Yellowstone Gateways: Gardiner

HPIM0597.JPGThe most popular Montana gateway into Yellowstone National Park is at Gardiner, in the southern tip of Park County.  Here is where the Northern Pacific Railway stopped its trains, at a Rustic styled passenger station long ago demolished, and travelers passed through the gate above–designed by architect Robert Reamer–and started their journey into the park.

img_2966By the mid-20th century, Gardiner had become a highway town, the place in-between the beautiful drive through the Paradise Valley on U.S. Highway 89 (now a local paved road)

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to the northern edge of the national park boundary.  Here at Gardiner, there are two rather distinct zones of tourism development.  On the north side of the Yellowstone River along U.S. 89 is a mid to late 20th century roadside landscape, including such classic bits of roadside architecture as the Hillcrest Motel and Cabins, the Jim Bridger Motor Lodge, and the Absaroka Lodge as well as a plethora of other visitor services

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On the south side river, closest to the park entrance, is an earlier layer of commercial development, ranging from the turn of the 20th century to the early years of the 21st century.  A major change in the last 30 years is how this section of town has been remodeled and rebuilt (such as the modern Rustic style of the Yellowstone Association building below) with a wholly new streetscape and road plan installed c. 2015.

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Yet, mixed in with all of tourism businesses, are community institutions that have served local residents for decades.  My favorite is the Gardiner Community Center, built in 1910 as an opera house but transformed into a community building by the Fraternal Order of Eagles when it took over the building’s management in 1928.  The building has served the community as a school, with basketball games in the large open hall, and then for many other community functions and as home to the local WFW chapter.  The Greater Gardiner Community Center acquired this landmark in 2015 and is developing plans for its restoration and revitalization, good news indeed.

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Another key community institution with Gardiner’s trademark stonework comes from the second half of the 20th century, St. Williams Catholic Church.

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Recent and on-going local efforts to re-energize the historic town should meet with success, for there are significant historic commercial buildings, dwellings, and public buildings on both sides of the Yellowstone River.

img_2957The plan to develop a new Gardiner library at the old Northern Pacific depot site at part of the Gardiner Gateway Project is particularly promising, giving the town a new community anchor but also reconnecting it to the railroad landscape it was once part of. Something indeed to look for when I next visit this Yellowstone Gateway.

 

 

Yellowstone Gateways: Cooke City

img_2876Montana’s gateways into Yellowstone National Park are known far and wide.  The most popular are associated with the trains that delivered mostly easterners to the wonderland of the park–West Yellowstone for the Union Pacific line and Gardiner for the Northern Pacific Railway.

img_2887Cooke City, located in the corner of Park County, was never a railroad town but an overland connection that did not become popular until the development of the Beartooth Highway out of Red Lodge in the 1920s.

img_2904It is all about the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212) here–when it opens, Cooke City booms as a tourism oasis.  When the highway closes for its long winter, business doesn’t end since the road to Mammoth Hot Springs far to the west is kept open as best as it can be, but the number of visitors drops remarkably. Snow mobile traffic in the winter has meant a lot to local business in the last 30 years.

The one building I focused on when I visited Cooke City for the state historic preservation in 1985 was nearing its 100th year of serving as a general store to this old mountain mining community.  The historic Savage and Elder’s store began business c.1886 and passed through many different owners but remarkably few changes until the time in the second half of the 20th century that it became a community icon and cherished building. New owners in 2003 undertook needed repairs and the old place looks as if it is well on its way to its 200th birthday. In 1986 the state office listed the Cooke City Store in the National Register not only for its late Victorian commercial look but also as a commercial business–general merchandise–that held on through the highs and lows of Cooke City’s history.

img_2879Cooke City uses its mining past to define its identity today, from moving log mining shacks and cabins into town, as shown above, for potential new lures for tourism, to the recently established visitor center and museum, which includes some of the local mining

technology, a moved and restored miner’s cabin, and interprets these resources for the public–a major positive change in the last 30 years.

