Facts about Helena, Montana

One charming legend states that the city of Helena, Montana was named after a miner’s beautiful lover, while another claims that it comes from the Island of St. Helena, where Napoleon was exiled. The truth may be even stranger, though. An early settler named John Summerville simply suggested that the town be named after a Minnesota town, pronounced “he-LEEN-a.” However, a group of Southerners proposed that it be named after the Arkansas town of the same name, but pronounced “HEL-en-a.” The name was accepted, but the pronunciation remained varied up until c. 1882, when the latter pronunciation became dominant.Helena comprises 14 square miles of land, on which one can find meadows, mountains, forests, and reservoirs. Mt. Belmont and the Great Divide ski area is often considered a part of Helena, since its surrounding town of Marysville is practically a ghost town (83 residents remained in 2000, many of whom worked in Helena).As the state’s capital, the government is a primary employer in the city. There is also a local walking mall, which follows the Last Chance Gulch around which Helena was originally formed. A nonprofit ceramic arts institution, the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts, is also located near the city’s downtown area. The Catholic liberal arts college, Carroll College, has been based in Helena since 1909, while the two-year University of MontanaHelena College of Technology opened in 1939.Helena has been home to a variety of celebrities, academic and political figures, including Dirk Benedict, Casey FitzSimmons, Esther Howard, Myrna Loy, and CNET.com executive editor Molly Wood. Indie music fans will recognize the name of Colin Meloy, lead singer/songwriter of the progressive pop group, The Decemberists.The city is also home to a number of art and historical museums. Besides the Archie Bray Foundation, local artists can be seen at the Creation Arts Center, the Helena Clay Arts Guild, and the Montana Arts Council. History buffs will want to check out the Lewis and Clark County Library, the Montana Military Museum, and the many sites managed by the Montana Heritage Commission.