GLACIER PARK LODGE

Glacier National Park is perceived by many as being one of the most remote national parks in the lower 48, for it is a destination rather than being a way-station on a route to somewhere.  Comparatively few Americans have ever been here, which is a pity for it is a magical place of great beauty.

That the park exists at all we owe no small thanks to railroad tycoon, Louis Hill, son of James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern empire of trains and ships.  Indeed, such a passion did Louis Hill have for the park and its development that he temporarily stepped down from the presidency of Great Northern so that he could devote all his time to Glacier.  His dream was to create a park on the European model, complete with great hotels, chalets, roads, trails, telephone and boat service—something never before accomplished in America.

He began by using his Great Northern clout to secure a special Act of Congress in 1912 to purchase 160 acres of land that was part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation that bordered the just created [in 1910] Glacier National Park.  Here he would position his flagship hotel, and he would lay transcontinental railway track right to his front door (one of the very few national parks where this was done).  Even El Tovar’s rail connection would be a spur rather than being part of a transcontinental route.

Glacier Park Lodge

Hill lay awake nights dreaming of ways to make his first Glacier hotel into one of the nation’s greatest.  The linchpin had come to him earlier, in 1905, while attending the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon.  Unquestionably, the hit of the exposition was the great Oregon Forestry Building, constructed in the rectangular colonnaded basilica style pioneered by Roman architects—only, rather than built of brick, stone, and masonry, this one was anchored by massive Oregon Douglas fir, four feet thick and 48 feet high, each weighing 30,000 – 36,000 pounds.  Now Hill determined to make those same great columns the WOW factor at Glacier.

So it came to pass that Hill constructed (with the able assistance of architects S. L. Bartlett and Thomas McMahon) a great forest basilica at East Glacier.  When the Blackfeet Indians saw those 60 massive logs hauled in by train, they were in awe, for they’d never seen trees that big!  They promptly dubbed the new building “Oom-Coo-Mush-Taw” (Big Tree Lodge”).  Hill did not miss a trick: to ensure that the bark wouldn’t fall off later, he had the logs cut before the sap began to run in the spring.  The Great Hall with its 200 by 100 foot lobby, soaring 60 feet high with three atriums, flanked by galleries on each side, is indeed—as Hill planned it to be—akin to a great European cathedral, only created out of trees.

Great Lobby of Glacier Park Lodge

Inside, Hill orchestrated a most eclectic mix: Indian pictographs; animal horns and skins; buffalo skulls; Indian teepees; Blackfeet crafts, rugs, blankets, baskets; two great fireplaces [the open one has since been removed]; Japanese lanterns hung from rafters, and tea served by women in kimonos; Blackfeet Indians in full regalia and porters in Bavarian uniforms.

When the hotel was completed in 1913, its upperscale rooms featured private baths, fireplaces, and porches.  So successful was it that Hill added 111 additional rooms to the original 61.  Altogether, it cost more than $500,000 to build.

But here we are, almost a hundred years later, and it remains one of America’s great hotels.

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Connie and I have not only seen the lodge from the windows of an Amtrak train, we have stayed there three times, most recently when the Zane Grey’s West Society held its annual convention there.  Bob and Lucy Earp were also in attendance with us.  My brother, concert pianist Romayne Wheeler, feted our Society and hotel guests with a concert in the Grand Hall.

Red jammers at Glacier Park Lodge

Each of Hill’s three great Glacier hotels has a unique feel all its own.  Glacier Park Lodge feels more like a jumping-off place rather than a park hotel.  Vintage red jammers ferry people all over the park, departing and returning to the hotel.  It is part of a small railroad town so it has its own infrastructure, and it borders the large Blackfeet reservation.

Yet, with all this, it remains a serene place to stay.  Separating the railway terminal from the hotel is a thousand-foot-long garden.  In the great lobby and long vista’d verandas, guests play board games, write letters, visit with friends, and regenerate from the hectic life they left behind.  No one misses the television sets ubiquitous in cookie-cutter lodgings elsewhere.  To experience the Great Hall alone is worth the trip.  Especially at night when you stare into the flickering flames in the fireplace.

And once you’ve stayed here one time, you’ll yearn to return.

SOURCES CONSULTED

Invaluable for the history of the hotel is Christine Barnes’ splendid Great Lodges of the West 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. W. West, Inc, 1997).  Also helpful is David and Kay W. Scott’s The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

LAKE CRESCENT LODGE

Pacific Ocean

In the morning, Connie was little better, so the garlic hadn’t quite “stopped the bug in its tracks.” We loaded up, and looked back regretfully at a place we already loved. About an hour later, we stopped at Kalaloch Lodge on the ocean for breakfast. Its predecessor was constructed in the late 1920s; additional cabins were added in the mid 1930s after Hwy 101 had been completed.

Kalaloch Lodge dining room

Between 1950 and 1954, Charles Becker erected the main lodge where we had breakfast. It too is operated by the ARAMARK concession that currently manages Lake Quinault Lodge. Altogether, the lodge services 64 guest rooms, most oceanside cabins. Hard to say which we appreciated most: the delicious breakfast or the sights and sounds of the Pacific.

