Clio Logo
The Benton Avenue Cemetery physically reflects the settlement period of the pioneer community of Helena, Montana with its simple layout, natural landscaping, remnant wooden markers, fences family plots, simple obelisk monuments, and imported marble tombstones indicative of frontier burial practices. The cemetery was established in 1870, and events that impacted the early community also impacted and are represented on the burial grounds on Benton Venue. Upon Montana gaining statehood in 1889, establishment of a more desirable cemetery in 1890 prompted disinterment in the Benton Avenue Cemetery in favor of moving the bodies to the newer and larger Forestvale Cemetery; however, hundreds of pioneer graves of some prominent families are significant aspects of the cemetery’s and Helena’s history.

Sculpture, Landmark, Home fencing, Memorial

Land lot, Headstone, Cemetery, Biome

Iron, Metal, Memorial, Cemetery

Land lot, Plain, Home fencing, Fence

Nature, Grass, Daytime, Natural environment

Property, Architecture, Gate, Iron

Helena, Montana sprang to life with the discovery of gold along a narrow gulch on July 14, 1864. The party of four discoverers had made a previous unsuccessful swing through the area. They were low on supplies but decided to make one last try along the gulch. The men hit a rich lode along the stream that ran through the gulch and named it “Last Chance”. Stampeders from Virgina City’s Adler Gulch, where thousands had rushed the year before, and from a myriad of other far-flung places, soon staked claims all along the gulch. The discoverers were dubbed the Four Georgians, a name whose relevance was quickly forgotten. 

The mining camp at Last Chance boomed and soon earned the name “Helena” after a town in Scott County, Minnesota. Miners, merchants, and settlers of varied ethnic groups from diverse places flood Last Chance Gulch in the newly created Territory of Montana. Immigrants to the new settlement came overland from distant points via Virginia City and up to Helena, or they came by steamboat to Fort Benton and followed the Helena-Fort Benton Road, established soon after the discovery in the summer of 1864. The road proved a critical link and saw heavy traffic until the railroad supplanted stage travel and freighting enterprises in 1883.  

With Helena’s first recorded death, that of Dr. L. Rodney Pococke of tuberculosis in the spring of 1865, the mining camp needed a burial ground. Although no written records exist describing the place of Dr. Pococke’s burial, the funeral was conducted with great formality and fanfare by the deceased’s fellow Masons, and it was the first formal gather of the order in Helena. Presumably he was buried where, within several months of his death, a cemetery was established on high ground overlooking the gulch. Among the earliest internments were Argyle Parkinson, infant son of William and Jeannette Parkinson who died May 1, 1865, and ten-year-old Anna Davenport who died in September of 1865 from measles contracted aboard the steamship St. John en route to Fort Benton.  

In 1870, County Commissioners formed a committee charged with finding a suitable ten-acre parcel for a county cemetery in the vicinity of Helena. The county purchased land “situated a little north of Helena on the Benton Road” from Lizzie and Rachel Brooke in January of 1871; lots were being sold by 1872 and internments followed steadily thereafter. Maps of the early decades indicated that the Benton Road ran alongside the west edge of the cemetery parcel. In 1870, Benton Road was rerouted from the west side to its present location along the section line east of the burial ground following the same route as the modern Benton Avenue. 

The county of Lewis and Clark began to issue deeds for plots at the new Helena Cemetery as early as January of 1872, but there were certainly burials between late 1870 and early 1872 even though there is no known official record of plot ownership. Over the years, the practice of issuing formal deeds for the cemetery plots changed to granting receipts for lots, possibly because of administrative questions regarding the absolute ownership of property within the cemetery’s confines. In April of 1872, Lodge #3, F&AM of the Masonic Order purchased one-fourth of the Benton Avenue Cemetery’s ten acres for $99. Afterward, the northeast quadrant of the cemetery was devoted exclusively to Masons and their families. The northwest quadrant appears to have primary individual burials, while the southern half of the cemetery was favored for family plots. 

In 1890, the opening of the Forestvale Cemetery, with its beautifully landscaped grounds, became the favored burial place for Protestant and non-sectarian families. Many prominent pioneer families, who had parents and children buried at Benton Avenue Cemetery, moved their relatives to the more desirable new Forestvale. Argyle Parkinson and Anna Davenport are examples of this movement. Both the Davenports and the Parkinsons, notable pioneer families who settled at Last Chance during the first waves of the gold rush, moved their children first from the City Cemetery to Benton Avenue, and again from Benton Avenue to Forestvale where their headstones today are included in their respective family plots. Interment records indicate that sometimes, as in the case of Argyle and Anna, a disinterment and reinterment occurred, but in other cases headstones at Forestvale may be commemorative only. 

Benton Avenue Cemetery, National Register of Historic Places. Accessed January 14th 2021.

Welcome to the Benton Avenue Cemetery Association, Benton Avenue Cemetery Association. Accessed January 14th 2021.

Benton Avenue Cemetery, Historic Montana. Accessed January 14th 2021.

Helena’s Benton Avenue Cemetery (1870), Montana's Historic Landscapes. Accessed January 14th 2021.