Walking Tour: Mansion District (West Side)

404 N Benton Ave, Helena, MT, United States


(406) 449-2107

This is the printable version of Helena’s FREE walking tour app which is available for smart phone users. This area is refereed to as the Mansion District in the walking app.

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This information is used with permission from Ellen Baumler.  Her book entitled “Historic Helena Walking Tours” provides a great insight into Helena’s amazing history.  The book can be purchased at the Montana Historical Society, Best Western Great Northern Hotel and Holiday Inn Downtown.

It is important to know what has been to appreciate what has been preserved. This short survey includes a few descriptions of some early landmarks that no longer stand. They and their respective owners are significant to the history of the community and help present a fuller picture of the Helena that once was. Careful owners today have providentially preserved many early homes. Although space here allows discussion of only a few, each home has its own history and its place in the story of the community. A portion of the area is part of the Helena Historic District.
As you wander about the streets whose early residents first settled here, take note of the stunning architecture, but also pay attention to the more modest dwellings, numerous apartment buildings, former boardinghouses, outbuildings, and carriage houses that recall a bygone era. Take time to enjoy, explore the grand mansions to the north, and make your own discoveries.

1. City-County Building, 316 N. Park (1900–1903)
Payne’s Hotel, a wood-frame false-front structure, was a fixture on this corner from 1870 until it was razed to make way for Helena’s first Federal Building in 1900. The hotel had a huge corral across Park Avenue where most of Helena’s horse-trading was done. Helenan Norman Holter fondly recalled that, as a boy, he spent many evenings sitting on the corral fence observing the negotiations. Contrary to common belief, this residential section of Benton Avenue was not an extension of the Benton Road and never saw heavy ox-drawn freight wagon traffic. In fact, Benton Avenue dead-ended just beyond the May Butler House (#7). Teams took up so much room that freighters kept their animals overnight in the flat areas northeast of town and brought them into town to unload via a more northeasterly route. This building was completed in 1903, housing the federal court and offices until 1977. A new facility replaced it and city-county offices moved in.

2. 303 Clarke and 307 Clarke (1906)
Confectioner Frank Hepperdeizel built both of these Queen Anne–style homes as investment rentals. The near-twins share similarities, but look closely. Each has its own distinctive features. Clothier Joseph Gans, Dr. George Barbour (a nephew of territorial governor Samuel Hauser), and widow Catherine Wilson were early tenants. Mrs. Wilson was employed in stocks and bonds, an unusual field for a woman.

3. Apartment Building, 40 N. Benton (c. 1879)
A prime example of a family home converted to multi-family housing during the 1890s, the distinctive Italianate-style architecture is indicative of Helena’s earliest substantial buildings. In 1900, the boardinghouse keeper employed a Chinese cook and a servant who saw to the needs of the seven lodgers. Like many of Helena’s early brick buildings, this one received its stucco after devastating earthquakes caused widespread local damage in 1935.

4. Kellogg Sanitarium, 29 N. Benton (demolished)
Dr. E. S. Kellogg set up practice in 1885 and from 1895 to his death in 1915 was proprietor of a private hospital specializing in abdominal and obstetric diseases and surgeries. The only private hospital in Helena, it boasted the latest “antiseptic and aseptic” surgeries, graduate nurses, and first-class cuisine. The community was divided over Dr. Kellogg’s reputation. Twice he was tried and acquitted of performing “illegal” operations (i.e., abortions) in which the female patient died. Thomas Walsh (#10) defended him in 1900; in 1901, Dr. B. C. Brooke (#6) testified against him. Later converted to apartments, the building stood until after 1953.

5. Ming Mansion, 6 Olive (demolished 1930s)
John Ming is best known for his fine 1880 opera house on Jackson Street where famous actors and entertainers of the 1880s and 1890s played en route to Portland or St. Paul. Remodeled in 1915, it now serves as the Consistory Shrine Temple (LCG #19). Ming’s fine home had twenty-two rooms and all the latest innovations, including gas pipes that delivered furnace heat to every room and plate-glass windows with the newest invention: weighted sashes. Ming died in 1887 and the home passed out of the family after 1900.

6. Benjamin Brooke Residence, 12 S. Benton (c. 1889)
This well-known doctor was a third-generation physician who pioneered medicine in Montana. He arrived in Virginia City from St. Louis in 1863 and came to Helena in 1865, where he set up a successful practice. He was a fine doctor, but even his skills could not save two of his small daughters who died of diphtheria in 1885. Dr. Brooke died in 1891, estranged from his wife, but his son and grandson, both of whom grew up in the family home, carried on family tradition by becoming doctors. Built of locally quarried blue granite, the raised first floor adds impressive height. Queen Anne–style elements include the magnificent tower, wraparound porch, and multi-paned windows. During the early 1880s, before the Brooke house was built, the Helena Skating Amphitheater directly across the street provided entertainment for Helena youth.

