About Helena, Montana
Helena was born in 1864 when prospectors known as the Four Georgians struck gold on their attempt at a place they called “Last Chance Gulch,” now Helena’s main street. Prior to that discovery, the Helena area provided the setting for thousands of years of Native Americans, the wanderings of fur trappers & gold prospectors and homestead farmers. Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, following the upper Missouri River, crossed the valley in both 1805 and 1806. In 1864, “the Four Georgians” discovered placer gold in Last Chance Creek. The ensuing gold strike brought thousands of “get-rich-quick” miners to the fabulously rich Last Chance Gulch.
Once the placer gold ran out, Helena’s key geographical location made it a vital redistribution center for businesses supplying scores of other gold-mining communities. The town soon became the territorial banking center, and home of such broad-based commercial enterprises as T.C. Power and Brother. Simultaneously, farms and ranches spread across the fertile Helena valley. When Helena secured the territorial capital in 1875, the city also became the political focus of Montana. Helena was first connected to the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1885. It became the state capitol in 1894, solidifying its political dominance. Helena’s population has grown moderately throughout the 20th century – despite such disasters as fires and the devastating 1935 earthquake. The city has not experienced the boom-and-bust cycles that have affected many other Montana communities because of its reliance on state government and on a broad-based economy emphasizing goods and services. During the 1970s an urban-renewal project changed the face of the downtown district, yet Helena retains many of its vintage commercial and residential buildings. Today, Helena thrives as an educational, commercial, recreational, cultural, and political center for the entire state of Montana – while celebrating a real appreciation for the community’s colorful, storied past.
For a small town, Helena has a great deal to offer those who appreciate the fine arts: The Helena Symphony, the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts, the Grand Street Theatre, The Myrna Loy Center for the Performing and Visual Arts, the Holter Museum of Art, and the Montana Historical Society Museum. Numerous fine art galleries showing all types of art from traditional to contemporary and more, provide Helena with a solid mix of culture. It is proud to be listed as one of the “100 Best Small Art Towns in America!” Policom, an economic-research firm, recently rated Helena 3rd place in economic strength among 531 micropolitan locales in the US with populations between 10,000 and 50,000. The Florida-based company says it bases its independent rankings on 23 variables for strengthening or weakening a local economy over an extended time. Located in the Rocky Mountains and adjacent to the clear waters of the Missouri River, visitors to Helena can enjoy a wide array of recreational activities including mountain climbing, skiing, boating, and hunting. Other local activities keep its citizens busy with theater and symphony performances, the jazz festival, concerts, rodeos, running races such as the renowned “Governor’s Cup,” and participation in the largest sled dog race in the lower 48 states.