Gateways to Wonderland
West Yellowstone & The Union Pacific RR
Copyright 2020 by Robert V. Goss. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by an information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author.
The Early Days . . . .
The West Entrance of Yellowstone was used by many of the earliest tourists to Yellowstone. Gilman Sawtelle, probably the area's earliest settler, homesteaded a ranch in the Henry's Lake area in 1867. The following year he built a road from his ranch to Virginia City. Five years later he was instrumental in constructing the first road from Virginia City into Yellowstone through the West Entrance. The road was known as the Virginia City and National Park Free Wagon Road.
In the 1880's travel to the park was also accomplished by the UP's line that extended from Brigham City, UT. to Butte MT. The train stopped at Beaver, near the Idaho and Montana border, and there stagecoaches made the trip through the West Entrance. The route traveled through Centennial Valley, past Henry's Lake, with an overnight stop at Dwelle's Inn. The passengers arrived at the Fountain Hotel the following day in time for lunch The jump-off point was later moved to Monida, where the Monida-Yellowstone Stage Line began service in 1898 and traveled a more direct route to the west entrance of Yellowstone.
In 1905, E.H. Harriman, President of Union Pacific RR, made plans to extend their rail line to the west entrance of Yellowstone. The line was completed in Nov. of 1907 and the following June the line was open for regularly scheduled train traffic.
Right Top: Dwelle's lodge, later known as the Grayling Inn. In 1884 he established Dwelle’s Stage Stop to service the Bassett Bros. stages that were running to the park from Beaver, Idaho. In 1898, Dwelle’s Inn became an overnight stop for the Monida & Yellowstone Stage Co. that transported tourists to the park from Monida until 1908. [Montana Historical Society]
Right Bottom: Gilman Sawtelles cabin in 1872, when he hosted F.V Hayden Expedition Hayden standing to right and Sawtelle sitting on the right. Photo by Wm. H. Jackson.
Bottom Left: The Sawtelle Ranch in 1872. Photo by Wm. H. Jackson.
The Union Pacific RR Moves in . . .
The UPRR incorporated the Yellowstone Park Railroad Company on September 12, 1905 to build a line from St. Anthony, Idaho to the west entrance of Yellowstone. Construction began October 3, 1905 and was completed November 12, 1907. The line was almost immediately closed by winter snows, but was ready to provide service the following June. The town at the Boundary was founded in 1908 with the name of Riverside, even though the town site was two miles from the Madison River. The UP began providing passenger rail service to the town on June 11, 1908. A road was cut through the forest in 1907, to the Madison River two miles distant, where the Wylie Permanent Camping Company and the Monida and Yellowstone Stage Company built barns and other facilities required by their stages engaged in transporting the tourists into the Park from the Union Pacific RR depot.
The townsite was located on Forest Service lands and permission was needed for any homesteaders. The original settler was Joe Claus, who built a cabin in what is now the townsite during the winter of 1906-1907, probably in the hope of profiting from construction of the railway. The first residents were issued permits for stores and homes late in the fall of 1907, but did not actually own the land. They were Charles A. Arnet, Sam P. Eagle, and L.A. Murray. A Forest Service survey in June 1908 created a town site consisting of 6 blocks and the town was officially named Riverside on Oct. 23, 1908. Prior to that time the area was referred to as ‘the Boundary’, or ‘at the Boundary'.
Hotel Yellowstone, usually referred to as the Yellowstone Hotel, or Yellowstone Inn in later days, was a 2-story hotel was built around 1907-08 by L.A. Murray. Adjacent buildings were a small pool hall and a corner barber shop run by Osh Hedgecoach in the early years. I believe it came into possession of the Bryant Way, a camping outfit that toured Yellowstone. Around 1913, Shaw & Powell Camping Co. bought the hotel for use by their guests. After reorganization of the camping companies in Yellowstone in 1917, it came into possession of the Yellowstone Park Camping Co. In 1926, the property was sold to Sam Hurless, who constructed a cabin camp on the lot.
Top Left: Hotel Yellowstone, photo taken perhaps soon after construction.
Top Right: Yellowstone Hotel with the pool room at right and barber shop on far right.
Bottom Right: The Inn at the Gate: The Yellowstone Hotel, ca1914 when used by the Shaw & Powell Camping Co. [Photo from University of Wyoming]
Eagles Store, ca1910
Samuel Peter Eagle, then in partnership with Alex Stuart, opened a general store in 1908 which operated for two years, after which the Stuart family went into business for themselves. On November 17, 1909 Sam Eagle was appointed Postmaster, taking over from Chas. Arnet. The store was enlarged in 1913.
