August 6, 2013 – Helena, Montana

Our first stop was a tour of Montana’s State Capitol Building, another surprisingly beautiful structure; inside and out.  After Montana’s statehood in 1889, it won an ugly battle with Anaconda to become the new state’s capitol … likely as a result of ballot box stuffing as later evidence would suggest.  In 195, the legislature authorized $1 million for the construction of a Capitol building. 

However, it was subsequently discovered that the Capitol Commissioners planned to defraud the state of substantial portions of the building costs.  A new authorization in 1897 for a more modest structure led to the laying of the cornerstone on Independence Day, 1898.  The Capitol building was completed for approximately $540,000 (including they uncommon indoor plumbing and electricity) and was dedicated four years later on July 4th, 1902.  Between 1910 and 1912, the current legislative wings were added … an observant person can distinguish between the limestone of the original (central) structure and the granite additions.

The flowers in the garden spell our “Montana 2013”

A statue of Lady Montana graces the top of the copper dome.

Entering the main Rotunda you can’t help but being impressed.

Where artwork was concerned, it was mandated that it must reflect the history of the State.

Dome Painting – Last Indian Chief Not to Live on a Reservation

Dome Painting – Trapper

Dome Painting – Cowboy

Dome Painting – Prospector

Hallway Leading to the Governor’s Office

Climbing the stairs to the second floor

Your attention is drawn to the overhead skylights, painting Driving the Golden Spike and stain glass windows.

President Grant Driving the Final “Golden Spike”

On either side of the stain glass windows are two statues.

Jeanette Rankin (to the right) – the first woman elected to Congress in 1917 and one of 55 Representatives to vote No on the US entry into World War I … and again in 1941 and the only member of the House to vote against the US going to war in the wake of Pearl Harbor, stating that since she could not fight she could not in good conscience vote to send men to any war.

Wilbur Fisk Sanders (to the left)- a lawyer, Mason and Civil War veteran. Back in Montana as a prosecuting attorney was the organizer of the “Vigilantes”. Inscribed on the base of his statue is, “Men, Do Your Duty”, the words used to order the hanging of road agent George Ives, prosecuted by Sanders and convicted of murder. He helped found the Historical Society of Montana in 1865 and became one of Montana’s first United States Senators.

Turning and facing the Rotunda

two additional statues are visible.

Michael and Maureen Mansfield. He was a politician and diplomat, a member of the Democratic Party, served as a U.S. Representative and a U.S. Senator from Montana. He was the longest-serving Senate Majority Leader, serving from 1961 to 1977. His wife was his English teacher when he arrived in Montana without any formal education to work in the mines.

Also located on the second floor are the

Original Supreme Court Chamber (now relocated to another nearby building)

One of several painting in the Court’s Chamber

Senate Chamber

The only original chandelier hangs in the Senate’s Chamber

House Chamber

The desks and chairs of House members are originals

Charles Russell’s painting, “Lewis and Clark Meeting Indians at Ross’ Hole” which hangs behind the Speaker’s desk in the House Chamber. This size painting (measuring 25’ wide x 12’ high) the September 4, 1805, meeting of the Corps of Discovery and a contingent of Salish (or Flathead) people. Despite the painting’s title, Lewis and Clark are a sideshow next to the wild beauty of the Indians, the mountains, and the prairie around them. They stand in the background to the right, with Sacagawea, watching their interpreter, Toby, use sign language to communicate with the Salish chief as a large skull-like cloud floats overhead. It was Russell’s not-so-subtle way of reminding the powers that be in Montana that their land had once belonged to somebody else.

Centennial Bell (1889 – 1989)

Many other extraordinary paintings grace the chambers and hallways of this magnificent building

Next, we took a tour of the heart of Helena on the Last Chance Tour Train

where we were able to get a sense of the high points around Helena to help us decide what we’d like to visit and see later in the day. Our “Engineer” was a great narrator.

As a sign of our times, we watched one young girl …

Texting nearly non-stop

After eating our lunch on a bench near the Capitol, we left for the Original Governor’s Mansion … driving by the current Governor’s Mansion on the way.

Built in 1959 and located in a modest residential neighborhood and with no outward signs of fencing or other extraordinary security … although we were told that state police personnel are present 24/7/265

The Original Mansion

is an historic house museum located at 304 North Ewing Street near downtown Helena. Entrepreneur William Chessman built the Mansion as a private residence in 1888.  The three-story Queen Anne-style structure was acquired by the State of Montana in 1913 to serve as its first official governor’s residence.   The home then housed a succession of nine First Families until a new governor’s residence was built in 1959.  

After years of use as an office building and later abandonment when it was left open to vagrants, children and the elements, the Original Governor’s Mansion Restoration Society began to refurbish the building in 1969 with the support of the City of Helena, and has continued to provide essential community support.  Since 1981 the Montana Historical Society has administered the Mansion, and today, the building is carefully restored to its authentic appearance during the mansion’s first years as home to Montana’s governors.

