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If you stroll Helper's main street, full of closed-down shop fronts, you might see one of the bumper stickers dedicated to the sleepy spot's resurgence. Plastered on a few windows, they read, "Been There, Done That/Now We're Doing it Again," and they represent a slow, but growing shift in Helper's culture. For the last several years artists have been moving here, buying up the cheap, old properties on the main drag, and installing studios and galleries. This is nowhere near a boutique hamlet yet, but there is a spark of something fresh and different in the air of this 2,000-person place. It feels as though it's on the verge of coming into its own.
Perhaps it shouldn't be a shock that Helper might soon be breaking new ground, as it never fit the small-town Utah mold anyway. Unlike most places in the state, it wasn't settled by the Mormon church but instead grew out of necessity in the late 1880s due to its proximity to the rail line. Designed to be the division point between the eastern and western terminals of the Rio Grande Western Railroad, it was named after the "helper" locomotives used to get the trains up the steep, nearby mountain and into the Salt Lake City valley. It quickly became a hub for the various settlers. Miners converged here to drink and visit houses of ill repute, and immigrants arrived to set up shops, bars, and restaurants. From the beginning, it had an ethnic diversity that's still uncommon in the state. Sandwiched between several mining camps, Helper remained a supply and service town for decades, and continued strong until the 1960s. By the 1970s, however, mining had started to decline, and the town began to lose it usefulness. The 1980s and 90s were especially rough, a period to which the shuttered stores and abandoned houses are still a testament. These days Helper is trying to slough off those years of hibernation. Each year its biggest surge of vitality comes in the summer, during the popular Helper Arts and Music Festival.
Helper at a Glance
Elsewhere in Dinosaurland and Eastern Utah
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