Crescent Lake

It was early afternoon by the time when, directly ahead of us—smooth as glass—was one of the most beautiful lakes I’d ever seen—Crescent Lake. It almost took our breath away; all the more impressive because we hadn’t expected it; to us it was just another lodge on a lake we needed to check off. We arrived at the lodge just before the wind came up to wreck the mirror imagery. We made our dinner reservations, then since the rooms weren’t ready yet, we drove to Port Angeles then up into the Olympics in order to take pictures of the iconic Hurricane Ridge. Unfortunately, it was socked in by clouds; after having enjoyed beautiful weather at Crater Lake, Oregon Caves Chateau, Timberline, and Paradise Inn, the law of averages now caught up with us—and stayed . So we gave up and returned to Crescent Lake, and found our rooms in a newer addition overlooking the lake.

By now the wind had come up, and the temperature dropped. Nevertheless, Bob and I took the trail through the old growth forest up to the 90-foot-high Marymere Falls. Connie had grown up in old growth redwoods in Northern California, so the sight of these didn’t impress her as much as it did the rest of us: but we had now seen the Jedediah Smith grove of Redwoods near Crescent City, CA; the old growth Douglas fir and red cedar in Oregon Caves National Monument and Mount Rainier National Park; then the more diversified old growth at Quinault; now we were back into Douglas fir and red cedar. As we walked through the forest, Bob and I were staggered by their girth and height. Up till this trip, I had always assumed that a redwood tree was the world’s tallest living thing, but on this trip we learned of a Douglas fir that had fallen—it was taller even than the current tallest redwood! These magnificent stands of Douglas fir and red cedar included many thousand-year-old trees! Those who have never seen such trees ought to determine to add them to their bucket list and see them before they die.

THE STORY OF CRESCENT LAKE LODGE

Two fur trappers (John Everett and John Sutherland) first explored the Crescent Lake area in the early 1860s; so captivated were they by its pristine beauty that they settled in the Olympic Peninsula. Early transportation across the nine-mile-long, mile-wide, and 600-feet deep lake was by canoe; not until 1891 did the first steam launch go into service. Lake Crescent came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service in 1897 when it was included in the Olympic Forest Reserve. As word got out of its beauty, more and more tourists came to see it for themselves.

At the turn of the twentieth century, following the lead of Teddy Roosevelt, Americans everywhere were embracing the outdoor life. Train travel had tremendously increased the distance they could travel in a short time; now the automobile made it possible to do the same for areas not reached by rail. Indeed it was the automobile industry that reined in train travel, resulting in the long decline that has continued until our time.

On the eve of World War I, 1914, Avery and Julia Singer, recognizing the need for a first class resort on the south side of Lake Crescent, purchased eight acres of lakefront property, constructed a two-story hotel and cluster of cottages—in the then popular Arts and Crafts style.

Crescent Lake Lodge

So what greeted guests here? According to Barnes, “Guests arrived by private launch or ferry, enjoyed strolling gardens filled with roses, lilacs, and rhododendrons, and lounged on the tavern’s wraparound porch, taking in the views of the lake and mountains that jutted from the water’s edge. Wisteria draped the hotel’s eaves; croquet, golf, horseshoes, swimming, boating activities, fishing, and exploring filled the days. In the evening, tuxedoed waiters served dinner to guests in evening wear. ‘Civilized’ described the enclave carved out of Barnes Point, a land promenade off the shores of one of the most scenic lakes in Washington. ‘Pastoral’ might also fit the bill.” (Barnes, 69).

Inside, the wood-paneled 56 x 33 foot living room was dominated by an impressive two-tiered rock fireplace, crowned with the antlered head of a magnificent Roosevelt elk. It was a perfect place to relax after an activity-filled day.

Barnes notes that the entire complex “took advantage of its incredible setting, cupping the shoreline with the bathing beach and small craft and ferry landing docks. The placement of the lodge and cabins to the east created a courtyard effect, making space for a horseshoe pit and strolling gardens a marked contrast to towering mountains, dense forests, creeks, and waterfalls.” (Barnes, 71).

The Singers, after expanding their resort to close to a hundred acres with thirty to forty cabins, sold it in 1927. Over the years, many famous guests have stayed here—including Henry Ford, Frank Sinatra, outdoor-loving Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Robert Kennedy, and First Lady Laura Bush. But perhaps most famous of all was president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, with his entourage, spent the night of September 20, 1937, here; the #1 topic of discussion: Should an Olympic National Park be established?

We had no idea when booking this trip that we were thereby intersecting with so much history: Teddy Roosevelt, through the Antiquities Act, saving this area for posterity; Woodrow Wilson, tossing half of it back to the logging industry; and Teddy’s cousin, FDR taking the trouble to travel here himself, dedicating Timberline Lodge on September 28, 1937; spending the night of September 30 here at Crescent Lake Lodge; and then moving on to Quinault Lake Lodge on October 1 (all three lodges that we just visited, FDR did too, in only four days).

The lodge remained privately owned until 1951, when the National Park Service purchased the entire property. For a time, FOREVER Resorts managed it; today it is administered by ARAMARK.

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In the late afternoon, we were ushered to a table with a great lake view for dinner. It was difficult to take our eyes off the scene out the window. Afterwards, we relaxed in wicker chairs and settees in that enchanting flower-bedecked sun porch, still here after almost 85 years.

Next morning, Lucy and Connie agreed that one of the worst mistakes of the entire trip was not booking at least a two-day stay here. All agreed that we must come back. It is a place that, once experienced, is guaranteed to haunt your dreams.

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks 2 (Portland, OR: Graphic Arts Books, 2009). [The best source of information for this lodge].

“Discovery and History of Lake Crescent,” [handout].

Scott, David L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).