While on a road trip to Helena Montana to see the capitol building in September of 2019, we decided to do something a little touristy and took a tour via the Last Chance Tour Train. It seemed a little silly to do this at first since we had our car, but it was a great way to learn more about the history of the town and why it became known as Helena in the first place.
According to their website, while on the tour you will get the chance to stroll by the Cathedral of St. Helena, Reader’s Alley, a cute little restored miner’s village, a pioneer cabin built in 1864 (which is one of the remaining structures that represents Helena’s early history), the Old Fire Tower, the Montana State Capitol, the mansion district, the Governor’s homes, and many other beautiful Victorian homes.
We didn’t know much about the city of Helena and that was why we ended up doing this tour. They highly suggest getting tickets and boarding the trail about 30 mins before departure time. We just missed the tour and decided to catch one a little later in the day to check out the Montana Historical Society building. We actually caught the last train and had a great tour guide. I really enjoy it when we get a guide who likes what they do and love to share their excitement with others.
While on the Last Chance Train Tour we learned that Helena was founded on October 30, 1864, by four gold miners who struck it rich after almost giving up on finding gold but they gave it one last chance. They hit it big and named the district Last Chance Gulch. This brought thousands of miners into the area and the four original miners established the town to provide them with food, lodging, and supplies.
This new town was initially named Crabtown after one of the miners. However many people didn’t like the name and came up with a few others. Pumpkinville, and Squashtown names were bounced around and discussed but dismissed. Can you imagine if one of them had stuck? Lol. Anyway, with many of the miners from Minnesota, the small new town soon became called Saint Helena after a town in Minnesota. It was eventually shortened to just Helena and it remains that today. Thought that was a pretty interesting story and a history lesson.
As I stated earlier we were able to see the Pioneer Cabin which is one of the last remaining structures that represents early Helena. It was built in 1864 by a miner named Wilson Butts and he lived there with his brother and his family. If you want to, when you aren’t on the tour, you can go and visit the cabin and see what it looks like inside. It’s apparently furnished like it was when Butts and family lived there. We wanted to go back and check it out, but forgot and never did. 🙁 Maybe if we are in the area again we will do that.
The other thing that was exciting to see was the Cathedral of Saint Helena. This Roman Catholic church was modeled by A.O. Von Herbulis after the Votivkirche in Vienna in Austria and is beautiful. As you can see from my pictures, it has 230-foot twin spires, which were also directly inspired by the Votivkirche in Vienna. What you may not see in the pictures are gold-leafed crosses that stand 12 feet in height and 6 feet in length. Also a note of interest is the cathedral’s North tower which contains fifteen hand-cast bells, which represent the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary.
Sadly we didn’t get to go inside, but apparently the interior has 11,693 square feet of stained glass across 59 windows, which depict various scenes from the Old and New Testament. I love stained glass and would have loved to see the inside. Maybe we can go inside on another trip. One other thing to note, there are also 29 statues of saints and other figures inside the cathedral.
Even though we could have driven around the town and done our own tour, we are so glad we took the Last Chance Train Tour. It was very informational and fun being on a train (check out my post on our Durango-Silverton Train Ride). If you are in the area, I can highly suggest taking this tour and learning about the little city now called Helena. Here is a link to their website with more information. Happy travels and All Aboard.
Last Chance Train Tour Information
225 N. Roberts St. Helena, Montana 59604-6338
May 1 – May 31
School Groups & Group Charter Tours by arrangement
June 1 – June 14
Departure Times: 11:00am, 3:00pm
June 15 – June 30
Departure Times: 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm
July and August
Departure Times: 9:30am, 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm
September 1 – September 15
Departure Times: 11:00am, 3:00pm
Adults and Teenagers: $11.00
Seniors 60+: $10.00
Children ages 4-12: $9.00
Children 3 & under: No charge
Group Charter: $10.00/person, $300 minimum charge
School Group Charter: $5.00/person, $100 minimum charge (School groups may combine, please inquire) May & Sept. only.
Due to various construction projects surrounding the Capitol Complex area, they suggest allowing an extra 15 minutes for your arrival time to the Tour Train. Some street parking is also available. All parking is free! When parking is limited near the Tour Train Depot they provide shuttle service from the lot located at 1315 Lockey Ave. to the Ticket Office. Follow the signs to the lots where you will find space for additional parking. If you see the sign “Tour Train Pick Up” the service will be provided.
LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING?
I would love to send you my free travel itinerary cheat sheets and emails when I post new articles! I usually post 2 times a week. Sign up now, receive your free travel sheets, and don’t miss an article. Thanks, Samantha
This post was created using WordPress. Create your own site for FREE!