On May 11, 1910, Glacier National Park in Montana became the tenth national park in the United States. Glacier National Park was created in part because of the commercial interests of the Great Northern Railway. The park provided a tourist destination and the Great Northern provided the transportation and also owned the concessions within the park. Since Glacier’s mountains looked somewhat similar to the Swiss Alps, Hill envisioned the park as America’s Swiss Alps which would draw the wealthy tourists who had traditionally vacationed in Europe. Between 1910 and 1930, Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway, commissioned the construction of nine Swiss-style chalets to be built in and around the park.
In 1914 construction began on the Many Glacier Hotel. A sawmill was set up and logs for the dimension lumber and smaller timbers came from the Grinnell Lake area—this was no concern about logging in the park at this time. The logs used for the main pillars of the hotel came from Washington and Oregon. Supplies were hauled into the site with horse-drawn wagons, a five day journey from Browning, Montana. The route from Browning was relatively flat and it left the Blackfeet Highway, which connected the park from East Glacier, free for tourist travel.
A crew of about 400 workers was involved in the construction project. The hotel was completed midway through the 1915 tourist season. Great Northern Railway promoted the new hotel as “one of the most noteworthy tourist hotels that ever had been erected in America.” Almost half of the visitors to Glacier National Park in 1915 stayed at the Many Glacier Hotel.
The hotel, built in three sections, conforms to the irregular shoreline of Swiftcurrent Lake (called McDermott Lake when the hotel was first constructed). The hotel is 600 feet long and rises to four stories.
In 1920, the hotel boasted:
“The new hotel contains accommodations for 500 guests—electric lighted, steam heated, room telephones, laundry, rooms with private bath—plunge pool—open campfires in lobby—Indian room café.”The per day rates in 1920 ranged from $5.00 without bath to as much as $10.00 with bath. Rates varied according to location. I suspect that today’s rates are slightly higher. VIPs and the very wealthy—guests such as John D. Rockefeller, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and writer Irvin S. Cobb—got a cheaper rate than other guests.
Shown above is a photograph from the 1920. At this time large parties of tourists would gather on horseback at the Many Glacier Hotel.
The sawmill which had been constructed to provide lumber for the hotel was supposed to have been torn down upon completion of construction. That didn’t happen. Finally, Stephen Mather, director of the National Park Service, took the matter into his own hands: in 1925 he arrived at Many Glacier without any written or verbal warning; he had Park Service employees place 13 dynamite charges around the sawmill; and then he personally pushed the plunger, blowing the sawmill up. In response to this even, Great Northern vice-present William Kenney said:
“It was the most high-handed, unwarranted and illogical thing that has probably ever occurred in any park, and committed by a government official, is particularly deplorable.”
The interior of the hotel features peeled logs, 30 inches in diameter, the rise up to the ceiling four stories above.
View from the Lodge:
The Red Buses:
1914 Hill made arrangements with the White Motor Company to provide bus services in the park. The red jammers which transport tourists in the park today were originally built by White and more recently upgraded by Ford. The jammers now run on propane to reduce the carbon footprint in the park.
Entertainment at the hotel today includes the award-winning Blackfoot poet and singer Jack Gladstone.
On a less formal note, we were entertained over lunch by watching a cow moose swim across the lake.
For many of the tourists the primary entertainment is hiking and there are a number of trails from the hotel to nearby glaciers and lakes.