People remember the border town of Helena

HELENA — The site that was once Frontier Town is quiet now, its doors closed to the public in 2001. But it wasn’t always that way. The hand-built replica of the city, perched atop the Continental Divide, was once a bustling tourist attraction.

Residents of Helena during the heyday of Frontier Town remember this well.

“(It was) big and exciting,” recalls Marsa Vincent. “It was just awesome!”

“I just remember feeling like I was sitting on top of the world,” Teagan Walker said.

Walker’s grandfather, John Quigley, began building Frontier Town in the late 1940s.

“In the years after World War II, there was a veritable explosion of roadside attractions like this,” said Montana Department of Transportation historian Jon Axline. “I think in Montana, Frontier Town was probably first.”

Wooden signs dotted the highways leading to Helena encouraging people to visit the attraction, and people visited. According to a 1964 brochure, up to 2,000 people could fill the city in one day.

Frontier Town was supposed to give people an “old west” experience.

“I think it’s best described as a throwback to the old west,” Walker said. “That’s where the west lives.”

Walker said Frontier Town was his grandfather’s dream. He designed the entire attraction, and Walker said there were still parts of Frontier Town to be completed when Quigley died.

The hand-built town had a general store, bank, jail, chapel, museum, and restaurant.

“There was a lot of character and love poured into the place,” Walker said. “It’s just a very unique and one-of-a-kind destination.”

Frontier Town was a destination for tourists and locals. Vincent fondly remembers birthday dinners at Frontier Town as a child, and it was a place his family took visitors.

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“When the family was from Wyoming, we would go there and show them too,” Vincent said. “We probably go maybe three, four, even five times a year.”

Axline grew up in Helena and also remembers Frontier Town.

“The meals were really good up there, and during the holidays this place was crowded and hard to get in,” he said. “I think a lot of us miss that.”

Frontier Town changed hands several times before it closed to the public in 2001, but Axline said its decline as an attraction began before the doors closed.

“It reflects a different time in Helena’s history,” Axline said. “It seems to me, in many ways, that it began its decline when Helena was changed by urban renewal.”

Now Frontier Town faces another change: it’s for sale. The property is listed for sale for $1.7 million. Her future is uncertain, but Walker has started an effort to buy the property, you can find more information on the Facebook page she created.

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