Transportation Tourism

The impact of transportation on Montana tourism cannot be understated. Boarding houses, hotels, liveries, and way stations supported nineteenth century travelers in Montana, while remaining an integral part of a town’s commercial district. In fact, the construction of railroads motivated some towns in Montana to relocate closer to the lines in order to maintain an economy supported by the railroads. These transportation hubs supported railroad workers and passengers of all types with both sparse rooms and finely appointed hotels and restaurants. By the late 1800s, coaches and wagons also shuttled hardy travelers from hubs to sites of beauty and recreation.

In the early twentieth century, western boosters began promoting the scenic beauty of America to members of the leisure class. The scenery of the American West, they claimed, rivaled in beauty and grandeur the magnificence of European cities. Advocates asserted tourism in the United States instilled both patriotic wonder and national pride. The “See America First” campaign of the early 20th century catalyzed interest in western travel and promoters boosted locomotive travel as a safe, efficient, and luxurious mode of travel.

Railroad publicity departments responded to this trend by turning their attention from populating the West to expanding the myth of the West to attract the interest and money of Eastern tourists. Railroad companies responded to the interest in Western scenery by constructing scenic short lines and spur tracks to national parks and other sites of scenic wonder. In Gardiner, the grand Roosevelt arch introduced visitors to Yellowstone by drawing on the inspiring architectural traditions of old Europe and Glacier park promoters drew parallels with alpine tourism. By the time the good road movement gained traction, America’s love affair with scenic beauty tourist travel was firmly cemented.

These modes of travel precipitated the construction of accommodations and more attractions. In the case of the town of West Yellowstone, the presence of the Union Pacific’s station, dining lodge, dormitories, and other facilities was the direct result of Yellowstone’s popularity with tourists. Hotels such as the New Park Hotel in Great Falls were built near rail stations and roads in order to serve passengers as well as motorists. Roadside attractions such as the John Hepburn Place lured travelers off the road with promises of western curiosities and businesses learned to accommodate the expectations of auto travelers.

After the construction of the federal highway system, railroad passenger service fell as more travelers opted for road travel, and business owners adapted buildings and business practice to support the auto touring public. Hotels, restaurants, motolodges, drive ins, campgrounds, and rest areas continue to provide for the millions of visitors who marvel at the natural resources of the Treasure State.

Grand Union Hotel

This grandiose, three-story Italianate style hotel welcomed weary river travelers to the Gateway of the Northwest, offering guests a luxurious refuge before setting out for less civilized destinations. Its opening in 1882 came at the end of the…

New Park Hotel

Town founders Paris Gibson and Herbert Chowen built the original Park Hotel in 1892 to serve travelers disembarking at the nearby Great Northern Depot. When the hundred-room hotel burned in a 1913 fire, Park Hotel owners hired prominent Great Falls…

Sacajawea Hotel

Arrival of the Milwaukee Railroad caused Three Forks to move (1908-1910) one mile up the Missouri River from its 1863 townsite, as happened with many sister towns in the developing West. Milwaukee Railroad purchasing agent John Q. Adams saw need for…

The Adams Hotel

Rancher Ludwig C. Lehfeldt sold 33,000 acres of ranch land to the Milwaukee Road in 1907 prompting the relocation of the Lavina townsite. Realizing the need for a hotel, Lehfeldt hired architects Link and Haire—who drew the plans for the 1910…

Brunswick Hotel

The Brunswick Hotel, built 1890-1891, is an excellent example of vernacular commercial architecture, with a Queen Anne emphasis. It is one of Missoula’s oldest remaining hotels associated with the beginning of the railroad era here, when hotels…

The Atlantic Hotel

The construction of the Milwaukee Road and the reconstruction of the Northern Pacific Railroad through Missoula sparked a second railroad-era building boom in the early twentieth century. The need for accommodations for both railroad workers and…

Daniels County Courthouse

The settlement of Old Scobey relocated here from the Poplar River flats to greet the approaching Great Northern Railway branch line in 1913. By the time the first train arrived on Thanksgiving Day, the two-story Commercial Hotel—today the south…

Gladstone Hotel

One of the few remaining original buildings on Circle’s main street, the Gladstone Hotel welcomed its first guests in the new town on Christmas Day of 1915. Just over a year before, Circle town lots first went on sale. Built to serve travelers on…

Belton Chalet

Great Northern Railway chairman of the board Louis Hill dubbed the rugged mountains of Glacier National Park “America’s Alps.” Between 1909 and 1913, the Great Northern Railway constructed the Belton Chalet complex under Hill’s direction. It…

West Yellowstone Oregon Shortline Terminus Historic District

In 1905 Union Pacific officials began construction of a branch line in the pine-forested wilderness from Ashton, Idaho, to the western edge of Yellowstone Park. As the final tracks were laid in 1907, Samuel P. Eagle, Alex Stuart, Charles Arnet, and…

Union Pacific Dining Lodge, West Yellowstone

As tourism blossomed during the first decades of the twentieth century, the Union Pacific Railroad considered how to better accommodate travelers. Officials conceived the idea of building restaurants and pavilions architecturally similar to the…

Union Pacific Identification Pylon

Rail-based tourism added significantly to Montana’s economy at the turn of the century, with tourists spending $500,000 in the state each year from 1900 through 1910. The railroad-related buildings scattered near the entrance to Yellowstone Park…

Oliver Building

The homesteading boom was in full swing in 1910, but not all of Montana's newcomers came to farm. With the arrival of three transcontinental railroads, Billings became established as a regional hub of commerce. Many businesses saw opportunity in…

Roosevelt Arch

In April 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for the Roosevelt Arch, a massive, Rustic style monument that symbolically marked the entrance into Yellowstone National Park. The only such grand entranceway into a national park, the…

John Hepburn Place

Nestled between dramatic cliffs and the Yellowstone River, this collection of buildings catered to the tourist trade between Livingston and Yellowstone National Park. Local entrepreneur John Hepburn came to Montana in 1888 and worked for many years…

Matt's Place Drive-IN

Entrepreneur Matt Korn opened a tiny restaurant here in 1930 featuring a drive-in window, an idea he imported from southern California. Matt’s Place was likely Montana’s first drive-in, but unlike its California counterparts, this business never…