The rustic log architecture of the miner’s cabin is reflected in several other Cooke City buildings from the mid-20th century as well as from nearby Silver Gate, Montana, located right on the national park border. Some of these properties speak to the local vernacular of building with log, but they also were influenced with the more formal Rustic style buildings constructed by the National Park Service as its signature look in the early decades of the 20th century–witness the Northeast entrance to the park on U.S. 212 next to Silver Gate.

img_2913Perhaps the best example is the rustic yet modern styling of the Mt Republic Chapel of Peace between Silver Gate and Cooke City on U.S. 212. It is no match for the soaring mountains that surround it but its quiet dignity reflects well the people and environment of this part of Montana.

Montana architect Charles Sumner designed the building in 1971 and first services came a year later.  Not yet 50 years, it awaits its National Register future.

img_2877The same can be said for Hoosier’s Bar–a favorite haunt here in Cooke City for several decades, easy to find with its neon sign, and then there is the throwback telephone booth–a good idea since many cell phones search for coverage in this area.  Cooke City and Silver Gate are the smallest Montana gateways into Yellowstone National Park but they tell and preserve their story well.

 

 

Chico Hot Springs

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During my historic preservation plan travels across Montana in 1984-1985, the old hot springs hotel shown above–Chico Hot Springs near the Yellowstone River in the Paradise Valley of Park County–was a certain destination.  My colleague at the state historic preservation office, Lon Johnson, encouraged me to stop–not only did the place have the best food in the region it also was cheap lodging, for one of the old single rooms without bath upstairs. the first visit hooked me–and ever since Chico Hot Springs has always been my number one stop when planning any of my return visits to Big Sky Country.

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Chico Hot Springs in 1988.

Chico was among my top recommendations for a future listing in the National Register of Historic Places–and it was finally listed in the National Register in 1998–almost at the time of the 100th anniversary of the hotel.  Locals had taken advantage of the natural hot spring as soon as miners began to flood Emigrant Gulch in the 1860s.  But there was little development, largely because Hunter’s Hot Springs, near Springdale to the northeast in Park County, was already established as the region’s premier resort.  Not until 1900 was the springs’ commercial potential developed.  That was when Percy Matheson Knowles and William Knowles built the Colonial Revival-styled hotel–but a loose colonial feel to the exterior with a much more rustic style interior.  At the time of my first visits in the early 1980s, the place had gained some fame, not only for its scenes in the cult western movie Rancho Deluxe but as a genuine place of history and relaxation on the northern gateway into Yellowstone National Park.

With fame and increased visitation came changes–new wings with much more modern amenities, additional fancy cabins, even a spa. Once there had been the restaurant, the

pool, and the horse rides for entertainment.  Chico was a stop over, or a good night out.  Now it was a destination in its own right. But the changes, for me, have meant little–I still go there for the welcome and comfort of the lobby, the good food and drink, a chance

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to sit in the pool or out on the porch, and to think about old hot springs hotels like this place–where travelers had stopped for over 100 years, to take in the waters, have a drink, and relish the wildness of the west.  Chico since the early 1980s is not quite so wild–except in the winter months when many tourists are gone, and the place reverts back to the locals for a few months.  But to my mind, anytime is a good time to stop and stay awhile.

 

The West Yellowstone Gateway

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When I think about nationally significant resources that are too rarely, for my taste, recognized as such, I think about West Yellowstone and its Union Pacific Railroad complex.  It is not that the residents of West Yellowstone, Montana, do not identify these places as vitally significant to their history–few districts have better public

interpretation courtesy of the West Yellowstone Walking Tour, one of the best examples of local heritage tourism I have seen in the country, period. But still within the history of the western national parks the role of the Union Pacific, as it extended far north of its mainline to reach Yellowstone National Park, is seldom considered, much less appreciated.

Officially the property was designated as the West Yellowstone Oregon Short Line Terminus and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Several buildings and structures, including a bit of the railroad line are included in the district.  Construction of the line occurred from 1906-1908 and the first passengers arriving in the latter year.  The passenger depot now serves as a museum, not just about the railroad but about the

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development of the park and the adjacent region.  Completed in 1909 and designed by the railroad’s engineering office using rhyolite stone, the depot with its prominent brackets and arches reflect elements of the Arts and Crafts style popular at the time.  When passenger traffic to the depot ended c. 1970, the railroad deeded the depot to the town of West Yellowstone and a private museum was installed c. 1972.  The Yellowstone Historic Center leased the depot in 2000 and has installed much improved exhibits–again part of the general improvement in public interpretation at the district in the last 30 years.

