Helena found its beginning in the discovery of rich mineral resources, as did many cities in Montana. Helena not only survived its initial boom, but it also prospered. Helena was once the camp of one of history’s richest gold strikes, Last Chance Gulch, which still serves as the city’s main street.
In 1888, an estimated 50 millionaires lived in this town, making it the richest city per capita in the United States. Not only was the area replete with gold, but silver and lead as well. When the gold boom subsided, Helena was equipped to forge a new identity. Strategically located along early travel routes and in the center of Montana’s mining district, it easily became a major trade center. Later, Helena won the right to be Montana’s permanent capital.
No other Montana city’s history approaches the magnitude of Helena’s which remains evident in its monuments and architecture. Helena is graced with the elegance of the State Capitol Building, the towering Cathedral of St. Helena, as well as excellent museums and galleries that preserve the best of Montana’s past and present. An extravagant conglomeration of Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic, Neoclassic and Italianate designs speak loudly of the late 19th Century architecture. The century-old mansions on the west side of town boast an opulent mix of styles including the original Governor’s Mansion, open to the public for tours. Today Helena is a bustling city of culture and tourism yet it owes its sustenance to the government. Much of the state’s business is conducted in the State Capitol and state offices are located in buildings throughout the town.
Helena lacks nothing for those interested in nature. Close by is Mount Helena, and the city is surrounded by national forests offering the best of recreational pleasure. Helena combines a rich brew of history with numerous outdoor activities. Visit ghost towns within a short distance, choose boating and fishing at nearby lakes on the Missouri River, or hike and ski in the Helena National Forest.