The Northern Pacific Railroad - Yellowstone's First Rail Access
A Pictorial History of the Early Days
Excerpts From "Making Concessions in Yellowstone"
by Robert V. Goss
Old Faithful Geyser
Cover from a ca1930 NPRY brochure
Brochure from the author's collection.
The Northern Pacific Railroad
      The NPRR was formed in 1864 when the company was awarded the rights to build a rail line from Lake Superior to Puget Sound.  As incentive, Congress granted them about 10 million acres of land along the proposed route.  Construction began in 1870 but progress was halted for six years when the Panic of 1873 caused most all rail construction in the US to come to a standstill.  The line finally reached Livingston Montana in the fall of 1882 and was completed across Montana to the West Coast in early fall of 1883.  That year the Park Branch Line was built from Livingston to
Cinnabar and became the first rail access to the park on September 1.  Cinnabar was about 3 miles north of Gardiner.  A land dispute between the railroad and 'Buckskin Jim' Cutler prevented the rail line from coming all the way into Gardiner.  The railroad was the owner or part owner of the hotels in the park until 1907 when H.W. Child acquired all the remaining shares.  Beginning in 1883 the railroad attempted to build a line along the northern end of the park to the gold mines of Cooke City.  The controversy over the proposal raged on for over 10 years before the railroad finally backed off on the plan.
The Northern Pacific Railway
The company was reorganized in 1896 and became known as the Northern Pacific Railway (NPRy).  The NPRy continued to provide loans and financial backing for the construction and operation of the hotels and transportation fleet in Yellowstone into the mid-1900’s.  In the early days this backing was accomplished through a subsidiary called the North West Improvement Co.  In 1917 backing was done jointly with the NPRy, Union Pacific, and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroads.  The company extended their line to Gardiner in 1902 with the first passenger train arriving in early July to a temporary depot and loading platform.  The company constructed the beautiful log depot in 1903 under the direction of architect Robert Reamer.
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NPRR Depot at Gardiner, circa 1914
This rustic log building was erected in Gardiner at the end of Northern Pacific’s ‘Yellowstone Park Line' in 1903.  Robert Reamer, architect of the Old Faithful Inn, designed the building and the firm of Deeks & Deeks was awarded the $20,000 construction contract on April 27, 1903.  The rail line was extended into Gardiner and opened June 20, 1902.  A temporary depot was used until the new edifice was completed.  Visitors exiting the building looked upon a pond and the new stone Arch built at the entrance to the park that same year. 
Brochure from the author's collection.
(Mouse over pic to view an original photo of the depot and incoming train. Photo from author's collection)
The Final Days . . . . .
     Regularly scheduled passenger service to the park ended in 1948, but freight service continued for a few years thereafter, along with an occasional special sightseeing train.  The last railroad loan to
YPCo was not paid off until 1955.  For some years afterwards bus service was provided from Livingston to Gardiner.  Mergers in 1970 with the Great Northern Ry, Chicago, Burlington & Quincy RR, and the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Ry formed the Burlington Northern RR, the largest railroad company in the US at the time.
Comforts of the Northern Pacific Rail Services - ca1926
The left photo touts a "Spacious Rear Platform with Night Searchlight".  In the other photo a women enjoys the "Telephone for Outside Connection"
1926 NPRy Yellowstone brochure from the author's collection.
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Copyright 2005 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
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Northern Pacific RR Chronology
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Chicago, Burlington & Quincy RR
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Milwaukee Road History
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Union Pacific RR History
Right:   The Roosevelt Arch                    
Located at the north entrance to Yellowstone.  It was built near the Gardiner Depot in 1903.  The Arch was built out of native stone from a design by architect
Robert ReamerTheodore Roosevelt dedicated it on April 24, 1903 and by September visitors were able to drive through the Arch via stagecoach to enter the park.   A stone gatehouse was built near the Arch in 1921 and used as a check-in station until it was razed in 1966. The Arch is also known as the North Entrance Arch.
1910 NPRy brochure from the author's collection.
1912 Northern Pacific Letterhead
The letter proudly displays the Monad Logo adopted by the company in 1893.  It is patterned after the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol. The two comma shaped halves represent the dual powers of the universe – two principles called Yang and Yin. Their primitive meanings were: Yang, light; Yin, darkness. Philosophically, they stood for the positive and the negative. The bottom of the logo reads "Yellowstone Park Line".  The company's headquarters were in St. Paul, Minnesota.
