HELENA — The site that used to be Frontier Town is quiet now, its gates closed to the public in 2001 - but it wasn’t always this way. The hand-built replica town, perched atop the Continental Divide west of Helena, used to be a bustling tourist attraction.
Helena residents around during Frontier Town’s heyday remember it well.
“(It was) big and exciting,” Marsa Vincent recalled. “It was just awesome!”
“I do remember just feeling like you’re sitting on top of the world,” Teagan Walker said.
Walker’s grandfather John Quigley started building Frontier Town in the late 1940s.
“In the years after World War II, there was a real explosion of roadside attractions like that,” Montana Department of Transportation historian Jon Axline said. “I think in Montana, probably Frontier Town was the premiere one.”
Wooden signs dotted highways leading to Helena, encouraging people to visit the attraction, and people did visit. According to a brochure from 1964, as many as 2,000 people could pack the town in a day.
Frontier Town was meant to give people an “old-west” experience.
“I think it’s best described as walking back into the old west,” Walker said. “It’s where the west lives on.”
Walker said Frontier Town was her grandfather’s dream. He designed the entire attraction, and Walker said there were still parts of Frontier Town left to complete 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 alike. Vincent fondly remembers birthday dinners at Frontier Town as a child, and it was a place her family would take visitors.
“When family came from Wyoming, we;’d go up there and show them too,” Vincent said. “We probably went 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 on holidays, that place was packed and it was 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 started before the gates shut.
“It reflects a different era in Helena history,” Axline said. “It seems to me, in a lot of ways, it started its decline when Helena was changed by an urban renewal.”
Now, Frontier Town faces another change—it’s up for sale. The property is listed for sale for $1.7 million. Its future is uncertain, but Walker has started an effort to purchase the property, you can find more information on the Facebook page she set up.
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