P. Henry Maxwell's Business- 108 E. Cutler Street


P. Henry Maxwell (ca.1832-1912) was an African American tradesman and laborer. This 1890s photo shows his business at 108 E. Cutler Street. In 1894, the city diectory shows Maxwell residing at 110 Cutler, one door east (to the right) of this log building. The two boys are unidentified.

The view is looking north. The Fire Tower is prominent on the hilltop, and on the right is the first St. John's Hospital and neighboring buildings...


Detail of Unidentified Boys at Door, 108 Cutler St.

"Kalsomining & House Cleaning" Sign

Kalsomine (also calcimine, kalsomine, calsomine) is another term for whitewash, which is usually applied to exteriors; however, it is traditionally used in interior food preparation areas, particularly rural dairies, for its mildly antibacterial properties.

It was noted in the 1880 Federal census that Henry could read but was unable to write, which may account for the quirky nature of the signs on his place of business.


108 E. Cutler a Meeting Place for the First Ward Colored Club, 1894

A Brief Family History

Henry Maxwell was born about 1832, in either Virginia or Alabama. He arrrived in Helena in 1886 with his wife Julia Smith Maxwell, and children Olivia and Alice. Julia had been previously married to a man named Johnson, by whom she had at least two children, Alice and Marion.

The 1870 Federal Census shows a Henry and Julia Maxwell living in rural Alabama; their birthplaces given as Alabama and Virginia, respectively. The ages recorded on the census form match those of the Helena Maxwells.

Henry died Nov. 28, 1912. Julia lived 1830 - July 15, 1909. They are both buried in Forestvale Cemetery.

The Maxwells came north from Alabama in about 1872, Before arriving in Helena in 1886, the family lived in Minnesota and North Dakota. St. Paul, Minnesota city directories show the Maxwells were there from about 1872 to 1874. The 1884 Bismarck, North Dakota city directory shows P. Henry Maxwell workring as a whitewasher.

While living in Bismarck in 1883, The Maxwells donated $100 (over $2,000 in today's money) to the fund to secure the State Capital for Bismarck. They owned real estate in Bismarck, but it was evidently sold for back taxes in 1885, which may have precipitated their 1886 move to Helena.

Julia eventually owned real estate in Helena, which was transfered to her daughter, Olivia Fisher, shortly before Julia's death in 1909. Speculation is that there may have been longstanding estrangement between Henry and Julia, as they had evidently lived apart for some years. In 1910, one year after Julia's death, Henry is counted in the Federal Census as living at the County Poor Farm, where he died in 1912-- even though his children still lived in Helena.

Marion Johnson, Julia's son from a previous marriage, was in Helena from at least 1894 to 1909. Marion was a widower, and had surrendered custody of his two children to Julia, who was raising them. There was a physical altercation between Marion and his mother in 1894, for which he was found guilty and sentenced to ten days in jail. Marion lived at 33 Clore St. (now South Park Ave.) and had at least one other scrape with local law enforcement before disappearing from the records following Julia's death in 1909.

Julia's daughter and Marion's sister, Alice Johnson Palmer, married William Palmer in 1873, probably in Paris, Kentucky. In 1890, the Palmers -- with their six children -- brought a home at 199 Ralph Street in Helena. They had previously lived in Mandan, North Dakota. According to a family history written in Gold Pans and Singletrees, a Lincoln, Montana history book, William Palmer died in 1894; I have thus far been unable to find records verifying that.

According to that same history in Gold Pans and Singletrees, in 1907 Alice Palmer and her son Arthur homesteaded 80 acres near Lincoln, Montana. There they built a home and six large cabins (the Palmer Cabins), which were rented out in the summer and fall. Alice died in 1936, and is buried in Forestvale Cemetery. The homestead was split up into small parcels and sold.


Julia Maxwell's Kentucky Quilt Displayed in Helena, 1964

Special thanks to Pam Attardo, Patty Dean and Paul Putz
for their help in putting together this feature