Great Northern Railroad

Great Northern Decal, NPS photoGreat Northern Railroad Depot, Belton, ca.1920, NPS photoEmpire Builder-1947, NPS  photo, B. Yenne

After Glacier became a national park in 1910, the Great Northern Railway, under the leadership of President Louis Hill, began constructing facilities meant to attract tourists that would ride the rails to reach Glacier National Park. Between 1910 and 1930, Hill commissioned the building of numerous chalets and hotels in and around the park. The first was the Belton Chalet, built just two months after Glacier was designated a national park.

Following the onset of World War I in 1914, which slowed overseas travel, the Great Northern Railway saw the opportunity to promote Glacier as a destination, and the railway as the means to transport visitors to the park. Great Northern Railway brochures and billboards would utilize the slogan “See America First,” part of an ad campaign targeting upper-middle class Americans from the East Coast who, prior to the war, were spending money traveling to Europe.

Over time, the increased use of personal automobiles, the Great Depression, and World War II, would all factor into decreased use of the railway through the 1930s and into the 1950s. Through a series of sales, the Great Northern Railway is now part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe which still operates rail service to the area, while Amtrak offers passenger service.