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.
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.
Climbing the stairs to the second floor
Your attention is drawn to the overhead skylights, painting Driving the Golden Spike and stain glass windows.
On either side of the stain glass windows are two statues.
Turning and facing the Rotunda
Also located on the second floor are the
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 …
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.
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.
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).
Whimsical Governor’s Upstairs Private Office
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,
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.
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.
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.