Gold Under Main Street - 1938

Apron-clad South Main Bar Owner
John Phillips (1897-1981) Oversees
Basement Prospecting Venture, 1938


The above press photo, dated March 31, 1938, shows Exchange Tavern owner John Phillips and three unidentified men in the back room of the tavern, which was located at 101 South Main St. (Last Chance Gulch). The site is now on the south side of Anchor Park.

Placer gold has been incidentally dicovered in Last Chance Gulch excavations since the city was founded. Tales of cloudbursts washing nuggets down the gutters are part of Helena lore.

In early 1938, at least two basement excavations on South Main were undertaken. One was clandestine, and dangerously undermined Main Street.

The 1935 earthquakes left a numbver of South Main buildings damaged and vacant, providing opportunities for such subterranian operations...



A native of Yugoslavia, John Thomas Phillips (1897-1981) led a colorful life. He operated several restaurants and taverns in Helena over the years. The Exchange Tavern, mentioned in this feature, would later become the Blue Moon, one of South Main's rougher establishments. Phillips had several scrapes with the law.

In later years, he and his wife Louise operated the L&L Cafe at 4750 N. Montana Avenue. That building currently houses the Moose Lodge.



"Madame Dezielle's" Gold Tunnel

Across the street from Phillips' Exchange Tavern, was 128 South Main. The commercial space on the ground floor was vacant at the time, with occupied lodgings above.

Mildred Dezial Biddle (born Mildred Venerable, 1876-1949) was a native of Ohio, She was known in Helena for providing holiday meals to the poor. You can read her obituary below.