Helper, named after the engines which helped haul westbound trains over the mountains to Salt Lake City, is located in the middle of the rich Utah coal fields. After coal was discovered in Carbon County in the 1880s small, isolated mining communities sprung up along many of the canyons. Miners and their families had a hard life contending with mine explosions and the loss of husbands, fathers and income; company housing; scrip (instead of money) which could be only used at the company store; low wages; and labor disputes. Since the coal company owned everything and the communities were so isolated miners had no control over their lives. Little is left of many of these communities. Mines closed, buildings were moved to other locations and families moved on to the next good coal seam.
Helper, with a mixed ethnic population of almost 3,000 people by the 1930s, was a lively town in contrast to the staid Mormon cities on the other side of the mountain. Three blocks of Main Street housed bars, speakeasies, back room gambling and brothels. Illegal gambling and brothels brought business to the town well into the 1970s. Today many of the building are closed and empty but artists are moving in with the hope of revitalizing the downtown.
The museum is located in the Old Helper Hotel building and the hotel rooms serve as museum galleries. The exhibits are kind of uneven with very good displays in some rooms and piles of donated items in others. Many old photographs of the mining communities show both everyday life and the tragic aftermath of mining accidents. Two displays of mining equipment are located outside, one in the museum courtyard and another in a little park at the museum parking lot. A paved trail starts at the parking lot and follows alongside Price River.
All four floors of the museum are accessible but a few of the rooms have tight spots. The exhibits in the little park are accessible. We didn’t visit the courtyard displays because the sidewalks were in the process of being replaced. The trail is accessible but there are steep spots so wheelchair users may need to have help.
The parking lot is too small for RVs but they can be parked along the side streets.