[Photo from Images of America - West Yellowstone, by Paul Shea]
The Town's Beginnings . . .
The name Riverside had already been applied to an area 4-5 miles east of the park entrance in the 1880’s, where a mail and stagecoach station and a soldier station were located. To avoid confusion, the name was changed to Yellowstone on Jan 31, 1910. Confusion continued for years with the town named the same as the park. The name was changed for the last time in 1920 to West Yellowstone. In 1913 and 1919 lands were removed from the Forest Service jurisdiction for use as the town site and residents were then able to actually own their land. In 1920 additional areas were surveyed and platted, enlarging the town. The original blocks were renumbered and 22 additional blocks created.
Charles Arnet, one of the original founders, built the Yellowstone Store, around 1907-08. It was the first store in town and located in the middle of Park Street. It also housed the first post office. He sold out to Alex Stuart in 1910. L.A. “Dick” Murray built the Yellowstone Hotel in 1909, located across the street and west of the Eagle Store. It later became the Yellowstone Inn, and then the hotel for the Shaw & Powell Camping Co.
Around the same time, Sam Eagle also operated a general store with Alex Stuart. When Stuart bought the Yellowstone Store, Eagle and his wife continued their operation. In the late 1920's they built a new 'Eagle Store'. The Eagle family continues to operate the store to this day.
Early Street Views of "Yellowstone"
Top Left: Real-Photo postcard with Hotel Yellowstone behind the horses, probably pulling a Monida & Yellowstone Stage Co., undated.
Top Right: Park St. in 1912. Alex Stuart's General Merchandise Store.
Bottom Right: Street view ca1917 showing buses of the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. Behind are the madison Hotel (left) and Madison Cafe to its right. The building on the right advertises Park Tour and Permanent Camps, no doubt an old Shaw & Powell Camping Co. building.
[Yellowstone Historic Center, #2016.4]
Union Pacific Depot
The depot was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood and opened in 1909 by the UPRR, replacing temporary facilities. The Union Pacific RR described it as, “built of stone, very substantial, spacious, and artistic. It is electric heated by steam, and provides large waiting rooms, an individual dressing room for ladies, two large fireplaces, drinking fountains, etc. In it are the usual ticket and Pullman offices and the office of the Monida and Yellowstone Stage Co. Upon the railroad's arrival to West, the Monida-Yellowstone Stage Line moved their operations from Monida to an area a few miles inside the park's boundary called Riverside. They picked up passengers from the depot and took them on the tour around the park. In 1972, major changes were made throughout the depot to convert its use to a privately-operated museum. The building currently houses the Yellowstone Historic Center Museum
Union Pacific Dining Lodge
The Dining Lodge was built in 1925 by the UPRR with Gilbert Stanley Underwood as architect. The dining hall incorporated a large central eating space (the Mammoth Room) with a massive, arrowhead-shaped fireplace, a kitchen large enough to prepare over 1,000 meals per day; a large service wing containing the employee dining hall, a bakery, butcher shop, scullery, linen room, coal room, manager’s office, and walk-in refrigerators and freezers. Visitors would arrive in the morning and have breakfast prior to their journey into the park. Diners were served in the Mammoth Room, a dining room with 45' ceilings, large windows, and a fireplace large enough for a man to stand in. Several hundred people could be seated at once. Visitors returning from the park would have supper before boarding the train for their trip home.
Top Left: The Beanery, built in 1911 to replace the original crude facility. [Photo from Images of America - West Yellowstone, by Paul Shea]
Top Right: Mammoth Room in the new UP Dining Lodge, constructed in 1925, replacing the Beanery. [Real-Photo postcard, author collection]
Middle Right: The Depot with the Yellowstone Special in front. [Postcard Bloom Bros. #4270, Author collection]
Bottom Right: Early view of the Union Pacific Depot. [Real-Photo postcard]
Bottom Left: Trackside view of the Union Pacific Dining Lodge (left), Baggage Bldg., and the Depot, late 1920s, Tammen Postcard #4520
Alex Stuart, one of towns founding pioneers, started out in business with Sam Eagle. Stuart bought Arnet's Yellowstone Store in 1910 and started a general merchandise store. They incorporated as the Stewart Mercantile Co. in 1915. According to the Butte Miner, Oct. 24, 1915, “The Stuart Mercantile company, organized to conduct a general retail merchandise business at Yellowstone, in extreme southern Gallatin county on the Park boundary, has been Incorporated by papers filed with the county clerk and recorder last Thursday. The capital stock is $25,000. The directors are Matthew A. Stewart and Emma Stewart of St. Paul. Minn., and Alex Stuart and Laura Stuart of Yellowstone. [See stereoview of the store on the "Street Views of Yellowstone above)
Right: Stereoview of Stuart's General Merchandise Store, 1912.
