Restoration work begins on historic windows from East Helena smelter

Posted at 10:08 PM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-09 00:08:52-04

The Montana Preservation Alliance is starting work this week on a project to restore a set of historic windows salvaged from the ASARCO smelter complex in East Helena.

Mary Webb, MPA’s restoration director, set up a work station Wednesday morning at an East Helena city shop. Over the next few weeks, she will be repairing and refinishing the windows.

The Montana History Foundation awarded the city of East Helena a $6,000 grant earlier this year for the work. The city will also contribute a local match for part of the cost.

The windows are distinctive – round, several feet in diameter and with a Star of David pattern in the panes of glass.

“You don’t really find this type of craftsmanship anymore,” said Webb. “You don’t find windows like this in modern buildings.”

The windows have been stored by the Montana Environmental Trust Group since the smelter was demolished. City leaders originally believed there were two in storage – until they prepared to move them this week.

“As we were unloading the storage box, we found a surprise third window, so we will hopefully be able to work on that one as well,” Webb said.

Webb will begin by removing the old paint from the window frames. She’ll then repair damaged and rotting wood and repaint the frames. In addition, she will replace a number of plastic panes that were installed to replace broken glass.

“I think it’s an interesting artifact from the smelter that was a big part of the town for most of its history,” she said. “I hope people just look at it as a pretty interesting piece of a historic building and realize how neat old buildings can be.”

East Helena Mayor James Schell said they believe the windows are among five that were installed at the smelter in the early 1900s.

“We’re glad that whoever kept them from being destroyed did so,” he said.

The windows date from the period when the wealthy Guggenheim family owned ASARCO, and Schell said they suspect the Star of David motif refers to the family’s Jewish heritage.

Webb said she will be working on the windows on and off over the next several months. One reason for the longer timeline is that the historically appropriate oil-based paint she will be using takes longer to dry than modern paints.

Schell said the city is looking at placing at least one of the windows in the historic East Helena Volunteer Fireman’s Hall, which is now used for community events. He said they are also considering putting one in City Hall.