Helena was born during the Gold Rush with the arrival of prospectors to Last Chance Gulch in 1864. The area abounded in gold and silver, bearing quartz deposits and by 1885 it had already become a modern Montana City. With the construction of the Northern Pacific Spur line and a number of newly developed mines, the word spread and the town grew with an allure that drew people to the west. Its population grew from 3,624 people in 1880 to 13,864 in 1890. At the heart of this growth was Colonel Charles Broadwater, a self-made man and President of the Railroad Company, who committed his wealth to the rise of Helena as the state’s financial center. In 1888, Helena was home to 50 millionaires, more than any other city on earth at that time.
Three miles west of Last Chance Gulch was the Ten-mile Hot Springs, which extended along the bed to the creek below Red Mountain. It was crowned with veins of precious ores and its headwaters were also home to cold mountain springs and hot mineral springs that sustained a temperature of 160 at the source. In 1874 water rights to the area were given to Colonel Broadwater who was interested in the medicinal properties of the hot springs. As Helena grew in the late 1880s, many of the spectacular homes and buildings were created. The grandest of them all was the Broadwater Natatorium, built in 1889 by the colonel. After dedicating his life to making Helena a thriving city with the development of Montana’s freight industry, this visionary built an elegant and lavish grand resort unlike any other in the state. The Broadwater Hotel and Natatorium stood as a symbol of Helena’s wealth and Montana’s progressiveness. Built on and around the Ten-mile Hot Springs with an investment of $500,000, these structures were masterfully constructed in the Moorish Spanish architectural style. The all-over effect was characterized by its massive size, complex rooflines, towers, domes, stained-glass windows and rows of high windows called clerestories. Its plunge featured a forty-foot high mass of granite boulders, toboggan slides, observation decks, and waterfalls. A rectangular nave covered the plunge, which had a hot spring in it coming right from the ground.
The swimming pool was 300 feet long and 100 feet wide. Colorful tiles covered the interior walls and floor to create a distinctly decorative and romantic feeling. The spacious hotel was elegantly furnished and featured modern amenities, including steam heat, electric lights, hot and cold water in nearly every room, and modern bath departments. The grounds were lush with beautiful lawns, flowerbeds, walks, fountains, and extensive landscaping. When the Broadwater Natatorium premiered in August 1889, it opened its doors to 180 guests and was the largest natural hot water plunge in the world. It was undoubtedly the most important example of this Moorish style of architecture in the Northwest. By drawing people from all over the world, it rivaled other nationally known spas at the time.
Three years after the grand opening, Colonel Broadwater died of the flu and the resort wasnever the same again. Without his direction it eventually closed in the 1890s. Challenges of the time, including World War I and Prohibition took their toll as lifestyles changed. The natatorium would eventually reopen but not for long as a severe earthquake in 1935 severely damaged the building. It was later demolished in the 1970s and few physical remnants remain. The rich history of the Broadwater Natatorium now lives on through books, photographs, and postcards.