The entrance hallway is done in hand-carved light yellow oak in a combination of styles.

The column capitols depicting ancient Greek influences, the lattice work reflecting Persian architecture


The sunburst distinctly Japanese

Each square design of the parquet flooring in made up or seven separate pieces of wood.

Each of the fireplaces has a unique look and different tile work … and most were ornamental

as the house was built with a central steam and radiator heating system; with each radiator being different.

Despite the uses and misuses of the home, the wall paper in one room miraculously remained in near perfect shape

while in another room, replacement wallpaper woven in precisely the same pattern and colors as the original had to be ordered from Italy and cost over $40,000 … and the crown molding required a skilled painter to reproduce its decorative colors and original design.

 Insofar as possible, the rooms have been returned to the original look and period pieces have been obtained where the originals have been sold, lost or even stolen (as was the cast of one two twin copper-frame beds).

Spiral stairway to the second floor


Governor’s Official Office

Complete with a “Horn” Chair

Doll which had belonged to a former Governor’s daughter

Original crank telephone

Whimsical Governor’s Upstairs Private Office

Hand-painted Window in the Dining Room

Soft pig-skin leather ceiling panels in the Dining Room

One of two original copper-frame beds … the other stolen in broad daylight during refurbishing

Whimsical tapestry … A young Boy walking his Dog Noticed by a young Girl …the Boy takes notice of the Girl with his Dog receiving little attention … Boy and Girl together and Dog nowhere in sight

Less than ½ mile down the street we arrived at the Cathedral of Saint Helena.

Modeled after the famous Votive Church of the Sacred Heart in Vienna, Austria, the Cathedral of St. Helena was originally constructed during the turn of the century.   It is a perfect example of classic Geometric Neo-Gothic architecture.

Its distinctive trademark double spires rise 230 feet above the level of the street and can clearly be seen throughout the local community,

Crosses on top of each steeple are 12’ tall and 6’ wide

Legend has it that a dare devil pilot once successfully flew his plane between the crosses with only 3” to spare on each side.  It’s likely the vent occurred with the clearance distances a bit exaggerated.

Construction of the Cathedral in 1908, with the cornerstone laid on October 4th that year.  On November 8, 1914 the Catholic community of Helena gathered to celebrate the Eucharist for the first time in the new church.

The first funeral held in the Cathedral was that of Mr. Thomas Cruse, loyal friend and major Cathedral benefactor on December 26, 1914.  The Cathedral was not completed for another 10 years. In June of 1924 the Cathedral was consecrated.

In the fall of 1935 a series of earthquakes struck the State of Montana. The Cathedral of St. Helena was not spared damage. The South tower was almost completely destroyed. The tower was reconstructed and reinforced to prevent future calamity. The reconstruction was completed by 1938.

The Cathedral of St. Helena is known as much for its opulent and impeccably artistic interior as it is for its impressive exterior. Visitors are instantly struck by its high, domed ceiling; hand-carved oak pews and woodwork; tall, stately pillars, and striking light fixtures crafted of hand-forged bronze work.  The interior of the cathedral is further beautified by the presence of many statues hand-carved from pure Carrera marble and authentic gold leaf detailing throughout.

Nave from the rear of the church


Looking back toward entrance with rosette window above


Full Immersion Baptism Font

Consecrated Baptism Oil

One of the most famous features of the cathedral is its collection of beautifully crafted and intricate stained glass windows. They total 59 in number and were carefully created in Bavaria.  Thirty-seven of the most popular and renowned chronicle the story of the church beginning with the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and continuing on through to various events of the early 1900’s.

While the 15 bells were officially dedicated to the 15 mysteries of the Rosary they were also dedicated to Thomas Cruse’s only child, Mary … and each one is inscribed with a loving tribute to Mary.

We then stopped by

to claim our free ice cream or cookie, a gift from the Last Chance Trolley folks.

From there, we wandered around the old part of the city to look at some of the many sculptures, building murals and architecturally interesting buildings.

Dedicated to Newsboys who sold papers for years in the city

Bull Whip Wacker

Dog painted with scenes of Helena

Placer Miners

Pioneer Cabin (circa 1864) – Oldest documented building still standing in Helena

T. C. Power’s American National Bank Building (Note the number of arched doors and windows on the corner of the building … increasing by one each floor)

Clearly, the most colorful building in Helena



Retail building with three-dimensional mural of a hiker walking through a birch forest

Top of the Atlas Building

City Civic Center (formerly An Algerian Shrine Temple)

Mural honoring the previously unacknowledged contribution of the women of Montana  –  The woman to the right was quite a lady … and became the first of her gender to be inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame

 Anecdotally, we were impressed by the number of people we met who truly love living in Helena … despite the winters when temperatures can plummet to -40o.

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1 Response to August 6, 2013 – Helena, Montana

  1. I have been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this website. Thanks , I will try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your web site?

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