North Hill



West Mum House

Katy Ryan
The Bridgeworks would like to welcome the 7 new  growing neighbors at the State Nursery Farms Including Brue Mountain, Lady Bug Farms, JR Hops and State
Nursery Peerless Seeds Inc.
We are all looking foreword to fruitful harvests in 2010.
Some  History
The Nelson family has operated the Helena Glass for three generations since 1963.  In 2006 we closed our doors to the public on Rodney Street
after the passing of our founder James Nelson Jr.  We decided to do something different and made the move toward of all things, preservation.  Our
family, particularly James had collected local history and done his best to preserve it on a small scale for those three generations.  James, "Pops" as
we called him was very active during Urban Renewal, what he referred to as Urban Disposal and salvaged architectural elements from as many
buildings as he could before they were doomed to the landfills. What started out as just a salvage business evolved into preservation of sorts when
Pops began labeling items pulled from buildings and stored them instead of selling them. This went on for over thirty years and in the winter of 2004,
on the west end of town a  Auction was taking place. The 108 acres of the former State Nursery complex was being offered to the highest bidder.  
The common idea was that whoever bought it would just subdivide the northern portion into thirty or so large stream bordering lots, utilizing the
various water resources and existing infrastructure to add to the huge developments taking place
in Helena. The thought of just another subdivision
blotting out the west side and chewing up open land didn't sit well with the family.
After the purchase began the work.  We have taken over 80 tons of
scrap steel and iron pipe to the recycler,  everything from 400 Lb motors rusting in the creek to diaper bags in makeshift landfills have been removed,
sorted and disposed of. We have burnt over 2000 tons of debris, cleaned 75% of the stream including large mounds in the flood plane that held
rusting pipes, pallets, dead trees, junk cars and two of six, nine ton boilers.  It is important to let people know that we gladly spend additional hours
every day sorting metals, plastics, paints and various rubber components from the burn piles as we have no interest in damaging the land or our
environment.  We have worked with government agencies on inspections and receive their assistance whenever possible to help in the correct
cleaning procedures. Our immediate goals after primary cleaning is to have the main highway greenhouse and retail buildings operational and rented
again, as of this year that goal is met.  Our long term plan around the lower flood plane is to turn it into a walking park.  Nursery Park will have 1 mile
of walking trails winding through the property, available year around to the public for enjoyment of the Ten Mile watershed.  The Craig Bridge is an
integral part of the pedestrian use expansion of the flood plane. The Bridgeworks has been working hard over the last few years to see the bridge
returned to its natural state, proudly gracing the skyline. The process of bringing the land back to life after all this time is a daily, uphill run but we have
found peace in reclamation and restoration.  It feels good to do something that you know is making a difference, even though most everyone says
your crazy for doing it.  Its very calming to walk the land, watch the wildlife and see history under every footstep.  
~Some of the items of interest found at the State Nursery in 2007~
Above are copies of tinted glass plate negatives from the turn of the century  found in 2006. Below is a digitally repaired letterhead that was thought
beyond saving but with several  hours of work and TLC we were able to recover the fragile piece back to like new condition, it was found in the dining
room wall of the small cottage that was built for T.E. Mills Father, James in 1905. The 16,000 square feet of glass denotes 1896 from company
records as a possible date this was made, only to be used ten years later, along with news paper and cotton bolts as insulation in a wall cavity. A
century after that it was re-discovered it is among  the oldest advertisement recovered at the nursery.  I love the three digit phone number, "let ring
three times" mind you.
Next, This piece is block advertisement used in cold type lead printing. The etching, circa 1910 is 1/4 " lead tacked to 1/2"
walnut and measures 4" by 3". This was found in one of the old oak office desks, image is inverted to read left to right.
It took some time to
photograph this old door knob to show you what I see in it, You have to think of that time period and how grand the nursery once was, details that slip
by the average person today were essential to craftsmen of the late century. I assume it must have been a favorite piece of the Mills a long time ago
yet,  it was found discarded in a box of brass plumbing fixtures. It is marked R & E MFG. Co.  That company, Russell and Erwin was famous for their
ornate and deeply sculptured hardware. The Flower, so perfect for a nursery was made in the 1890's through to the early 1900's.  It is solid brass,
four inches around and weighs about three pounds.  This size is unusual and was used expressly for the main entry of homes or businesses, I wonder
if this was the piece you used to enter the main doors of the old six acre nursery?  It would be nice to find out.
Below is a collection of paper found in
several old offices in the abandoned buildings. They have been cleaned and restored locally for long term preservation, the first on the left is a gum
backed sticker about 4x6 that was placed on the side of boxes and crates, Middle is an advert for the State Fair
of 1911, the Nursery had allot to
show off that year and on the right is a piece from circa 1890, it is an advert for the State Nursery on their gardening tools, located in the back of an
oak display box. Note the two steel loops, they once held implements for sale.
