Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

Welcome to Main Street: Helper Commercial District

Helper Main Strret - IMG_5982.jpeg

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Welcome to Main Street: Helper Commercial District


Every rural Utah town has their own special Main Street. In Carbon County, Helper’s main street tells a rich historic story about change and continuity in its unique community.

In the early twentieth century, the small community of Helper was mainly a service stop for the railroad. The discovery of coal in nearby mountains led to an explosion in population – growth that is still visible in the town’s historic Commercial District. But these buildings along Main Street are more than just architectural landmarks -- they also show change and continuity in one rural Utah town.

Beginning in the 1930s, theaters became a staple on Helper’s Main Street. The Bonnie Theater, opened by local mine superintendent William Littlejohn, showed traveling Vaudeville productions. Then there was the Paramount Theater, which appealed specifically to Japanese miners who lived in the area. The Paramount had a pool hall, showed silent Japanese films, and even hosted traditional Kabuki theater groups that traveled through Utah on their way to California. Other buildings that were hubs for immigrant culture and life included Sun Shine Noodles, owned by Wanda Kadoto, which served Japanese food, and Harry Eda's general store, which specialized in selling imported Asian products like incense. Eda's store also converted into a school during the day to instruct the children of Japanese coal miners. Some buildings, like the Liberty Theater owned by the Litizette family, became dance halls at night and even hosted Greek weddings. 

There was no single style or construction method as Helper's Main Street expanded. Some buildings were hand-hewn stone, some wood, stucco, and many different types of brick. But  change for all these buildings came eventually. The Bonnie Theater building became a bowling alley in 1961. Harry Eda’s store and school closed after Prohibition and became Helper’s first state liquor store. The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad converted many of its buildings – including a school house and chapel – into storage areas as Helper’s population decreased and railroad services required more space. 

Helper’s unique history is captured in the buildings along its Main Street. The historic commercial district comprises 110 buildings across 40 acres, and is on the National Register of Historic Places because of its significance to local residential and commercial life. Now a source of economic revitalization and tourism, Helper's Main Street is also a source of well-earned town pride.


By Megan Weiss for Utah Humanities © 2024


Image: Main Street in Helper, Utah, 2023. Main streets across America can receive special funding for historic preservation and development that can help old storefronts like this J.C. Penney building find new life as places to support tourism and economic revitalization. Image courtesy Megan Weiss.

See Terrence W. Epperson, "National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form: Helper Commercial District,” February 1978, National Park Service, accessed January 2024; Philip F. Notarianni, “Carbon County,Utah History Encyclopedia, accessed January 2024.


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org/stories.