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Helena, Montana

Local Details

Learn more about Helena, Montana using the City Guide below. Plan a trip, find local shopping centers, or just discover what makes Helena, Montana so great!

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City Guide

Helena is the capital of the State of Montana. As of the 2000 census, its population was 25,780, but with the surrounding area the population reaches 67,636. It is the county seat of Lewis and Clark County. The local daily newspaper is the Independant Record, and there is a free weekly newspaper, the Queen City News (reflecting the city's nickname). The Helena Brewers minor league baseball team call the city home. The city is served by Helena Regional Airport.


The town was established on October 30, 1864, following the discovery of gold along Last Chance Creek by the "Four Georgians". Helena's main street is named Last Chance Gulch and follows the winding path of the original creek through the historic downtown district.

The town was originally named "Crabtown", after John Crab, one of the "Four Georgians" later it was changed to Pumpkinville then they changed it to Squashtown. As other miners arrived and the town expanded it was decided to change the name. After many suggestions, John Sommerville suggested the name of his home town, Saint Helena, Minnesota, but the pronunciation (Hel-E-na) did not suit the miners, who preferred HELL-en-a. Dropping "Saint" from the name as unnecessary, the new name Helena was adopted (defeating the name "Tomah" by only two votes).

The townsite was first surveyed in 1865 by Captain John Wood. However, most streets follow the chaotic paths of the miners, going around claims and following the winding streambed. As a result, few city blocks match the ideal of 30 x 60, rather they have an irregular variety of shapes and size causing many major streets to end abruptly.

By 1888, about 50 millionaires lived in Helena, more millionaires 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. 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).

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.

In 1889, railroad magnate Charles Arthur Broadwater opened his fabled Hotel Broadwater and Natatorium west of Helena. Damaged in the earthquake of 1935, it was closed in 1941. It was demolished in 1976. Today, the Broadwater Fitness Center stands in it's place, 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 capitol 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 capitol.

The Civic Center and the Saint Helena Cathedral 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, a three block long strip of stores following the original Last Chance Gulch. There is a fountain running the length of the walking mall, simulating Last Chance Creek.

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


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 710.5/km² (1,840.7/mi²). There were 12,133 housing units at an average density of 334.4/km² (866.3/mi²). 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.

Higher education

Carroll College, Roman Catholic Liberal Arts college provides education for 1,500 students. It first opened in 1909.

The University of Montana - Helena College of Technology (formerly Helena Vo-Tech and now known as the James Institute or JI)), a two-year, affiliate campus of The University of Montana, provides transfer and technical education for nearly 1,000 students. It opened in 1939.



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

  • Newspaper: Helena Independent-Record (daily, morning)
  • Television stations:
  • KTVH (NBC, channel 12)
  • KMTF (CW, channel 20)
  • Radio stations-FM
  • KBLL (99.5) (country)
  • KZMT (101.1) (classic rock)
  • KHKR (104.1) (country)
  • KMTX (105.3) (adult contemporary)
  • Radio stations-AM
  • KGR (680) (oldies)
  • KMTX (950) (oldies)
  • KBLL (1240) (talk)
  • KCAP (1340) (talk)


Notable residents (past and present)

  • Governors of Montana
  • William F. Wheeler, U.S. Marshal, Civil War officer, Minnesota territorial Librarian and secretary to two Governors, founder of Montana Historical Society, first in the West
  • Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish rebel, US Civil War Brigadier General, Acting Governor of the new Territory of Montana
  • Gary Cooper, actor
  • Myrna Loy, actress
  • Max Baucus, Senior Senator of Montana
  • Walter A. Coslet, figure in science fiction fandom and Bible collecting
  • L. Ron Hubbard, author and founder of the Church of Scientology
  • Bobby Petrino, current head football coach of the Atlanta Falcons
  • Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists
  • Shubert von Stricklebachar III German philosopher
  • Stephen Ambrose, historian, author of Band of Brothers and Undaunted Courage
  • Country Music legend Charlie Pride.
  • World Archery Record Holder Katie Deyerle
  • Dirk Benedict, actor (A-Team)
  • Casey FitzSimmons, TE, Detroit Lions
  • Lisa Larsen, noted botanist
  • Jake Flaherty, prominent archaeologist
  • Mason Harper
  • Alan "Scooter" Zackheim, reality show contestant on the third season of Beauty and the Geek.
  • Martin Maginnis, U.S. Representative from Montana Territory
  • William H. Clagett, U.S. Representative from Montana Territory

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