Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in Helena 1884

One of the coldest holidays on record in Montana was that of 1884 when temperatures dipped to 30 degrees below zero. That Christmas Eve there was a foot of new snow as some fifty children assembled at the Episcopal Church at Grand and Warren in Helena. They stood in awe of the Christmas tree decorated with ripe, golden fruit. With mouths watering, they anticipated distribution of the rare, precious treats. As Benjamin Benson arrived at the church late, he smelled smoke and saw telltale signs curling out the windows. Benson ushered the children to safety in a storefront at the Brown Block. The alarm sounded. Firemen came quickly with their hose carriage and the steamer named “City of Helena.” Firemen took water from a cistern at Fifth and Warren and pumped it through two hundred feet of hose. Although ice soon coated the firemen, the water miraculously did not freeze in the hose. The church was insured, but the Christmas tree with its delectable decorations was a total loss and the children were disappointed.

This map shows the location of the Episcopal Church (center). Library of Congress, American Memory Map Collection.
Christmas dinners at local eateries, however, were not a disappointment. At the Cosmopolitan Hotel, a grand Christmas tree sparkled and bouquets adorned the festive tables. The International Hotel served many who preferred the chef's traditional meal rather than one at home. The Bon Ton restaurant served the most expensive dinner adding quail and woodcock to traditional fare. And at Mrs. Norris' exclusive boarding house, guests enjoyed a Christmas feast finished with luxurious ice cream. But it was a tiny private restaurant that won the highest praise. The Nagle sisters at Porter Flats on Ewing Street—the first large apartment building in Helena with fully equipped kitchens in every unit—served the most impressive meal. The Herald praised everything from the oyster soup, roast turkey, and mashed potatoes to Philadelphia ice cream and Java coffee.  The Nagle sisters, said the reporter, “made us think that our lot was cast in pleasant places when we put our legs under their mahogany table for our Christmas dinner of 1884."

May your Christmas be just as pleasant.

1 comment:

  1. We lived for many years 2 doors away from Porter Flats...such a historic neighborhood.