Big Sky Country Day 1
The day after we arrived in Montana my in-laws had a low-key day in mind. The Husband and I truly appreciated it after being in the car for 18 hours within 2 days. We toured Helena via foot, car and railroad tour trolley. Our first stop was to the State Capitol where we participated in a guided tour of the building.When Montana was making the transition from territory to state, the people were given a vote as to where they would like the Capitol to be located. The elected Governor allowed 14 towns to submit their city to be voted as the capitol of Montana. The governor narrowed the list down to 7, the people voted and 2 cities (Anaconda and Helena) tied to become the capitol. The vote was pushed back another 2 years where there is some fishy evidence to say that the vote was rigged, but Helena was saved the plight of becoming a ghost town and “won” the vote.
The construction of the capitol building began in 1896 and was declared one of the most technologically advanced capitols in the nation for the time when it was complete in 1902. Montana’s capitol was built with electricity: light fixtures and heat. Something I found interesting about the capitol: the original marble staircase is still in pristine condition. Many times, marble will wear down, showing a bow in the construction from over use. Our tour guide explained this away by stating that many capitols that have marble staircases show the bowing of marble because of activity on the stairs. For example: take New York or New Jersey, the state capitol buildings receive over a million visitors per year; Montana does not yet even have a million residents.
Although we took a guided tour of the capitol (I like hearing history through older people’s lips), Montana is very laid back. The option to take a self-guided tour was available. I’m currently sitting here kicking myself for not picking up one of the pamphlets for a self-guided tour because I’m having a hard time remembered the facts.
The 1960’s era ushered in new design and most horrific of all: efficient use of space. The Capitol’s beautiful interior was chopped up to create more offices, smaller spaces and the dreaded fluorescent lighting was ushered in. The people of Montana, or perhaps the governor himself at the time, wanted the capitol building to be modern. Soon, the stained glass sky light that covers the marble stairway was removed and stored elsewhere, a plain ceiling was built and the area was used to create another floor of offices.
The capitol remained in this fluorescent condition until the mid 1990s when the state took on the restoration of the building. The original colors were again gracing the walls of the dome, the 4th floor offices were removed and the skylight was brought back in piece by piece. Today the capitol building is magnificent. The interior makes me feel like I’m living in an era far removed from anything I’ve ever known… perhaps an era I would have loved to have been a part of.
After leaving the capitol building we hopped on a railroad tour trolley and took an hour long ride around Helena. I learned the history of this beautiful town during the tour. The Four Georgians were (obviously) 4 men from Georgia who had come to Montana to mine for gold. On their last night, they stumbled into the territory now known as Helena and decided they would take one last chance at mining, only to strike it big. The gulch where the gold was discovered is appropriately named: Last Chance Gulch (where my in-laws live). Today, Last Chance Gulch is a walking park filled with cute stores and a lively downtown scene.
Lastly, we visited the original governor’s mansion. The house was originally constructed by Entrepreneur William Chessman as a private residence for he and his family in 1888. The house is 3 stories tall, built in the Queen Anne architectural style. We took a guided tour of the mansion as well, but we happened to be on the tour with about 50 other people so I missed the majority of what our guide was saying. I do know that the original mansion housed nine governors of Montana until 1959 when a new, unpretentious home was built. Of course, the mansion also went under modernization over the years as well. The mansion is restored at this time, but the furniture, etc. is not original to the home.
Have I talked enough about Helena, Montana? I’m sure you can google Helena and get much better information about the town than I can provide. The next day we visited Yellowstone National Park… so at least the next time I share with you it will be more pictures… less words. For now, I’m off to visit some caves or something. Have a great weekend!