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The On Ramp

The Blue Mountain Internet Customer Newsletter

 Issue # 63 January 2009 
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  • Helena MT


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  • Helena MT
    by Mike Rochelle
    January 2009

    Helena is the capital city of the state of Montana and the county seat of Lewis and Clark County. The population was 25,780 at the 2000 census, and had been estimated to rise to 27,885 by 2006. 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.

    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.

    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). 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.

    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.

    Being the state capital, a large number of Helenans work for the state government. When in Helena, most people visit the local walking mall (built in the early 1980s after Urban Renewal and the Model Cities Program in the early 1970s had virtually gutted the downtown district, leaving little more than unpaved parking lots and unfinished projects behind for over a decade), a three block long strip of stores following the original Last Chance Gulch. There is a stream in a concrete bed running the length of the walking mall, simulating Last Chance Creek.

    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, Montana.
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