When we first moved to the property, it took a year to repair water, gas and electric service and solve the rampant rodent problem. We then had the
chance to see some of the great historical artifacts that were hiding under the rubble for all these years.  In back of an old desk standing in eight
inches of mud was a bound collection of thirty beautifully preserved catalogs pressed between two pieces of cedar. The catalogs range from 1896 to
1920 and gave us new insight on the scale of what was being done a century ago.
Photos below show the varied state and conditions of the buildings in the flood plane today.  Rubbish and debris litter the ground every few feet.  The
nursery has been carefully cleared of the serous contaminants like used oil drums, engine blocks and batteries.  Hundreds of rubber tires and varied
plastics still have to be sorted and recycled here. Photos below show what is a day to day clean up project. Our goal is to help return the property into
some sort of order even if everything can't be totally rehabilitated at this moment, most if not all the buildings can be stabilized for future projects.
The nursery in spring is something to see. Peaceful, green and quiet, you can easily get lost in dreams of the past. And lots of weeds to pull!
A great group photo found in an old office, ten such photos found in collections of boxed paperwork scattered throughout buildings on the property.
More of these group photos and more of the State Nursery Co can be seen at We are trying to identify the people in these
photos and would love any help that you could lend, just drop us a line at
James  Mills had come from England originally and had settled on the East Coast with his family. James and his father William Mills were highly
regarded in the Victorian era having both studied, instructed and judged in the competitive horticultural arena for years.  The flower business a
century ago was a very serous and exotic business, it was this business that at some point in the late 1880s brought William and James Mills
together with Charles Broadwater. Charles A. Broadwater worked and traveled extensively. He was a supplier, banker, developer, behind the scene
politician on the frontier. It is not unreasonable that it was more than likely a supply and demand that brought the three together. It was known that
Broadwaters large thermal rich land holdings in the Ten Mile corridor were a controlling base to try and prevent a subversion of his rail line, supplying
mines west of Helena . By 1887 Broadwater had bought up every rock, stick and gully at the base of the two mountains on the west end of Helena
ensuring his controll.  Reportidley the  Mills started working the land of the massive resort in 1888,  Mills knowledge of landscaping aided in the early
development of the resort. The original name of the nursery located just west of the Hotel was called
Hotel Park Nursery.  In 1893 the City Polk Directory lists T.E. Mills as being Proprietor of Hotel Park Nursery with its retail shops in the first floor of
the Diamond Block at the head of 6th Ave. Charles Broadwater, Catherine Goodell and George Child had agreed to subdivided all the land west of
the hotel by 1890, months after the hotel opened and was already extensively  landscaped.  Broadwater maintained control of the Wassweiler saloon
at the west end of the Hotel Park Estate,  though closed the baths.  He also kept the rail line and thermal spring pipe line that ran through the
subdivision, Easement was also given to accommodate the needs of Nick Kessler, Jacob Leiser and the Helena Motor Railway north of the
Subdivision. After Broadwaters death, the family estate sold off  many of Broadwaters holdings to pay for debts incurred while empire building.
Thomas Marlow, Broadwaters nephew maintained many critical links to keep the Hotel working into the next century.
According to County records, The
State Nursery and Seed Company was registered in November 1895, five years after subdivision.
In 1890 the
Hotel Park Nursery  had 600 square feet of glass. And at the time of Broadwaters death in 1892 a total of 1,900 square feet was being
used heavily by the Hotel and in Mills modest shop on the main floor of the Diamond Block at the head of 6th Ave. This 1,900 square feet would not
last, as the Mills family was able to take control of the land west of the hotel and in the building season of 1895 under a new name, new ownership
and a new vision, the nursery massed to 10,000 square feet almost overnight.  By the turn of the century there were no signs of stopping.  In 1902,
38,000 square feet of glass covered the flood plane, that would soon be dwarfed by the height of production in 1910 at a staggering 155,000 square
feet of glass glistening in the Montana sun. After Broadwaters death, the Mills worked to enhance and expand their property holdings. The family
eventually controlled over 300 acres of land in the Ten Mile Corridor, using much of this land in the expansion and perfection of their craft.  Below is a
pamphlet  distributed in the 1900 catalog, it details the progress to the new century, and hopes for the future. A digital overlay of the lower six acre
growing operation in its hay day.
The Mills were a powerful, well connected family in Helena in the early half of the 20th century, commanding top quality and high production rates from
themselves. By 1910 The State Nursery Company was growing in the national market, having engineered top grade seeds sold throughout the world
as trademarked "PEERLESS." When the quake struck in October of 35, reliable, cheap heating vanished.  The thermal springs that supplied not only
the Broadwater resort but aided in the heating of the six acre complex at the nursery shifted west when the massive heat vent collapsed.  The nursery
was on its own to invent, struggle and supplement the heat loss for such a huge complex year round.
