Helena, Montana

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Helena Montana 2006.jpg
Helena Cathedral1.jpg
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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
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Queen City of the Rockies, The Capital City
Lewis and Clark County Montana Incorporated and Unincorporated areas Helena Highlighted.svg
Location within Lewis and Clark County
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Location within Montana
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Location within the United States
Coordinates: 46°35′44.9″N112°1′37.31″W / 46.595806°N 112.0270306°W / 46.595806; -112.0270306
CountryUnited States
State Montana
County Lewis and Clark
FoundedOctober 30, 1864
   Mayor Wilmot Collins
   State capital city 16.39 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)
 (2010) [2]
   State capital city 28,190
(2018) [3]
  Density1,700/sq mi (660/km2)
Time zone UTC−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 code 30-35600
GNIS feature ID0802116
Website City of Helena, Montana

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

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders.

Montana U.S. state in the United States

Montana is a state in the Northwestern United States. Montana has several nicknames, although none are official, including "Big Sky Country" and "The Treasure State", and slogans that include "Land of the Shining Mountains" and more recently "The Last Best Place".

A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, or capital city of a county or civil parish. The term is used in Canada, China, Romania, Taiwan and the United States. County towns have a similar function in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, and historically in Jamaica.


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.

Gold rush new discovery of gold that brings an onrush of miners seeking their fortune

A gold rush is a new discovery of gold—sometimes accompanied by other precious metals and rare-earth minerals—that brings an onrush of miners seeking their fortune. Major gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, South Africa and the United States, while smaller gold rushes took place elsewhere.

Victorian architecture series of architectural revival styles

Victorian architecture is a series of architectural revival styles in the mid-to-late 19th century. Victorian refers to the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), called the Victorian era, during which period the styles known as Victorian were used in construction. However, many elements of what is typically termed "Victorian" architecture did not become popular until later in Victoria's reign. The styles often included interpretations and eclectic revivals of historic styles. The name represents the British and French custom of naming architectural styles for a reigning monarch. Within this naming and classification scheme, it followed Georgian architecture and later Regency architecture, and was succeeded by Edwardian 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]

City Large and permanent human settlement

A city is a large human settlement. Cities generally have extensive systems for housing, transportation, sanitation, utilities, land use, and communication. Their density facilitates interaction between people, government organisations and businesses, sometimes benefiting different parties in the process.

Helena, Montana micropolitan area

The Helena Micropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the United States Census Bureau, is an area consisting of two counties in western Montana, anchored by the city of Helena.

Jefferson County, Montana U.S. county in Montana

Jefferson County is a county located in the U.S. state of Montana. As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 11,406. Its county seat is Boulder. The county was created in 1865 and named for President Thomas Jefferson.

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 Independent Record is a daily newspaper printed and distributed in Helena, Montana. The newspaper is part of the Lee Enterprises group.

Helena Bighorns

The Helena Bighorns are a Tier III Junior A ice hockey team in the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL) based in Helena, Montana United States. The team plays their home games at the 1,600-seat Helena Ice Arena.

Junior hockey is ice hockey competition generally for players between 16 and 21 years of age. Junior hockey leagues in the United States and Canada are considered amateur and operate within regions of each country.



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]

Bitterroot Salish group of Native Americans of the Flathead Nation in Montana, United States

The Bitterroot Salish are a Salish-speaking group of Native Americans, and one of three tribes of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation in Montana. The Flathead Reservation is home to the Kootenai and Pend d'Oreilles tribes also. Bitterroot Salish or Flathead originally lived in an area west of Billings, Montana extending to the continental divide in the west and south of Great Falls, Montana extending to the Montana-Wyoming border. From there they later moved west into the Bitterroot Valley. By request, a Catholic mission was built here in 1841. In 1891 they were forcibly moved to the Flathead Reservation.

