Great Northern Railway buildings, Glacier National Park

National Historic Landmark

Nature is, of course, the primary force that shaped Glacier National Park. However, two entities—the National Park Service and the Great Northern Railway—played essential roles in designing the built environment that contributes so greatly to the park experience. Five diverse sites comprise Glacier’s Great Northern Railway Buildings National Historic Landmark. Together they exemplify the essential role the Great Northern played in building and promoting “America’s Alps.” Four of the sites are within the boundaries of the park: majestic Many Glacier Hotel overlooking Swift Current Lake; the more modest, log Two Medicine General Store on the shores of Two Medicine Lake; and Granite Park and Sperry Chalets, both hiking/trail-riding destinations in the spectacular backcountry. The fifth site, Belton Chalet, is located adjacent to the park in the small community of West Glacier. All were completed within five years of the park’s establishment to provide visitors with amenities rustic enough to match the surroundings but posh enough to meet the expectations of well-heeled travelers. To encourage Americans to “See America First” (and, not incidentally, increase railroad profits), Great Northern president and promotional mastermind Louis W. Hill chose a Swiss chalet style architecture that featured prominent gable ends, wide eaves supported by dominant corbels, numerous balconies, and fretwork. To remind patrons that their experience was uniquely American, designers enhanced the interior spaces with rustic Western elements and American Indian motifs. By successfully appealing to both a long-held regard for things European and a burgeoning national pride, Hill fully realized “the enormous potential for using architecture as a marketing strategy,” enriching the Glacier experience for generations of visitors in the process.

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Glacier National Park, West Glacier, MT ~ public