7. May Butler House, 128 S. Benton (c. 1879)
One of only several examples of the Carpenter Gothic style in Helena, the steep roof and scrollwork are characteristics of the style. William Butler was an early-day miner who built this lovely little cottage. His daughter May, a beloved Helena teacher, was born in the house and lived here all her life (SC #26). William solved the difficult access to the house by constructing a slide from the hilltop above. The grocer and other deliverymen could pull their wagons up to the alley behind and slide the purchases down where they came to rest at the back door.

8. Maginnis Residence, 221 Adams (c. late 1860s; extensively remodeled)
Martin and Louise Maginnis were very early residents of this neighborhood. Longtime friend Mary Ronan wrote about the Maginnises in the early 1870s. “In their rambling cottage with unexpected steps up or down into equally unexpected rooms,” she wrote, “[the Maginnises ] were as refined and cultured and gracious as anybody one meets today.” Maginnis was a U.S. congressman and senator, a well-known orator, a prominent attorney, and a staunch Irishman largely responsible for the procurement of the statue of Thomas Francis Meagher in front of the Montana State Capitol. The present home has been built around the historic dwelling, incorporating it into the modern structure.

9. Kleinschmidt Mansion, 22 Jefferson (1885; burned in 1988)
Stone retaining walls are the only remnant of the elegant mansion that once covered this block. Contractor AlbertKleinschmidt built the huge home for his wife and family of nine children. The family moved to California in 1907, and the mansion stood empty until 1927 when it became the Helena Florence Crittenton Home, sheltering as many as fifty-five young women and thirty children at any given time until 1974. Facilities included a nursery, maternity hospital, dormitory, and private rooms for wives or widows of servicemen.

10. Thomas J. Walsh Home, 343 Clarke (c. 1900)
Attorney Thomas J. Walsh established a fine reputation handling cases for injured workers. He also defended Harry Anderson, the young arsonist who destroyed the first Montana Club in 1903 (LCG #32), negotiating his sentence to the boys’ correctional facility at Miles City instead of the penitentiary. Elected U.S. senator in 1912, Walsh gained national attention when he exposed the Teapot Dome scandal in 1924. Franklin Roosevelt appointed Walsh attorney general in 1932, but Walsh died on the train en route to Washington, D.C., in 1933. Some, including family members, have speculated that his death was suspicious. The Queen Anne–style home originally had a sweeping veranda that wrapped around the east side; a third-story open porch sat atop the tower. A granite mounting block inscribed with “Walsh” and a hitching post recall that horses were essential in the early 1900s.

11. Stadler and Kaufman Homes, 418 W. Lawrence and 400 Dearborn (1887)
Louis Kaufman and Louis Stadler were close friends and longtime business partners in the OH Ranch near Utica, Montana. Artist Charlie Russell worked at the OH during the disastrous winter of 1886–87. When Kaufman inquired about his livestock, Russell responded in a letter with the famous drawing of a starving cow titled Waiting for a Chinook. Each home expresses a different aspect of the fashionable Queen Anne–style and both have beautifully finished interiors. The Kaufmans and the Stadlers shared the carriage house, which included room for the horses and carriages of each family.

12. Kirkendall Residence, 407 Madison (c. 1890)
Hugh Kirkendall was a freighter, teamster, and general contractor well known to Helena’s pioneer community. It was he who held the lantern for surgeons operating on casualties during the Battle of the Big Hole in 1877 and then conveyed the wounded to Helena and Fort Shaw. He and his wife, Isabella, settled in this wood frame home circa 1890. Kirkendall died quite suddenly while on a picnic with his wife in 1897. At the time, he was engaged in hauling materials for the Canyon Ferry Dam. Isabella was the first board president of the Florence Crittenton Home in 1900. She walked daily to the home on Hauser (now the Cottonwood Apartments) to help the matron with housework and sometimes personally paid maternity fees for destitute “inmates.”

13. Hawthorne School, 416 Madison (1921)
The first Hawthorne School was a two-room building established on this site in 1879. In 1882, separate schools for African-American children were discontinued in Helena and Hawthorne was integrated. A typical classroom included fifty to seventy-five students. In 1887, the school was substantially enlarged, and in 1888, African-American residents received permission to use one of Hawthorne’s rooms for church services. Overcrowding in 1920 prompted the rebuilding of many of Helena’s older schools. Despite public outcry, old Hawthorne was razed and this building replaced it in 1921.

