East Helena Education - A Brief HistoryThe origins of East Helena can be traced back to the mid 1860’s as pioneers were heading west through the Helena valley. During the 1870’s and early 1880’s, the stagecoach route between Helena and several gold camps in the Big Belt Mountains passed through East Helena. The Prickly Pear House – a way station that served as a changing point for drivers and horses – was built on the northwest corner of the intersection of Montana Avenue and Main Street in East Helena to provide customers with food and lodging. Northern Pacific railroad tracks reached East Helena in 1883. The original station, named Prickly Pear Junction, was built a few years before East Helena was founded and was located near the railroad’s crossing of Prickly Pear Creek. In 1888, a large lead smelter was built on the banks of Prickly Pear Creek in the Helena Valley by the Helena and Livingston Lead Smelting Company. This eventually became ASARCO and East Helena prospered as more and more families moved to the area to find employment at the "Smelter". The Smelter provided a livelihood for thousands of families for over a century and it was a very emotional day for East Helena residents when the stacks came down on Friday, August 14, 2009.East Helena’s first school was a one-room building located on Main Street, where Helfert’s Farm Supply is today. It was built in 1889 to accommodate the children of the numerous families who began to settle in the valley to work at ASARCO.
In 1890, a one-acre site on Main Street was chosen to be the permanent home of East Helena’s school which had been designated Spokane District #9 by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. By 1911, the student population had increased so much that two new wings were added to the original school. The earthquake of 1935 caused severe damage to the school, which at the time was estimated at about $50,000. Education was important, however, and the school was repaired and reopened. The Baby Boom, after WWII was cause for further increasing the size of the school and it was increased in 1952 and again in 1956. 74 years after that first one-room school was built in East Helena, the number of students in the community made it clear that a second school was needed. Clinton Street School was built and opened its doors to students in 1963. Mr. Robert H. Radley started his teaching career with the East Helena Schools as a teacher and coach in 1952. He was appointed District Superintendent in 1954 and continued in this capacity until his sudden and untimely death in 1981. Mr. Radley was thought of as a very special man who lived in the hearts of so many….especially the children in his care. Clinton Street School was renamed Robert H. Radley School in his honor, in 1981 and his memory is still in the hearts of the community.
East Helena Schools was widely respected as an institution providing quality education to its students and the community continued to grow. Radley School was soon in need of more space for classrooms as the student enrollment continued to rise. There were 700 students in the East Helena Schools by 1983…..a substantial increase over the 98 children that passed through the doors of that simple one-room school back in 1890.
The growing trend continued over the years and in 1986, Eastgate Elementary School became the third school in the District. In 1890, when the first permanent school was built on that one acre of ground on Main Street, the cost of the building was $1,025. Eastgate School, in comparison, almost 100 years later, cost taxpayers $1,659,885.
Less than ten years later, the need arose again for another building. Main Street School was aging and education had outgrown the amenities that Main Street School offered. East Valley Middle School was approved with the passage of a levy that would provide $3,550,000 for the construction, and another $1,850,000 for upgrading Eastgate and Radley Schools. East Valley Middle School was built in 1999 and the beloved Main Street School, which held so many memories for former students, teachers, staff and parents would close its doors. The building was donated to the City of East Helena and now houses East Helena City Hall. The old school bell from Main Street School was moved to East Valley Middle School.