Frederick Heinlein and Thomas F. Mathias provided the Romanesque design in 1888 and John Stedman’s foundry in town cast the facade. Stedman advertised the ability to “make anything in the way of brass or iron castings, from a doorkey to a ten-thousand pound casting” and the four-story Windsor Hotel was his masterpiece.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO LAWRENCE STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Montana Life Insurance Building
northwest corner of Lawrence Street and Fuller Avenue
The Western Life Insurance Company - two employees strong - was organized on June 20, 1910 as the Montana Life Insurance Company. Policies were written from desks in two rented rooms. By 1928 Montana Life was able to move into this imposing commercial temple that no doubt looked impressive on the letterhead. In 1938 the name was changed to Western Life Insurance as the company covered insureds in eight states. In 1955 Western life moved to a new million-dollar home on North Park Avenue.
First Unitarian Church of Helena/Grandstreet Theatre
325 Park Avenue at southeast corner of Lawrence Street
Charles S. Haire was an Ohio-trained architect who came west in 1886 where he obtained commissions from the railroads. Settling in Helena, he became one of the town’s busiest architects, including designing most of the residences in Lenox, a suburban addition to Helena. For this building Haire interpreted the Richardsonian Romanesque style, typically favored by large civic institutions, for a smaller footprint. The client was the First Unitarian Society that had organized in 1891 and quickly boasted a membership of 150, enabling the construction of this church in 1901. The congregation was not so flush thirty years later and deeded the church building to the City to use as a library. In 1976 it was remodeled into a community theater.
TURN LEFT ON PARK AVENUE.
Federal Building/City-County Building
316 North Park Avenue
The federal government announced its presence in Helena in 1904 with this elegant Renaissance Revival structure from the office of James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the Treasury. But it was not without grumbling from the citizenry. Sacrificed for the new post office and courthouse was Payne’s Hotel, a popular wooden frame hotel that featured a long shed in the yard where farmers from the Prickly Pear Valley would gather and enjoy lunch. In 1934 a sympathetic addition was tacked onto the rear of the building with Great Depression stimulus funds. The Federal Building is dressed in Columbus sandstone hauled to the site from Stillwater County, same as the state capitol.
TURN LEFT ON 6TH STREET.
40–52 West 6th Street at northeast corner of Park Avenue
Thomas C. Power first left Iowa for the Dakota Territory as part of a surveying crew. When he arrived in Fort Benton at the head of navigation on the Missouri River, he tossed aside his transit and theodolite and opened a general store where Montana was born. He was soon running stagecoaches and the “finest steamers on the Upper Missouri River.” Power came to Helena in 1876 and started T. C. Power and Bro, which rapidly became the leading mercantile enterprise in the territory. When Montana became a state in 1890, Thomas Charles Power was one of its first two United States senators. Power was the moneyman behind this commercial block in 1889. Architect James F. Stranahan provided the design that negotiated the sloping terrain and used red porphry, an igneous rock found in abundance in Montana, to construct the mixed-use building. Apartments were behind the prominent copper-faced oriel windows on the upper floors and merchants filled the street level. In 1974 the Diamond Block became one of the state’s first preservation successes.
24 West 6th Street at northwest corner of Fuller Avenue
The Montana Club, organized for “millionaires only” in 1885, is the oldest private members-only club west of the Mississippi River still in operation. This lot was purchased for $45,000 in 1891 and the first clubhouse, designed by J.M. Paulsen, was celebrated two years later. In 1903, 14-year old Harry Anderson, who delighted in seeing things go up in flames, set fire to the Montana Club. After it burned Cass Gilbert, one of America’s most famous architects, was retained to design the replacement. Gilbert, a Minnesota architect who would design three state capitols, the United States Supreme Court and the world’s tallest building at the time, New York City’s Woolworth Building, infused his Italian Renaissance creation here with Gothic and Mission-style details. It is thought that Gilbert found his way to Montana through former St. Paul schoolmates who moved west when he moved east. Harry Anderson was sent to reform school until he was 21 and his father, Julian, who was the club’s bartender since 1893 stayed on another fifty years.
First National Bank and Trust
302 North Last Gulch Street at northwest corner of 6th Street
The American National Bank was organized in Helena in 1890. The original officers were Thomas C. Power, president; H. J. Seligman, vice president; and A. C. Johnson, cashier. By 1901 On May 1, 1931, three Helena banks - American National Bank merged with the National Bank of Montana, and the Montana Trust and Savings Bank - combined to form the First National Bank and Trust Company. The new conglomeration then settled into this Art Deco-inspired building.
