Reeder's Alley

HistoryHTMLPro

1890 Arial Photo of Reeder's Alley with Annotations - Courtesy of HelenaHistory.org

History


Reeder's Alley was built in the 1870s by a Pennsylvania brick and stone mason named Louis Reeder. The first miners staked their claims along Last Chance Gulch in 1864. Reeder was among the other newcomers who came to Helena for opportunities beyond prospecting. Louie arrived in town in 1867 and immediately signed on to help build Helena's first brick courthouse. The maturing gold camp offered plenty of other building projects and by 1872, Reeder began investing in property and development. He soon owned a number of lots on West Cutler Street where he constructed a series of small tenements and bunkhouses that catered especially to single miners. By 1884, the collection of brick and stone buildings we see nestled along the steep slope of Reeder's Alley was in place. At the South end of Clore Street (now Park Avenue) and along West Main, the early residents literally prospected out their front doors right at the foot of Reeder's Alley.

Reeder crafted his buildings in both stone and masonry and their design, especially the brick tenements, reflect urban housing trends he brought from home and translated here into a simple vernacular form. A log cabin, likely standing on their property when Reeder acquired it, was incorporated into the complex. Although the buildings look much the same today, historically the landscape was stripped of vegetation

The Stonehouse Restaurant at the top of the hill was originally three separate buildings. The largest of these was once partitioned into four small apartments; the individual entrances are still readily visible. Another building, now the private dining room at the Southwest end, was once a two-story dwelling. The kitchen was two small detached apartments. Other buildings that no longer stand served as bunkhouses, stables and more dwellings.

Below these hilltop structures along the slope are Reeder's distinctive red brick tenements. The bricks of these have been the subject of a persistent legend linking the alley to artist Charlie Russell. Russell's family owned the Parker-Russell Mining and Manufacturing Company in St. Louis, Missouri, one of the nation's leading makers of fire brick. Some of the bricks of Reeder's Alley are rumored to have come by ox team from the Parker-Russell Company. However, Reeder's Alley contains no fire brick, and by the 1870s when Reeder began his housing project, locally-produced brick was readily available. If any Parker-Russell bricks indeed made their way to Helena, they would more likely have been used for industrial purposes such as lining the massive lime kilns (constructed between the late 1860s and the 1890s) at the end of West Main Street.

Louis Reeder's fame is associated with building these buildings as well as many others in the Helena area. His story is the story of many immigrants who traveled to this land in search of a new beginning. The property can be said to be associated with the 'worker bee's that built this country and led their lives in social interactions we enjoying knowing about.

 

Follow Us!

Search Our Site