150 Years of Solid Gold History in Helena, Montana

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Helena, Montana will be celebrating its lively transformation from mining camp to capital city 150 years later.

Mining has a strong history in Montana, with towns being founded and destroyed by mining strikes and misses. Helena, Montana’s capital city is the only cosmopolitan city in Montana founded on the gold rush. Helena is the town that gold built. This fact is evident from the high-style west side mansions to its flamboyant downtown architecture. On July 14, 1864 placer gold was discovered by four down-on-their-luck miners, marking the beginning of Helena as a mining camp. The newly named mining district of Last Chance Gulch would eventually produce $19 million in only four years, Montana’s second largest placer gold deposit. The mining camp quickly grew into a city renamed Helena with some of the richest residents in the country. As the gold supply slowly dried up, Helena did not fade away as many mining boom towns are known to do. Instead, its central location on major transportation routes and the services it provided to small outlying claims kept the city vibrant. In 2014, 150 years later, the city will be celebrating its lively transformation from mining camp to capital city.

Today, visitors can take a step back in time and find the discovery site where the four miners staked their last chance on striking it rich. From this site visitors can travel north along Last Chance Gulch, Helena’s main street, experiencing the area that has blossomed from mining camp to state capital. Along the way, another remnant of Helena’s mining camp beginning is found in the street layout. Although the city was surveyed, many of the streets still follow the original miner’s paths as they moved from claim to claim navigating the gulch. Today’s visitors to Helena’s downtown are met with quirky streets that are inconsistent in size and shape giving the area its unique feel.

As visitors trace the crooked path of Last Chance Gulch south, they will find more history by exploring the virtually unchanged Pioneer Cabin and Reeder’s Alley. The back room of the Pioneer Cabin was built in 1864. The cabin is the oldest documented home in Helena with miner Wilson Butts residing in the one-room dwelling. In 1865, his brother Jonas arrived with a wife and three daughters and built the cabin’s front portion. There the family lived for several years. A collection of tiny row house apartments in a narrow alley, Reeder’s Alley is a perfect depiction of how the area looked as a mining camp. Reeder’s Alley offers insight into the lives of the everyday men and women who came seeking their fortune including the Yee Wau Cabin at the foot of the alley, the last standing building representing the Chinese settlement of that time.

Helena’s history provides visitors with a journey from early mining days to vibrant city as they move from Reeder’s Alley to the Mansion District on the west side. Visit the Helena website at helenamt.com to see the special events planned in celebration of Helena’s 150th Anniversary and, of course, to make plans to experience its history for yourself.

Helena, Montana is the capital city of Montana. Located on the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains, it is known for its abundant outdoor recreation opportunities accessible just outside the city limits. For more information about Helena, visit http://www.helenamt.com or call 800-743-5362.

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Sarah Ziska
Wendt Advertising and Public Relations
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