Helper Utah - a city in Carbon County, Utah,USA


Helper Utah is a city in Carbon County, Utah, United States, about 110 miles (180 km) southeast of Salt Lake City and 7 miles (11 km) northwest of the city of Price. It is known as the "Hub of Carbon County". The population was 2,201 at the 2010 census.

The city is located along U.S. Route 6/U.S. Route 191, a shortcut between Provo and Interstate 70, on the way from Salt Lake City to Grand Junction, Colorado. It is the location of the Western Mining and Railroad Museum, a tourist attraction that also contains household and commercial artifacts illustrating late 19th and early 20th-century living conditions.

With the arrival of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) in 1881-82, Helper began to develop as a population center. By 1887 the D&RGW had erected some twenty-seven frame residences, with more built later in the year. The railroad planned to make Helper a freight terminal after the rail lines were changed from narrow to standard gauge. The changeover process began in 1889 and was completed in 1891. In 1892, Helper was designated the division point between the eastern and western D&RGW terminals in Grand Junction, Colorado, and Ogden, Utah, respectively, and a new depot, hotel, and other buildings were constructed.

On April 21, 1897, Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay robbed the Pleasant Valley Coal Company in nearby Castle Gate; they stayed in Helper the day before. It was said that Butch Cassidy later came back to Helper for occasional visits.

Adjacent to Helper is Spring Glen. It was first established in 1880, with Teancum Pratt being one of the first settlers. A Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized there in 1885 with Francis Marion Ewell as president. It was made a ward in 1889. As of 1930 less than 20% of the population in Spring Glen were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Helper's growth proceeded in a slow but deliberate fashion bearing little resemblance to booming metal-mining towns. The first amenities offered the few settlers and numerous railroad workers included three saloons, one grocery store, and one clothing establishment. A school was built in 1891. By 1895 the D&RGW buildings and shops at Helper were lighted by electricity, and two reservoirs for water had been constructed.

"Big John" Muffler Man in Helper, December 2010
Ethnic diversity was destined to become a chief characteristic of Helper. Industrial expansion, coal mining, and railroading required a great amount of unskilled labor. In 1894 the railroad's passenger department established an immigration bureau to advertise Utah Territory. This move coincided with the influx of the numerous immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and from Asia.

Chinese laborers were brought in at an early date to work the Carbon County mines and railroads. By the late 1890s, Italians and Austrians (primarily Slovenians, Croatians, and Serbians) began to arrive. In 1900 Helper's population was listed at 385 people. Sixteen different nationality groups were represented. "Merchant" and "laborer" comprised most of the occupations for these early immigrants.

After the unsuccessful coal miners' strike of 1903-04, Italians, blacklisted from the mines at nearby Castle Gate, ventured into Helper to establish businesses and farms along the Price River. The influx of strikers into Helper accelerated its growth, with the newly established farms offering needed agricultural products.

The twentieth century was launched in Carbon County (which had been formed in 1894 from Emery County) in a shroud of uncertainty, largely due to the strike situation. Greek and Japanese immigrants were brought in to break the strike, and thus new ethnic groups came onto the scene. Helper, along with Price, was fast becoming the center of the Carbon County coalfields, providing service functions to the outlying camps. A 1903-04 business directory listed sixteen separate businesses in Helper; by 1912-13 the number had grown to twenty-nine, with a population of about 850. Helper townsite was regularly organized and incorporated in 1907 with a president of the town board and members of the board serving the community.

Helper's post office is one of three sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places
By 1914-15 there were 71 businesses listed for Helper, with 84 in 1918-19, and 157 for the years 1924-25. Many of Helper's business enterprises were associated with specific ethnic groups, but this fact illustrated the business opportunities then available in the town, enabling immigrants to "break the ranks of labor." Italian and Chinese-owned businesses were joined in the 1910s and 1920s by Slavic, Greek, and Japanese establishments. Specialty shops, cafes, coffeehouses, saloons, theaters, general mercantiles, and various service-oriented businesses formed Helper's commercial district. Some ventures, such as the Mutual Mercantile Company, were joint operations between different ethnic groups.

Ethnic identities, the existence of both inter- and intra-group rivalries, new waves of immigration, and Helper's position as a neutral ground for labor influenced the town's social landscape. Helper became known as the area "hub" because it was nestled among various mining camps, and it served as a city of refuge where strikers and union organizers as well as national guardsmen could congregate during tense times. Customs and lifestyles associated with various ethnic groups continued; however, through interaction many eventually were changed and modified in the Helper environment.

While the Great Depression hit the entire county, Helper's position as a railroad center provided some stability. Helper's city hall had been built in 1927, and a civic auditorium was constructed in 1936. The D&RGW developed "bridge traffic," acquiring trade from other major roads that wanted transcontinental connections.

Coal production increased during World War II and continued strong through the 1960s, although with significant periods of uncertainty and temporary decline. Not all of the communities surrounding Helper were able to weather these difficult periods of economic instability, and the town is within a few miles of a large number of former coal mining settlements that were abandoned between the 1930s and 1970s, and are now ghost towns. These towns include Castle Gate, Coal City, Consumers, National, Peerless, Rains, Royal, and Standardville.

Upturns and downswings plagued the industry in the 1970s, with new lows reached in the 1980s and early 1990s. Helper continues to ride the tide of these fluctuations and, as any town influenced by the mining industry, seeks to survive during bad economic times.

Helper was named the top western town for 2006 by the True West Magazine, in the January/February 2007 issue.


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