North Rodney Street Neighborhood / Courthouse Square

Helena Historic District

As the gold camp at Last Chance Gulch haphazardly spread out around the placer diggings in the mid-1860s, Helena’s original townsite was platted. By 1867, a new county courthouse graced the central square here in Scott’s Addition, but only a few cabins and frame businesses dotted this quiet part of town. Between 1868 and 1874, fires scourged the commercial district along the gulch, stimulating development around Courthouse Square as residents and businessmen sought safer ground. Area businesses in the 1870s included a hotel, gunsmith, meat market, lumberyard, and three livery stables. The Northern Pacific Railroad linked Helena to national markets in 1883, reinforcing prosperous Rodney Street businesses, and substantial brick-fronted buildings began to replace frame and log constructions. The economic “Silver Panic” of 1893 halted early expansion, but by then the area boasted a new courthouse (completed in 1887) and several multifamily apartment buildings, rooming houses, modest homes, and a few grander residences in a variety of popular architectural styles. Helena’s once-vibrant Jewish community, which helped stabilize the town’s fragile economy through ties to eastern financiers, was well represented in the neighborhood. As the district weathered Helena’s “boom and bust” cycles, it also withstood natural disaster. Exterior stucco and replacement siding to repair damaged brick walls, reconstructed chimneys, and removal of fallen ornamentation recall the 1935 earthquakes and residents’ efforts to rebuild their neighborhood.

Images

Map

North Rodney Street, 5th and 6th Avenue, Helena, Montana ~ Private/Public