James Mills sons took control in various stages during the early years but Thomas E. Mills was instrumental in the vision, growth and overall success
of the Nursery.  T.E. Had returned to England in 1887 to study at his grandfathers horticulturist institute and came back to Montana with a wealth of
fresh ideas and a beautiful new bride Jessie. He took the reigns and moved the business into the next century, cultivating exciting and hardy plants
nurtured in the rough Montana climate to survive anywhere. T.E. built three separate homes for his growing family at the nursery, including a small
cottage for his father to retire in that overlooked the whole production. Above is the original power team that financed and ran the nursery. From a
1915 Silver Jubilee report to its clients.

This year we celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of our starting business in Helena and think the time opportune to say a few words regarding
growth of the business and of the men who control it.  In 1890 T.E. Mills, the projector of the business, accompanied by his father, came to Helena
intending to start a florist and nursery business and after viewing various sites, selected the present location as the most suitable for this purpose.
Here he built a few small green houses and laid the foundations for the present extensive and rapidly growing business. In 1895, Mr. Mills was joined
by his brother W.E. Mills, and they incorporated as the State Nursery Co.  In 1902 Mr. Conrad Kohrs became interested in the business and Walter
Card as practical Seedman also joined the company.  These were the members of the Company until 1912, when Jack Jackson, who was employed
by the company from his boyhood, became a member of the firm.  The above named include all that are financially interested in the company.  T.E.
Mills is the President and general manager of the business and gives his personal attention to its various departments.  W.E. Mills is vice-president.  
Mr. Kohrs, though financially connected with the company, takes no active part in its management except that his advice on financial matters is
always sought and highly valued by the other members. Walter Card is at the head of the seed department and John Jackson is in charge of the
shipping department at the greenhouse and nursery.  We take this opportunity to thank our customers for their generous patronage and to assure
them that the fair treatment and close attention to their order, which merited their dealings with us in the past will be strictly followed in the future."

Their are some discrepancies in the dates, research and photo documentation has the Mills in Helena planing the grounds of the Hotel Broadwater
grand opening before 1889,  no "nursery" Mills show up in the City Directories until 1892. Given it must have taken a year to get established and
advertise, it still places the Mills in Helena in around 1890, as is stated in the Jubilee catalog. The question is where were the Mills before 1890? In
August 1889 a plan proposed and submitted by  Goodell and Child to subdivide the entire 230 acre basin complex called Hotel Park had begun.  
This plan below was submitted within days of Hotel Broadwaters grand opening.  Massive subdivisions are nothing new,  over a century ago a
proposed 300 lot subdivision North of the Hotel called the Seymer Subdivision failed soon after the silver crash of 94 with only one major home built
before it foreclosed and was sold off as farm land. This planed 250 lot addition also failed. Only two small roads and the Hotel Property remain from
the survey in 1889, roads like Hot Springs Ave, Bradford Place and Red Mountain Rail have long disappeared.  Most of these lots were bought up in
the following years by the Mills for the expansion of the nursery. The bulk of this proposed subdivision sits deep within the flood plane, as the Mills
soon found out placing buildings within the flood zone would prove disastrous. Only the Hotel Broadwater was built with the possibility of a major flood
in mind. Two foot thick, five foot tall block granite foundations prevented floodwaters from ever touching the grand Hotel. Six months after the
subdivision was approved by the county another doomed 60 home sites were submitted for approval by Child and Broadwater just east of the Hotel
grounds in Lot Number 22, almost the same size as the Broadwater Grounds themselves, According to the survey
Helena Motor Rail serviced right up to lot 23 and would have provided "excellent and reliable transport" for purchasers of lots in the Hotel Park
additions.  The Rail was one of the first projects to get underway before the failure of the subdivision, the trolley passed right along side the Red
Mountain rail line, behind the Hotel and up another 1/2 mile to a turn around. Two short roads still exist that were plated in 1889, Floyd and Emily
Place, Floyd is now overgrown with a massive row of trees running North to South planted that same year  by the Mills as a long term wind break for
the hotel.  Emily Place, at 400 feet services the homes later built by T.E. and other members of his family.  
A Collection of Before and After photos.  The Images on the left are from between 1890 and 1910. The Images to the right of them were taken in
Below, left  is an image found in the old main office, Still trying to figure the date of the machine, though it has William Mills name on it, it is probably
form 1905. The next photo on the left is form the Historical Society showing an upgrade to delivery.
By 1935 over two hundred deliveries a week in Helena alone  went out the doors.
Used throughout the beginning of the century by the State Nursery, the photo on the bottom denotes "The result of State Nursery Peerless Seeds"  
This leads me to assume it is a shot from Helena. Do you recognise the house in the back or is that your grandma......Drop us a line and help solve
the mystery.