Blackfoot Confederacy ethnic group

The Blackfoot Confederacy, Niitsitapi or Siksikaitsitapi is a historic collective name for linguistically related groups that make up the Blackfoot or Blackfeet people: The Siksika ("Blackfoot"), the Kainai or Kainah ("Blood"), and two sections of the Piikani, the Northern Piikani (Aapátohsipikáni) and the Southern Piikani. Broader definitions include groups, like the Tsúùtínà (Sarcee) and A'aninin, spoke quite different languages but allied or joined with the Blackfoot Confederacy as well.

Early settlement and gold rush

Helena, Montana in 1870 Helena mo 1870.jpg
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 Birds-eye view of Helena, Montana 1875. LOC 75694669.tif
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 /həˈlnə/ hə-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 /ˈhɛlɪnə/ 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 /ˈhɛlɪnə/ 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

The St. Helena Cathedral. Helena Cathedral.jpg
The St. Helena Cathedral.

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. Helena capitol.jpg
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]


2001 astronaut photography of Helena Montana taken from the International Space Station (ISS) Helena Montana.jpg
2001 astronaut photography of Helena Montana taken from the International Space Station (ISS)
The iconic "Sleeping Giant" mountain formation located north of Helena Sleeping Giant 2010.jpg
The iconic "Sleeping Giant" mountain formation located north of Helena

Helena is located at 46°35′45″N112°1′37″W / 46.59583°N 112.02694°W / 46.59583; -112.02694 (46.595805, −112.027031), [15] at an altitude of 4,058 feet (1,237 m). [16]

Surrounding features include the Continental Divide, Mount Helena City Park, Spring Meadow Lake State Park, Lake Helena, Helena National Forest, the Big Belt Mountains, the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness, Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Scapegoat Wilderness, the Missouri River, Canyon Ferry Lake, Holter Lake, Hauser Lake, and the Elkhorn Mountains.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.39 square miles (42.45 km2), of which 16.35 square miles (42.35 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.10 km2) is water. [1]


Helena has a semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk), with long, cold and moderately snowy winters, hot and dry summers, and short springs and autumns in between. The monthly daily average temperature ranges from 21.8 °F (−5.7 °C) in December to 70.0 °F (21.1 °C) in July, [17] with average diurnal temperature variation exceeding 30 °F (17 °C) in summer, due to the aridity and elevation. Having December colder than January is a trait shared with much of the Pacific Northwest. Snowfall has been observed in every month but July, [18] but is usually absent from May to September, and normally accumulates in only light amounts. Winters have periods of moderation, partly due to warming influence from chinooks. Precipitation mostly falls in the spring and is generally sparse, averaging only 11.3 inches (287 mm) annually.

Subzero (below −18 °C) cold is observed 23 nights per year, but is rarely extended, as is 90 °F (32 °C) heat, which occurs on 19 days annually. [17] Extremes range from −42 °F (−41 °C) to 105 °F (41 °C), occurring as recently as February 2, 1996 and July 12, 2002, respectively.

Climate data for Helena Airport (1981–2010 normals), Montana
Record high °F (°C)63
Average high °F (°C)33.3
Daily mean °F (°C)23.2
Average low °F (°C)13.0
Record low °F (°C)−42
Average precipitation inches (mm)0.36
Average snowfall inches (cm)6.2
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)
Average relative humidity (%)
Mean monthly sunshine hours 119.4149.0225.8243.0282.0308.7370.3324.1254.6202.9118.699.92,698.3
Percent possible sunshine 43526160616577746860423760
Source: NOAA (extremes 1880−present, sun and relative humidity 1961−1990) [17] [19] [20]


Historical population
1870 3,106
1880 3,62416.7%
1890 13,834281.7%
1900 10,770−22.1%
1910 12,51516.2%
1920 12,037−3.8%
1930 11,803−1.9%
1940 15,05627.6%
1950 17,58116.8%
1960 20,22715.1%
1970 22,73012.4%
1980 23,9385.3%
1990 24,5692.6%
2000 25,7804.9%
2010 28,1909.3%
Est. 201832,315 [3] 14.6%
source: [21]
U.S. Decennial Census [22]
2015 Estimate [23]

2010 census

As of the census [2] of 2010, there were 28,190 people, 12,780 households, and 6,691 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,724.2 inhabitants per square mile (665.7/km2). There were 13,457 housing units at an average density of 823.1 per square mile (317.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 93.3% White, 0.4% African American, 2.3% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.6% from other races, and 2.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.8% of the population.

