Guardian of the Gulch – Helena, Montana - Atlas Obscura

Guardian of the Gulch

The old fire tower is one of the last of its kind in the United States. 


This stoic tower stands tall and proud atop a hill overlooking Helena, Montana. The wooden structure is the last of Helena’s fire towers and is one of only five surviving fire towers of its kind in the United States.

Fire was a particularly bad problem in Helena’s early days. Wooden buildings wedged closely together, and a lack of conveniently available water made squelching any infernos a pretty difficult task. Repairing the damage was an endeavor, too, as the city’s remoteness in the pre-railroad days made carting in supplies a time-consuming hassle.

The Guardian of the Gulch was built in the 1870s after a particularly bad blaze destroyed much of downtown. The 25-foot tower was manned constantly by eagle-eyed lookouts scanning the horizon for signs of flames. If any fires were spotted, workers would ring the bell and sound the alarm so firefighting crews could spring into action.

But despite its decades of service, time hasn’t been particularly kind to the landmark tower. Years of cold, rain, snow, and, in an ironic twist of fate, a bit of arson, have rendered the rickety old Guardian of the Gulch unstable. Plans have been made to demolish the abandoned tower and replace it with a historically accurate replica, though a group of locals has rallied to preserve the current structure. 

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