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East Helena Smelter’s Star of David Windows to be Restored for Fire Hall

Posted March 28, 2020

This story originally appeared in the Helena Independent Record.  Written by Tyler Manning.

With a $6,000 grant from the Montana History Foundation, the city of East Helena and the Montana Preservation Alliance are working to restore and display the historic Star of David windows from the smelter that was once a defining feature of the community. 

The Montana Preservation Alliance’s Chere Juisto said the windows were built near the turn of the century in 1900. In April 1901, the American Smelting and Refining Company smelter and Guggenheim family company agreed upon a merger. The Guggenheims were of Jewish ancestry and had the windows commissioned as part of the smelter building.

The five-foot-diameter wooden frames with clear glass were housed in the smelter until sometime prior to its demolition in 2009. They’ve remained in storage to this day.

East Helena Mayor Jamie Schell said the windows were turned over to a Superfund trust group before eventually being given to the city. Now the city is looking to have them restored and incorporated into a restoration project at the East Helena Volunteer Fire Hall. 

Schell said the windows are a “cool part of history” for the town. Juisto said it represents the industrial roots of the East Helena community. 

The Montana Preservation Alliance has a staff restoration carpenter, Mary Webb, who will be in charge of breathing new life into the windows. Juisto said they need to be scraped of lead-based paint and re-glazed, and any wooden or glass pieces that are broken need to be repaired. The process is expected to take many hours of work and will be completed this summer. 

“They will be installed in the East Helena Volunteer Fireman’s Hall,” Juisto said. “They’ll be sort of the crowning element of that venue.”

The larger project will see the fire hall restored as a “foods and culture hub” project. The project is a partnership between the city, the Montana Preservation Alliance and the Myrna Loy. The project timeline is significantly longer than the smaller window preservation project, and the alliance is currently working on a plan to have the windows on display in a public setting until the restoration of the fire hall is complete. 

This is one of many projects the Montana History Foundation is funding this cycle.

In Lincoln, the Upper Blackfoot Valley Historical Society was granted $10,000 to restore a log home called the “Matt King House.” The 1880s home was purchased in a movement to “save the king” in 2015 as it was disassembled and sold for salvage. The home is considered an artifact of the ranching, mining and timber industries and is an “irreplaceable example of local culture,” accord to the History Foundation. 

It will be one of only three historic buildings visible in downtown Lincoln. 

Other organizations that received funding from the foundation include:

  • Adventures in Preservation: $4,500 to the Bannack Ghost Town Post Flood Preservation, Bannack
  • Dillon Friends of the Library: $6,000 for Dillon Library gutter repair, Dillon
  • Butte America Foundation: $4,000 for oral history transcription for the Verdigris Project, Butte
  • Copper Village Museum and Art Center: $4,200 for archival shelving and collection storage, Anaconda