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Helena, Montana
—  City  —

Nickname(s): Queen City of the Rockies, The Capital City
Location in Lewis and Clark County, Montana
Coordinates: 46°35′44.9″N 112°1′37.31″W / 46.595806°N 112.0270306°W / 46.595806; -112.0270306
Country United States
State Montana
County Lewis and Clark
Founded October 30, 1864
 - Mayor James E. Smith
 - City 14.0 sq mi (36.3 km2)
 - Land 14.0 sq mi (36.3 km2)
 - Water 0 sq mi (0 km2)
Elevation 4,058 ft (1,237 m)
Population (2000)
 - City 25,780
 Density 1,840.7/sq mi (710.5/km2)
 Metro 67,636
Time zone Mountain (UTC-7)
 - Summer (DST) Mountain (UTC-6)
Area code(s) 406
FIPS code 30-35600
GNIS feature ID 0802116

Helena (pronounced /ˈhɛlɨnə/) is the capital city of the U.S. state of Montana and the county seat of Lewis and Clark County.[1] The population was 25,780 at the 2000 census, and had been estimated to rise to 29,351 by 2008.[2] The local daily newspaper is the Independent Record. The local weekly (and independent) newspaper is the Queen City News. The Helena Brewers minor league baseball team call the city home. The city is served by Helena Regional Airport.

Helena is the principal city of the Helena Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Lewis and Clark and Jefferson counties; its population was estimated at 72,180 on July 1, 2008.[3]



Helena, Montana in 1870.
Helena, Montana in 2006.

Helena was founded with the July 14, 1864 discovery of gold in a gulch off the Prickly Pear valley by the "Four Georgians". The city's main street is named Last Chance Gulch and lies close to the winding path of the original gulch through the historic downtown district.

The original camp was named "Last Chance" by the Four Georgians. By fall, the population had grown to over 200 and the name "Last Chance" was viewed as too crass. On October 30, 1864, a group of at least seven 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 of the area. 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. Finally, a Scotsman named John Summerville proposed "Helena," which he pronounced "hel-EE-na," "in honor of the heLEENa in Scott County, Minnesota..." This immediately caused an uproar from the former Confederates in the room who insisted upon the pronunciation HELena, after Helena, Arkansas, a town on the Mississippi River. While the name won, the pronunciation varied until approximately 1882 when the HELena pronunciation became dominant and has remained so to the present. Later tales of the naming of Helena claimed the name came variously from the Island of St. Helena, where Napoleon had been exiled, or was that of a miner's sweetheart.[4]

The townsite was first surveyed in 1865 by Captain John Wood. However, 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, rather 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, located 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's creation, Langford was named its first superintendent.

The St. Helena Cathedral as seen from Mount Helena.

By 1888, about 50 millionaires lived in Helena, more per capita than any city in the world. 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 placers in the western United States. Most of the production occurred before 1868 and much of the placer is now under the streets and buildings of Helena (but even 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 made for a large amount of culture, much of which still exists and is also evidenced in the varied architecture of the city and its Victorian neighborhoods.

The official symbol of Helena is a drawing of "The Guardian of the Gulch", a wooden fire watch tower built in 1886, that still stands on "Tower Hill" overlooking the historic downtown district. This fire tower replaced a series of observation buildings, the original being a flimsy lookout stand built in 1870 on the same site, built in response to a series of devastating fires: April 1869, November 1869, October 1871, August 1872 and January 1874 that swept through the early mining camp.

The state Capitol building, Helena, Montana

In 1889, railroad magnate Charles Arthur Broadwater opened his fabled Hotel Broadwater and Natatorium west of Helena. The Natatorium was home to the world's first indoor swimming pool. Damaged in the earthquake of 1935, it was closed in 1941. The many buildings on the property 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.

In 1902, the Montana State Capitol was completed. Helena has been the capital of Montana Territory since 1875 and the state of Montana since 1889. 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 populated city in the state.

The Civic Center and the Saint Helena Cathedral[1] are two of many unique historic buildings in Helena.