IMG_0873  The district’s architectural jewel, the Dining Room, dates almost a generation later to 1926.  Architect Gilbert S. Underwood designed one of the late marvels of the Rustic style as defined in the northern Rockies.  With its rugged stone exterior rising as it was a natural formation in the land, the dining room immediately told arriving visitors that an adventure awaited them, especially once they stepped inside and experienced the vast log interior spaces.

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Gallatin Co West yellowstone Union Pacific Depot NRHD 34Other former Union Pacific buildings have been given adaptive reuse treatment by the town, with a baggage building becoming police headquarters and the former men’s dormitory has been converted into a local health clinic.

West Yellowstone is also an entrepreneurial landscape, with the early Madison Hotel, which is listed in the National Register, being just the beginning of a trend where local businesses began to serve visitors to the park, especially as the automobile replaced the train as the primary way to reach this gateway after World War II.

IMG_6580Thus, West Yellowstone is among Montana’s best examples of roadside architecture as distinctive 19502-1960w motels and a wide assortment of commercial types line both U.S. 191 but also the side arteries to the highway.

The Gallatin Gateway and U.S. 191

When I was conducting the fieldwork for the state historic preservation plan in 1984-1985, Gallatin Gateway and U.S. 191 was still outside of Bozeman, untouched by the subsequent suburban and commercial explosion of the county.  In wake of the Milwaukee Road’s bankruptcy and closure in 1980, the state historic preservation office’s focus was on one property in particular, the railroad’s spectacular Gallatin Gateway Inn.

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Built in 1927 and designed in a Spanish Revival style–not common in Montana in that time for major commercial buildings–by the firm of Schack, Young, and Myers, the Inn had been listed in the National Register in 1980.  The nomination noted both its distinctive, rich architectural statement but also its purpose in 1920s tourism traffic for

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the railroad–it was the Milwaukee’s gateway to the West Yellowstone entrance of the national park.  Electric trains would move passengers from the main line at Three Forks,

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stop here, the end of the line, where bus transport would take them on to the park.  Consequently the “inn” was a bit of misnomer.  There were only a bit over 30 guest rooms, but huge dining rooms, and an expansive comfortable lobby and public space where travelers would wait for auto transport on U.S. 191 to the park.  The Milwaukee was a latecomer to the railroads’ push to Yellowstone:  the Northern Pacific had a generation earlier secured its gateway at Gardiner and built the magnificent Old Faithful Inn inside the park.  The Union Pacific had arrived from the south and built its gateway and rustic-styled dining room at West Yellowstone.  The Milwaukee could not duplicate that–but it could give travelers a bit of the exotic in its Spanish Revival railroad/highway gateway property.

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Here was a 1920s railroad terminal where the highway facade, shown above, was actually the more prominent feature, more than the second entrance, shown below, facing the tracks and the end of the line.

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The gravel road is what is left of the original Milwaukee roadbed, looking north towards Three Forks

I visited the Inn several times in the 1980s, staying in the period rooms, later having quite a fine dinner there when the inn was rehabilitated and opened as one of the “Historic Hotels of America” properties as designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  With the overall boom in the economy of Gallatin County, I frankly assumed by 1990 that the inn’s future was secured–this rare jewel had been saved.

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Then in 2013 the inn closed, and it was still shuttered when I visited in May 2015 (although clearly the building and grounds were being maintained).  Surely a new use, and a new life, can be found for this Montana landmark in the 21st century.  Across the street from the inn is a community landmark that proves that the past has a future in this part of Gallatin County–the historic Gallatin Gateway school.

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Its simple yet forceful facade, with projecting central entrance and its solid brick construction has given it a life into this century as part of a growing community.  Let’s hope for the same for the Gallatin Gateway Inn, and soon.