There were 12,780 households of which 24.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.2% were married couples living together, 10.6% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.6% had a male householder with no wife present, and 47.6% were non-families. 39.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.07 and the average family size was 2.77.

The median age in the city was 40.3 years. 20.1% of residents were under the age of 18; 11.6% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 23.3% were from 25 to 44; 29.5% were from 45 to 64; and 15.6% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.0% male and 52.0% female.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 25,780 people, 11,541 households, and 6,474 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,840.7 people per square mile (710.5/km²). There were 12,133 housing units at an average density of 866.3 per square mile (334.4/km²). The ethnic makeup of the city is 94.8% White, 0.2% African American, 2.1% Native American, 0.8% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.4% from other races, and 1.7% from two or more races. 1.7% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 11,541 households out of which 27.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.5% were married couples living together, 10.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.9% were non-families. 37.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.14 and the average family size was 2.83.

In the city, the population was spread out with 22.4% under the age of 18, 11.1% from 18 to 24, 26.6% from 25 to 44, 26.0% from 45 to 64, and 13.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $34,416, and the median income for a family was $50,018. Males had a median income of $34,357 versus $25,821 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,020. About 9.3% of families and 14.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.4% of those under age 18 and 8.3% of those age 65 or over.


Helena has a long record of economic stability with its history as being the state capital and being founded in an area rich in silver and lead deposits. Its status as capital makes it a major hub of activity at the county, state, and federal level. Thirty-one percent of the city's workforce is made up of government positions with private sector jobs comprising 62 percent. [24] According to the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce, the capital's median household income is $50,889, and its unemployment rate stood at 3.8% in 2013, about 1.2% lower than the rest of the state. [25] Education is a major employer, with two high schools and accompanying elementary and middle schools for K-12 students as well as Helena College. Major private employers within the city of Helena include Carroll College and the medical community.

Helena's economy is also bolstered by Fort William Henry Harrison, the training facility for the Montana National Guard, located just outside the city. [26] Fort Harrison is also home to Fort Harrison VA Medical Center, where many Helena-area residents work. [27] Within Lewis and Clark County, there also remains one mineral processing plant and several light manufacturing facilities, including a division of Boeing.


Higher education

Carroll College, viewed from Mount Helena 20030826CarrollCollegeFromMtHelena.jpg
Carroll College, viewed from Mount Helena

Primary and secondary education

List of schools in Helena, Montana [28]


Helena has a public library, a branch of the Lewis & Clark Library. [29]


Helena's Designated Market Area is 205th in size, as defined by Nielsen Media Research, and is the fifth smallest media market in the nation.

Notable people

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Walter Trumbull was a prominent American explorer and writer. He was a member of the Washburn–Langford–Doane Expedition in 1870 that explored the area of Wyoming that would eventually become Yellowstone National Park.

Montana Vigilantes

The history of vigilante justice and the Montana Vigilantes began in 1863 in what was at the time a remote part of eastern Idaho Territory. Vigilante activities continued, although somewhat sporadically, through the Montana Territorial period until the territory became the state of Montana on November 8, 1889. Vigilantism arose because territorial law enforcement and the courts had very little power in the remote mining camps during the territorial period.


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Further reading

Wikivoyage-Logo-v3-icon.svg Helena travel guide from Wikivoyage Coordinates: 46°35′45″N112°01′37″W / 46.595805°N 112.027031°W / 46.595805; -112.027031