Helena High School and Capital High School are both public high schools located in the Helena School District No. 1. Being the state capital, a large number of Helenans work for the state government. When in Helena, most people visit the local walking mall, 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, taking nearly a decade to renovate, a three block long shopping district following the original Last Chance Gulch. There is a small artificial stream running along most of the walking mall, mirroring 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 located just northwest of Helena, near Spring Meadow Lake.

Helena also has a local ski area, Great Divide Ski Area, northwest of town near the ghost town of Marysville.

Geography and climate

Helena is located at 46°35′45″N 112°1′37″W / 46.59583°N 112.02694°W / 46.59583; -112.02694 (46.595805, -112.027031),[5] at an altitude of 4,058 feet (1,237 m).[6]

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, the Missouri River, Canyon Ferry Lake, and the Elkhorn Mountains.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 14.0 square miles (36.3 km²), all of it land.

Climate data for Helena, MT
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 29.6
Average low °F (°C) 9.6
Precipitation inches (mm) 0.52
Snowfall inches (mm) 8.6
Source: February 10, 2010


Historical populations
Census Pop.  %±
1870 3,106
1880 3,624 16.7%
1890 13,834 281.7%
1900 10,770 −22.1%
1910 12,515 16.2%
1920 12,037 −3.8%
1930 11,803 −1.9%
1940 15,056 27.6%
1950 17,581 16.8%
1960 20,227 15.1%
1970 22,730 12.4%
1980 23,938 5.3%
1990 24,569 2.6%
2000 25,780 4.9%
Est. 2008 29,351 13.9%

As of the census[9] 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/sq mi (334.4/km²). The ethnic makeup of the city is 94.78% White, 0.23% African American, 2.10% Native American, 0.78% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 0.38% from other races, and 1.66% from two or more races. 1.67% 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, Montana

Higher education

Carroll College, a Catholic liberal arts college which opened in 1909, enrolls 1,500 students.

The University of Montana - Helena College of Technology (formerly Helena Vo-Tech), a two-year, affiliate campus of The University of Montana, provides transfer and technical education for more than 1,400 students. It opened in 1939.


Helena's Designated Market Area is 206th in size, as defined by Nielsen Media Research, and is the fifth smallest media market in the nation.

Notable natives and residents


  1. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  2. ^ "Subcounty population estimates: Montana 2000-2008" (CSV). United States Census Bureau, Population Division. 2008-07-01. Retrieved 2009-10-03. 
  3. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Population of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008 (CBSA-EST2008-01)" (CSV). 2008 Population Estimates. United States Census Bureau, Population Division. 2008-07-01. Retrieved 2009-10-03. 
  4. ^ Palmer, Tom. "Naming Helena" from Helena: The Town and the People" Helena, MT: American Geographic Publishing, 1987, pp 20, 22, 28-31
  5. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2005-05-03. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  6. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographical Names Information System: Helena, Montana
  7. ^ Moffatt, Riley. Population History of Western U.S. Cities & Towns, 1850-1990. Lanham: Scarecrow, 1996, 131.
  8. ^ "Subcounty population estimates: Montana 2000-2007" (CSV). United States Census Bureau, Population Division. 2009-03-18. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  9. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  10. ^ "Liz Claiborne"
  11. ^ "Fashion guru Liz Claiborne dies" Breaking, July 26, 2007
  12. ^ "Yellowstone National Park: Its Exploration and Establishment Biographical Appendix". National Park Service. July 4, 2000. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  13. ^

External links

Coordinates: 46°35′45″N 112°01′37″W / 46.595805°N 112.027031°W / 46.595805; -112.027031

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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Simple English

Helena, Montana
Montana State Capitol
Nickname(s): Queen City
Coordinates: 46°24′45″N 112°1′37″W / 46.4125°N 112.02694°W / 46.4125; -112.02694
County Lewis and Clark County
Founded October 30, 1864
 - Mayor James E. Smith
 - City 36.3 km2 (14.0 sq mi)
 - Water 0 km2 (0 sq mi)
Population (2000)
 - City 25,780
 Density 710.5/km2 (1,840.2/sq mi)
 Metro 67,636
Time zone Mountain (UTC-7)
 - Summer (DST) Mountain (UTC-6)

Helena is the capital city of the U.S. state of Montana.

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