Opportunity drew European Jewish immigrants to the gold camp at Last Chance where business and religion brought them together. The Jewish community contributed a firm financial foundation to the early settlement. It was the Jewish pioneers especially, with ties to resources in larger cities, whose businesses rose again and again in the face of ruinous fires that plagued early Helena. Helena’s Jews worshipped together as early as 1866, yet the congregation remained without a temple for over twenty years. In 1890, the public gathered as Governor J. K. Toole ceremoniously laid the cornerstone for the first Jewish temple between St. Paul and Portland. Helena architects Heinlen and Matthias drew the plans for the Romanesque and Moorish style synagogue under the tutelage of a building committee. Strong Eastern influences include the keyhole windows and star-studded domes that once capped the corner towers. The grand temple reflects the congregation’s generous intent “to ornament the city” that had become home. But the congregation dwindled by the 1930s and the State of Montana acquired the building, promising to use it for social purposes. Religious symbolism removed and a second story added, the former temple became an early model of adaptive reuse. It housed Social and Rehabilitative Services until 1976 and then lay vacant until the Catholic Diocese of Helena purchased the building in 1981. On April 21, 2002, descendants of Jewish pioneers and the Catholic community together celebrated the centennial of this regional landmark. The Hebrew date on the cornerstone, 5651, remains to document its original purpose.



515 North Ewing Street, Helena, Montana ~ Private