1914 NPRy brochure from the author's collection.
The Spectacular Red Lodge Highway
View of a touring bus of the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. driving over the newly constructed road from Red Lodge to Cooke City and the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone.  The buses would pick up visitors from the NPRy depot at Red Lodge.  Due to heavy snow loads the road is only open for 4-5 months of the year.
1936 NPRy brochure from the author's collection.
Left:    Mammoth Hot Springs                
View of Mammoth and Ft. Yellowstone from the top of the Mammoth Terraces.
1914 NPRy brochure from the author's collection.
The Northwest Improvement Company
The NPRy sold their interest in the hotels in Yellowstone to their subsidiary, the Northwest Improvement Co. in 1898, making that company the sole owner of the Yellowstone Park Asso. stock.  NWIC continued to be the front company for the NPRy’s financing of H.W. Child’s enterprises in the park for many years.  NWIC was also responsible for the opening of the travertine quarries near Gardiner in the 1930’s.  The last railroad loan was obtained in 1937 and was paid off by 1955.
Comforts of the Northern Pacific Rail Services ca1895
This photo depicts a group of excursionists on their way to Yellowstone enjoying a fancy meal in the railroad's dining car.
Photo from Burton Holmes Travelogues, Vol. 12, 1919
The Wonderland of the World
     The Northern Pacific Railroad began publishing "The Wonderland of the World" guidebook of Yellowstone in1884 in order to advertise their services.  It was supplemented with F.J. Haynes photos and was published yearly until 1906 with articles on Yellowstone and other points of interest along the NPRR’s route through the Northwest.
Jay Cooke
    Jay Cooke, born in 1821, was an American financier, whose firm raised more than $1 billion in loans for the federal government during the American Civil War.    After the war Cooke undertook to raise $100 million for the projected route of the Northern Pacific Railroad from Duluth, Minnesota, to Tacoma, Washington.  Cooke became head of the Northern Pacific RR in 1868 and served until 1873.   However, the financial burden was too great, and the firm went bankrupt, thus precipitating the panic of 1873, which brought rail building to a standstill until 1879.  Cooke's firm never reopened, but Cooke, through mining investments, repaid his creditors and accumulated another fortune within seven years.   Frederick Billings took control of NPRR in 1879 and rail building began again at a rapid rate.  He was suceeded in 1881 by Henry Villard who oversaw the completion of the rail line in August of 1883.  A Last Spike Ceremony was held at Gold Creek, Montana, 59 west of Helena, on September 8.   Prior to the 1870 Washburn Expedition, Cooke hired Nathaniel Langford as a sort of publicity agent to help spread the word of the wonders of the western lands that the railroad would be passing through.  Cooke City was named after Jay Cooke by the miners in that area in an attempt to attract a rail line to the gold mines there.
Livingston Montana
     This Montana town, about 50 miles north of the park, was founded in 1882 due to the construction of the Northern Pacific RR through Montana on the way to the West Coast.  It was the site of the largest Northern Pacific facilities west of Minnesota, containing division terminal, switchyard, roundhouse, repair shops, fuel and water structures, and a passenger station.  It became one of the original gateways to Yellowstone when the Park Branch Line was constructed to within three miles of the north entrance to Yellowstone in 1883.  The first depot was built of wood in 1882 and burned down a few years later.  A second brick depot was erected in 1888, but eventually proved to be too small.  The firm of Reed & Stem designed a new grand railroad depot in the Italiante style that was built in 1901-02.  The main depot housed waiting rooms and ticket office with division offices upstairs.  A lunchroom building was located on the east side, and baggage rooms were on the west.  The station opened in the summer of 1902 at a cost of $100,000. 
16 trains a day stopped at the depot for the next 30 years, but dropped to about 4 a day until 1971.  Amtrak took over at that time, reducing service even more.  Regularly scheduled passenger train service to Yellowstone was discontinued in 1948 and bus service was implemented to take the place of the trains.  Amtrak passenger train service through the town ended in 1979.  Burlington Northern, successor to NPRR, ceased their maintenance operations in Livingston and pulled out of town in 1986.  BN gave the depot to the City of Livingston in 1985 and it became a museum two years later, after an investment of $800,000 to renovate the structure
Livingston NPRy Depot
Undated postcard from the author's collection.
Click here for in-depth history articles on the NPRR
and the Park Branch Line
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Chicago & North Western RR
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