14. William Treacy Home, 454 W. Lawrence (c. 1887)
A graduate of Chicago’s prestigious Rush Medical College, Dr. William Treacy set up practice in Helena in 1886. He pioneered the use of antiseptics and was the first in Helena to perform surgery using sterilized instruments and aseptic techniques. Previously, simple washing was the standard method. He and his wife, Isa, built this home and filled it with art, especially paintings by Ralph DeCamp. Dr. Treacy took care of artist Charlie Russell, and the artist recuperated here in the 1890s when he broke his leg. In gratitude, Russell gave the family The Antelope Hunt, painted in 1897. The painting was donated to the Montana Historical Society in 1974. Dr. Treacy died in 1912, but Isa kept the house until 1935.

15. Callaway Home, 427 W. Lawrence (c. 1879)
W. O. Whipps, teller for the Merchants National Bank, reputedly built the first home on the south side of Lawrence here on this lot. Attorney Odell McConnell bought the home in the mid-1890s and twice extensively remodeled the original modest house, once at the turn of the twentieth century and again in 1916 when the McConnells’ daughter was married. In 1922, Judge Llewellyn L. Callaway purchased the property when he was appointed to the Supreme Court to fill the un-
expired term of Judge Theodore Brantly (#17). He served until 1935.

16. Marie Ericke Home, 302 Harrison (c. 1890)
From 1897, noted musician Madame Marie Ericke made her home and ran a studio here where she gave music lessons to several generations of Helena youth and rehearsed her several orchestras. Madame began her career at age six and was a renowned violinist. She played for many crowned heads of state in Europe before coming to Helena in 1890. No social event was a success without beautiful Madame and her violin. Her first musician-husband, Ernest, died in 1913 and Madame married bachelor Jake Zimmerman, a former boarder of the Erickes. Zimmerman was a fine musician-arranger and first director of the State Capital Band. He died in 1921. Madame outlived yet a third husband and lived next door in her last years. She died alone in 1940, surrounded by mementos.

17. Brantly House, 801 Holter (c. 1890)
Appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1898, prominent Deer Lodge attorney Theodore Brantly moved into this impressive home in 1905. The judge, whose family name is etched in the sidewalk, was a workaholic and spent his spare time researching family history up in his third-floor office. The judge spent little time with his wife and three children and later regretted his obsession with work. He died in 1922, and the home remained in the family until 1963. Since then, it has become well known for supernatural phenomena. Residents have reported the judge’s footsteps trudging up the three floors to his office and other manifestations.

18. Duplexes, 501–515 Harrison (mid-1880s)
These three charming multi-family dwellings, nearly identical, typically housed two families each. Individual tenants like Miss Millie Davie, at #511 in 1890, offered furnished rooms to boarders. Also in 1890, Dr. E. S. Kellogg (#4) resided at #509 and Leslie Sulgrove occupied #507. Sulgrove was a journalist and librarian at the public library. From the mid-1890s, his wife conducted a popular dance academy attended by most Helena youth. Mrs. Sulgrove required every boy to wear one white glove so his partner’s dress wouldn’t get dirty.

19. Stedman Residence, 504 Dearborn (1873)
John Stedman brought his bride, Alice, to this home, one of the first in this neighborhood. Stedman established the first planing mill in Helena in 1870 and the Stedman Foundry in 1878, which he managed until his death. The foundry near Spring Meadow Lake now houses the new Montana Wildlife Center. The home, originally one and one-half stories, was remodeled extensively in 1892 and 1930.

20. First Congregational Church, 448 N. Benton (1880s; 1930)
Helena was once known as the City of Churches for its many houses of worship. The First Congregational Church organized locally in 1883. This building was its second church, constructed between 1884 and 1888. Its bell tower was originally on the northeast corner. The church was enlarged circa 1910 and the tower moved to the center. In 1930, contractor Albert DeKay purchased the church. His son, architect Norman DeKay, converted the church into nine three-room apartments. Norman DeKay’s work includes the current Helena Middle School on Ewing and the former National Guard Armory at Main and Euclid.

21. Christmas Gift Evans House, 404 N. Benton (1877)
Born on Christmas Day, Chris Evans carried that reminder with him in his name every day of his life. John Sanford and Evans were in partnership in the agricultural implement business. They each built homes and then traded. Sanford built this one, a fine example of the French Second Empire style.

22. Thomas Cruse Mansion, 238 N. Benton (mid-1880s; razed 1960s)
Thomas Cruse purchased the beautiful home that once stood on this corner from T. C. Power in 1886. Cruse, a superstitious Irishman, believed it was bad luck to live in a house he built for himself. Despite the purchase, Cruse led a tragic life. His wife died soon after moving in and left him the single parent of a newborn infant. His wayward daughter, Mamie, had a sheltered childhood, grew up rebellious, and died in 1913 amid scandal. Cruse, the major benefactor in the building of St. Helena Cathedral (CS #22), died as it was being finished. His was the first funeral mass said in the new church in 1914. The fence that once encircled his yard now borders the Lewis and Clark Library; it is a strange tribute to a man who reputedly could not read and had no use for education.

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