Helena, the state capital of Montana and the seat of Lewis and Clark County, began as a mining camp established in 1864, following the discovery of gold in Last Chance Creek. Originally called "Crabtown," after founder John Crab, the miners that poured into the area decided a new name was in order. After a number of suggestions, a miner named John Sommerville suggested naming the settlement after his home town, Saint Helena, Minnesota. After dropping the "Saint" and changing the pronunciation to emphasize the "Hell" in the name, the miners voted and Helena was born.
Helena became the capital of the Montana Territory in 1875. When Montana became a state in 1889, the legendary "Copper Kings" Marcus Daly and William A. Clark argued bitterly over whether or not the capital should be moved to Anaconda. In the end, Clark (and Helena) emerged victorious and, in October of 1898, ground was broken for the new State Capitol Building.
Helena's downtown area lies in a deep gulch and spreads to the surrounding hillsides. The city's main street, Last Chance Gulch, follows the winding path of the original creek. The opulence of Helena's sudden wealth is still apparent in the spectacular mansions, historic Last Chance Gulch businesses, and restored pioneer homes. The Cathedral of St. Helena, a gothic edifice modeled after the Votive Church in Vienna, overlooks the downtown area. The Last Chance Tour Train is a one-hour train ride that departs from the Montana Historical Society Museum and provides an entertaining and informative tour of Helena, including highlights from the city's colorful history. Frontier Town, the rustic pioneer village, offers a breathtaking 75-mile view of the Continental Divide.