With the advent of the 'horseless carriage' in Yellowstone, he entered into an agreement with the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. to service their new White Motor Co. buses beginning in 1917. He built Stuart's Garage, selling gas, tires, oil, and other automotive supplies. He obtained the service contract in 1917 for the White Motor Co. touring buses of the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. YPTCo took over operations from the Yellowstone-Western stagecoach company when motor cars began ruling the roads in Yellowstone in 1917. Alex’s son Walt, reportedly the first baby born in West Yellowstone (1909), began working at the station in 1919, purchased it in 1936 and eventually sold it in 1977. Alex Stuart died in 1961.
Top Right: Colorized postcard of Alex Stuart's Service, undated.
Top Left: Walt Stuarts Texaco after rebuilding/remodeling, ca1940s. Real-Photo postcard.
Built by Jess Pieman in 1912, the Madison Hotel is the only remaining early hotel in West Yellowstone. This rustic log hotel was soon after purchased by Charles M. "Roxy" and Dolly (Bishop) Bartlett. It was conveniently located across from the UPRR depot. There were originally 6 rooms upstairs with a downstairs lobby. Fourteen more rooms and a card room were added in 1921 and running water a few years later. Eventually the Hadleys bought the operation in 1959, adding a large gift shop. The business is still open during the summer season.
Top Right: Ad for the Hotel Madison in 1915. [Road Logs Salt Lake City to Yellowstone Park, 1915]
Bottom Right: Lobby of the Madison Hotel, undated. [Real-Photo postcard, author collection]
Bottom Left: Madison Hotel, located across from the UP Depot, ca1920. [Real-Photo postcard, author collection]
Kennedy Bldg - Menzel’s Curio
The Kennedy Building was built in 1911 on a lot owned by Madison Basin Forest Ranger Louis J. Kennedy. It originally served as a dance hall in the town that would become West Yellowstone. Equipped with a piano, the building hosted Saturday night dances for the entertainment of tourists, railroad employees, and locals. It then housed a summer restaurant from 1913 to 1916, and in 1919, local students used its lofty space as a basketball court. Sam Eagle, one of the town’s founders, acquired the building in 1933 and opened a curio shop managed by his daughter, Rose. In 1941, Rose married Herm Menzel who promptly went off to war. Upon Herm’s return in 1946, the store became Menzel’s Curio Shop. The building still stands on Yellowstone Avenue today.
Top Left: Kennedy Building, that later housed Menzel's Curio Shop in 1933. Rose Eagle managed the business until 1946, when she married Herm Menzel.
[Real-Photo postcard, probaby ca1933.]
Top Right: Later view of Eagle's Curio Store, ca1940s
Bottom Right: 1981 view of Menzel's Curio Store. It is still in business to this day. It is one of the few original businesses in town remaining from the 1910s era. [NPS Photo #284]
Samuel Peter Eagle, then in partnership with Alex Stuart, opened a general store in 1908 which they operated for two years, after which the Stuart family went into business for themselves. On November 17, 1909 Sam Eagle was appointed Postmaster, taking over from Chas. Arnet. Eagle took over the actual operation of the post office in January of 1910, which was the beginning of his 25 years of tenure. The West Yellowstone Post Office was housed in the store from 1910 until 1935. Also, a soda fountain was added to Eagle’s Store in 1910. The store was rebuilt/enlarged in 1913.
The present 3-story building was built in the years between 1927 and 1930. Sam purchased Joe Claus’ cabins in the early 1920s and used them as employee housing. Small shops to the side of the store were replaced by a store addition in 1966. The Eagle Family has continued to operate at 3 Canyon Street in its original location to this day.
Top Left: 1913 view of the early Eagle Store. [Photo from Images of America - West Yellowstone, by Paul Shea]
Top Right: View of the Eagle Store after it was rebuilt in 1927-30. [Schlechten Photo]
The Tepee Inn (also Tee Pee Inn) was built by Paul & Dorothy Strieder in 1919. It was a large two-story log structure that housed a bar, dance floor, cafe, and rooms. Paul died in the early 1920s and later Dorothy married Val Buchanan, and continued to operate the hotel. J.H. Venable sold the Tepee to A.K. Clawson in 1952. A fire caused by a burning grease trap burned the Tepee in 1965, but the exterior rock wall and interior back-bar survived the fire. The building was rebuilt as a single story structure, and Clawson added the Tepee Motel to the building.
Right: Lobby of the TePee Inn, 1934. [Schlechten Photo]
Bottom Left: The Tepee Inn, ca1920. Real-Photo postcard.
