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Great Lodges

Great Lodges of the National Parks

Glacier Lodges: Glacier Park Lodge

Lodge | Setting | Trivia

Lodge

Explore the first National Park with a European-style network of grand hotels and lesser chalets, linked by a trail system.

Glacier Park Lodge

Design
In 1907, James J. Hill turned over control of the Great Northern Railway to his second son, Louis W. Hill. The younger Hill had plans to enhance their freight business with a profitable passenger line, modeling his scheme on the Northern Pacific development of Yellowstone.

Hill lobbied hard for the creation of Glacier National Park, which occurred in 1910. He immediately set about building an extensive European-style network of luxurious lodges and backcountry chalets in the area.

Just as Hill had personally promoted creation of the Park, he also took great interest in the building of his hotels. He even took a sabbatical from managing the railroad so that he could closely supervise the project. "The work is so important," he wrote, "that I am loath to intrust the development to anyone but myself."

Construction
The Great Northern contracted with Evensta & Company of Minneapolis to construct the Glacier Park Lodge. In the spring of 1912, a site was selected at the foot of Dancing Lady Mountain, just outside the actual Park boundaries. The land was purchased from the Piegan, a tribe of the Blackfoot Nation. Meanwhile, a spur track was being laid to carry materials to the work site.

The design called for a colonnade of enormous tree trunks. Hill wanted trees ranging from 36 to 40 inches in diameter, and since trees that size didn't grow in the region, he had 60 enormous logs (with bark intact) shipped from the Northwest.

It took a crew of 75 men a full 15 months to construct the two main buildings. The lobby and dining room sections were erected in 1912-13. The West wing was built in the winter of 1913-1914. The Lodge officially opened on June 15, 1913.

The Architect
Samuel L. Bartlett of St. Paul, Minnesota, is the architect of record for the Glacier Park Lodge. But Hill controlled every major aspect of the design, including the look, scale and interior decor.

Hill patterned the Lodge on the Forestry Building he'd seen at a 1905 exposition. Although the style is rustic, the floor plan is patterned after early Christian basilicas. As a result, the lobby provides a mood of calm sanctuary. The spiritual tone is reinforced by St. Andrew crosses in the balcony railings.

Within this space, Hill applied an eclectic and confusing mix of decorative themes, from Indian artifacts and stuffed creatures, to Japanese lanterns. But each object was carefully selected to reflect Hill's marketing objectives. The Japanese overtones were there to promote the railroad's premier train of the era, the "Oriental Limited."

Visitors
The Great Northern "Empire Builder" carried passengers across miles of tedious grassland before stopping at Glacier Park Station. When guests stepped off the train, they were dazed by the vista before them: colorful gardens in the foreground, Indian tipis scattered across a manicured lawn, then the imposing Lodge, and behind it all, the backdrop of Glacier National Park.

The Glacier Park Hotel (later renamed Lodge) was luxurious by the standards of the day. Many of the carefully furnished guest rooms featured private baths, porches and fireplaces. After cocktails and dinner, guests could watch a performance by Blackfeet Indians, or stroll down a 1,000-foot garden path, surrounded by glorious banks of flowers tended by a real Swiss gardener.

But with just 61 rooms, Hill's Hotel quickly needed an annex.