58–62 North Last Gulch Street at southwest corner of 6th Street
Since 1889 the Power Building has lorded this vibrant commercial intersection. Thomas Power imported the Chicago architectural firm of Willets and Ashley to design his commercial monument and they brought with them a plan based on Henry Hobson Richardson’s influential Romanesque-styled store for Windy City merchant Marshall Field. Look up to see the windows in the roundhead corner march upwards in an ever-increasing register of one to match the floor number. The composition is topped by an attic band of deeply recessed windows. One of the early tenants was the United States Post Office before it moved operations up the street to the Federal Building. The Montana Senate also convened here for awhile in the state’s infancy. The similarly styled four-story annex along 6th Street is a 1914 addition.
139 North Last Gulch Street at southeast corner of 6th Street
Charles A. Broadwater staked his claim on this intersection with this three-story brick building in 1884 and today it is the oldest commercial property north of Broadway. Francis D. Lee, a Charleston, South Carolina architect and engineer who was involved in the development of the torpedo boat during the Civil War, designed the building which, save for the large plate glass display windows, retains much of its original integrity. Lee practiced in St. Louis after the war and came to Helena for one of his last commissions in the year before he died. Brothers Abraham L. and Edward I. Goodkind ran a wholesale wine and liquor trade, pushing in particular General Arthur Cigars, which became popular as a way to promote Chester Arthur’s political career that culminated in his election to the vice-presidency in 1880. When James A. Garfield was assassinated Arthur became the 21st president of the United States - with his name on cigar boxes.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH LAST CHANCE GULCH STREET.
New York Block/Fligelman’s
44–46 North Last Gulch Street
In the wee small hours of a warm summer night on July 16, 1928 fire broke out at #28 North Main Street (now North Last Gulch Street) where Curtis Cafe and the Maverick Pool Hall resided. The conflagration raged out of control all night. When morning came and the fire subsided the entire middle of the block had been gutted. The buildings seen along the west side of the street today were all constructed in the aftermath of the fire. The New York Store was one of the town’s legacy businesses, founded in 1885 by Henry Loble, Robert Heller, George Frankfort and Herman Fligelman. Fligelman was in control after the fire and changed the store name to Fligleman’s. Architect George Carsley incorporated many symbolic terra cotta figures into his design including an ornamental cartouche in the top center, a sly tailor and seamstress perched in notches on the roofline, an eagle on a hale of wool to call to mind “dressers and dyers of foreign cloth,” a barred door that represents silk manufacturers and so on. All served to remind shoppers that only the highest quality clothing was on sale inside.
38-42 North Last Gulch Street
While Herman Fligelman rebuilt in the same classical form as his pre-fire building, Napoleon Lalonde, owner of the Bailey Block lost to the 1928 fire, replaced his with a more contemporary streamlined look. Architect John G. Link dressed the commercial block in a cream-colored glazed ceramic tile veneer. One of the first tenants is still here - the Parrot Confectionery, a family run business that has been churning out 130 different types of candy from recipes conjured up by the original owners since 1922.
34-36 North Last Gulch Street
Prussian born Reinhold Henry Kleinschmidt followed a path blazed by many of his countrymen in the mid-19th century. His family sailed to America in 1856 when Reinhold was nine years old and found their way into one of the many German communities of the midwest, first in Missouri and then Kansas. When he was twenty Reinhold and his brother Albert took off to chase gold in Montana but wound up building their fortune instead by selling supplies to miners. Their store was a success from its inception and established a record that was unsurpassed in the annals of commercial enterprise in Montana. Kleinschmidt and Samuel Hauser opened the First National Bank of Helena and he went on to serve three terms as mayor. This commercial block was still a part of the Kleinschmidt family real estate empire when it burned and was rapidly rebuilt in a complementary style to the the Lalonde Building.
First National Bank
101 North Last Chance Gulch at southeast corner of Grand Street
The First National Bank was the first bank in Montana Territory, chartered in 1866 to handle the riches generated from the Last Chance Gulch strike. In 1886 when the bank moved here Minnesota architects Edgar J. Hodgson, Charles A. Wallingford and Allen Hartzell Stem, who were in town to design the new county courthouse, picked up this commission as well. They delivered a textbook interpretation of the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Look for rough-cut stone in contrasting colors, checkerboards, triangular gables, rounded arches and a profusion of columnettes.
CONTINUE STRAIGHT ON THE PEDESTRIAN MALL BACK TO ITS END AND TURN RIGHT TO RETURN TO THE PIONEER CABIN AND THE START OF THE TOUR.