Bottom Right: The Tepee Inn, alte 1920s after the Inn was greatly enlarged. Real-Photo postcard.
Doc’s Bar - Doc’s Club
Horace G. “Doc” Bartlett was the brother of Roxy Bartlett, who opened the Madison Hotel. Doc opened a grocery store called the Log Store around 1920. A few years later he opened Doc’s Bar, later called Doc’s Club. Gambling was not unknown in the bar and occasionally newspapers, somewhat unfavorably, reported on the matter. In the late 1930s, Doc was involved in the startup of the Chalet Theater. In later days the club featured the Starlite Lounge, for drinks, dinner and dancing. It was listed for sale in newspapers in 1956 and 1968.
Above: Newspaper ad for Doc's Club, from the Idaho State Journal in 1959
Left: View of Yellowstone St., late-1930s. Doc's is in between the two cafes on the left.
[Photo from, Images of America - West Yellowstone, by Paul Shea
Smith & Chandlers
Transcription of sign from the West Yellowstone Historic Walking Tour
"In 1927, two pioneering entrepreneurs from Las Vegas, Nevada, Carl Smith & Ken Chandler, built a large general mercantile across the street from the Union Pacific Depot. Train passengers walked across the dirt street for their group photos. Tour bus riders bought western hats and dusters. Auto travelers picked up postcards and curios. “Smith & Chandler Indian Traders” brought Navajo, Zuni and Hopi jewelry makers and rug, blanket and basket weavers to the store for decades. Alice Chandler was quite a memorable sight, too. She dyed her hair a bright red and was dressed in the finest western dresses and boots. She graced the store with her style and presence for 50 years.
By 1972, the Smiths and Chandlers had retired and sold the store to the Hamilton/ Povah family. In March of 1973, suspected static electricity and leaking propane gas sparked a tremendous fire. Without the help from modern fire hydrants to extinguish the flames, the store and adjoining coffee shop burned to the ground. The family quickly built this new store and kept the same name"
Bottom Right: Postcard view of the Smith & Chandler store in West Yellowstone, ca1940s. They also produced many postcards, many of which were Real-Photo postcards of the "Yellow Buses" filled with tourists heading into Yellowstone.
Top Right: Early view of Smith & Chandler [Schlechten photo, Museum of the Rockies, #x80-6-3098]
The Town Grows Up . . .
This area collects tremendous amounts of snow in the winter and spring and the business season here is typically very short. The railroad shut down service during the winters. Many residents left the area for the winter, and the few that stayed were generally snowed-in for the duration. It was not until 1936 that the road to Bozeman was kept open through the winter. The area’s first airport opened in 1935 on forest lands south of town, cleared by Yellowstone pioneer George Whittaker.
Private-owned snowplanes entered the park through the West Entrance in 1948-49. Private snowmobiles were 1st allowed into Yellowstone in the 1963-64 seasons and the area has since developed into a very popular winter resort area for snowmobiling, snowcoach tours into Yellowstone and cross-country skiing. Snowmobile rental businesses have begun using snowmobiles with 4-stroke engines that pollute less and are quieter. Although the Park banned individual snowmobile travel in Yellowstone, there are vast areas that be explored outside of the Park.
Regularly scheduled railroad passenger service ended in 1960, but a new airport was built in 1963-64, allowing for larger aircraft to bring visitors into the area. The town was incorporated in in 1966 and three years later the UPRR donated the Depot, Dining Lodge, and other service buildings to the town.
Postcard Views of Motels of 1930s -1950s
Top Left: The Hayward cabins and gas station, built by former Yellowstone storekeeper George Whittaker in the 1930s-40s.
Top Right: The Stagecoach Inn, built in 1948.
A Sanborn Real-Photo postcard.
Middle Left: The Sleepy Hollow Motel.
Bottom Left: Circle R Motel, ca1940s.
Bottom Right: THerk's Modern Cabins, ca1940s.
Top Left: View from near Park entrance looking east. From the right: Collette's Coffee Shop, Old Faithful Tavern, barber shop, drug store, cafe, Smith & Chandler's, and Madison Hotel & Gift Shop to the left. Ca1940s. YNP #185327-497.
Bottom Left: Looking north, Purdy's Frontier Club and Knotty Pine Coffee Shop
Click to enlarge photos
Top Right: Yellowstone St., looking west from the corner with Stuart's Texaco gas station on right. A cafe is to the right of the Texaco, then the Frontier Club. A Sanborn postcard.
Bottom Right: Looking north from near Yellowstone St. A Pegasus/Mobil Oil gas station on right, Peterson's on left, with the Log Store and a Tavern next to it. A Linen-Style postcard, ca1940s.
Click to enlarge photos