State Capital Campus Historic District

Helena MT

Montana Capitals/State Capital Campus Historic District
Montana Historical Society
Written By Montana Historical Society

We share Montana's story through our resources: art, books, artifacts, photos, and even buildings we've helped preserve.

It All Started With Gold

Montana’s governmental landscape is an evolving political and cultural expression with deep roots. The seeds of the capital city were planted with local gold discoveries in 1864. Helena became territorial capital in 1875. Upon statehood in 1889, the county courthouse became Montana’s first capitol. Voters chose Helena as permanent state capital in 1894. Efforts to build a grand capitol building began immediately.

Prized Land

“Capitol Hill” was originally planned on the site of present-day Carroll College, but the owner wanted $10,000 for his land, and the new state lacked funds. East side booster Peter Winne offered to pay the state $4,000 to choose this site, knowing that it would spur expansion.

The state took Winne’s offer. Fields surrounded the neighborhood when officials broke ground in 1899. From 1902 to 1920, smaller revival style buildings, including the 1909 Capitol wings, illustrate minimal expansion. Larger “stripped classical” style buildings underscore Depression-era growth. The Late Modern architectural styles to the east illustrate a new emphasis on campus planning.

Today, the 1902 Montana State Capitol is the centerpiece of the sixty-acre campus, whose grounds and buildings mirror the state’s development. Monuments include granite tablets, living trees, and metal sculptures commemorating groups such as the Montana Veterans and the Montana National Guard. Individual tributes include the 1905 equestrian statue of Irish hero Thomas Francis Meagher and a memorial to Governor Donald G. Nutter, killed in a plane crash in 1962. The campus remains the heart of state government, as well as a testament to Montana’s history and people.

Take a look at what Montana's majestic landscape looks like today from above, which includes an aerial view of the Capitol. It's no wonder the land in this area has always been so prized.

Cover photo credit: RTC via wikimedia

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