Last Chance Gulch
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The downtown area of Helena is a virtual outdoor museum. It was here that Helena was born when gold was discovered on July 14, 1864. Prickly Pear Creek meandered down the mountain through a maze of mining claims here. The gulch is now the state’s only downtown outdoor walking mall. Up and down the mall you’ll see a restored streetcar, a bullwhacker statue, bronze statues of miners (by Billings sculptor L. Pomeroy), a newsboy statue, a mural that pays tribute to Montana women, a “frontier log” play area for children, and more.
If you really want to see the history, look up. Many of the oddly shaped buildings match the oddly shaped claims they were built on. Much of the unique and elaborate architecture attests to the wealth and power that originated here.They also attest to the fact that the main occupation of Helena has been commerce rather than mining. The Colwell Building, near the library, is long and narrow—just like a claim. The Power Block at 58 N. Last Chance Gulch was constructed in 1889. Look at the windows on the southeast corner. Notice anything unusual? The Windbag Saloon at 19 S. Last Chance Gulch, was underneath a bordello until 1973. The Atlas Building at 7 N. Last Chance Gulch, is one of Helena’s more interesting buildings. On the cornice upheld by Atlas, lizards and a salamander do battle. The Securities Building at 101 N. Last Chance Gulch was constructed in 1886. The Romanesque building has mysterious thumbprints carved between the first-floor arches. Stop at the Chamber of Commerce for a walking tour map of the area.
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