Long before it was the capital of Montana, Helen was a nothing but a creek bed. Back in July 14th, 1864, four desperate miners decided that they were going to forget mining in Montana and go home to Georgia. They decided to give it one last chance and tried panning in a nearby creek. They struck it rich and dubbed the little creek Last Chance Gulch.
Today, Last Chance Gulch is dried up, but the town still remembers its lucky golden creek. Where the creek used to be is an expanse of brick road called the Walking Mall. It is called a walking mall because no cars are allowed to drive on the road. This allows visitors to take their time casually taking in the architecture and history.On either side of the walking mall there are sculptures, buildings and shops that all have a connection to those early days in Helena.
Walking Mall Art
One of the first things visitors see as they enter the walking mall is a sculpture of men panning for gold. This sculpture is a tribute to the miners who founded the town.
Nearby is The Women’s Corporative Mural. This mural celebrates the women of Helena, present and past. In 1972, the painting was created by local women in a community education program.
To learn more about Helena art please read: Small Town Helena, Montana Has Big Art.
Windbag Saloon and the Ghost Art Gallery
As visitors walk down the brick road they will soon come to the building that houses the.
The Windbag Saloon has an old west charm that draws visitors in with the sound of laughter and the smell of warm, delicious meals. As you enter, you are sucked into the old-west feel by the rustic tables, exposed rock walls, and old fashioned root beer in bottles.
The Ghost Art Gallery is a fine art gallery that displays southwestern and wildlife art including paintings, sculpture and items that are called “practical” art, which consists of bowls, cups, jewelry. There are more 80 Montana artists that contribute to this gallery.
The building where the Ghost Art Gallery and the Windbag Saloon are located was once used as a 1920’s brothel owned by the infamous Dorothy “Big Dorothy” Baker.
The stairs behind the building are called the most famous stairs in Montana because they lead to Dorothy’s quarters and were well used.
On the second floor of the Ghost Art Gallery, Big Dorothy’s bathroom where she would entertain male callers is still fully intact.
As visitors continue down the Walking Mall, they will come across The Parrot, a family-owned confectionery shop that dates back to the 1920’s. In The Parrot visitors will find handmade chocolates and sundaes in a charming old-fashioned soda shop.
In the back of The Parrot, chocolateers work on each chocolate by hand. They dip the centers of the candy in vats of hot chocolate and expertly add chocolate swirls to the tops of each piece. Each candy has a different type of swirl to indicate the flavor. For example, if the candy has a “V” on it that means that it has vanilla cream in the center.