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.