These are all proud icons of Yellowstone National Park. For many visitors, their first experience with a Yellowstone icon will be the Roosevelt Arch, the first formal marker and entryway to the park.
Located in Gardiner, the arch was originally conceived by Hiram M. Chittenden, director of road construction in Yellowstone and a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as a way to improve and dramatize a visitor’s journey. Before the arch was built in 1903, visitors would reach Gardiner, Montana via train and mount stagecoaches to enter the park. With the assistance, vision and expertise of Robert C. Reamer, the designer of the Old Faithful Inn, Chittenden’s idea became a grand reality.
The Arch is built from columnar basalt and stands at 50 feet tall, a stark contrast to the relatively flat area surrounding it. Above the arch is carved what can be argued as the best motto for National Parks around the globe: “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” On the east tower is carved “Yellowstone National Park.” And carved on the west tower is “Created by Act of Congress, March 1, 1872,” the day Yellowstone National Park was signed into existence.
The arch cost around $10,000, and construction began on February 19, 1903. Construction was finished on August 15, 1903, but there was a famous dedication ceremony on April 24, 1903, where President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone. It was that event which led to the Arch being named for our 26th President.
The president, a stanch conservationist, was asked to lay the cornerstone while he was vacationing in the area. President Roosevelt was also a dedicated Mason, and was asked by local Masons to lay the cornerstone. He accepted the invitation at his camp at Tower Junction. The dedication event was even presided over by the Grand Master of Montana Frank E. Smith. The cornerstone covers a time capsule that contains, among other things, a bible, a picture of Theodore Roosevelt, and local newspapers.
The dedication day is one of the most significant days in Yellowstone’s history, and arguably Gardiner’s shining moment as a town. Forty stagecoaches at Livingston were required to haul all the overflow passengers who couldn’t fit on the trains. There was an estimated 3,700 visitors at the ceremony in Gardiner (according to the Livingston Post). President Roosevelt arrived on horseback and was greeted enthusiastically by the crowd, a band playing “Hail Columbia” in the background.
After the stone was laid, President Roosevelt gave a speech to the crowd. He first thanked “the people of Montana generally, and those of Gardiner and Cinnabar especially, and more especially still all those employed in the Park […] for my enjoyable two weeks holiday.” He then went into detail about the wonders and significance of Yellowstone National Park. “The Yellowstone Park is something absolutely unique in the world so far as I know. Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors,” he said to the crowd. He said that the “Park was created, and is now administered for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. The government must continue to appropriate for it.” President Roosevelt praised the Park’s features and attractions and said that the region is, “something not paralleled [sic.] elsewhere on the globe. It must be kept for the benefit and enjoyment of all of us.” He also praised the people of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming (the states that Yellowstone is located in) for the way they worked with the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park to prevent the park from being debased by vandals. Roosevelt ended his speech by stating his amazement and admiration of Yellowstone National Park, and thanking everyone present “for [their] greeting.”
The Arch has continued to guard the entrance to Yellowstone even after train travel stopped in the late 40’s. The first cars were allowed through the gate on July 31, 1915 led by Mr. K.R. Seiler of Redwing, Minnesota. Plus, the cars containing the eight Canadian wolves captured as part of the reintroduction project of 1995 passed through the Roosevelt Arch. Visitors can enter and leave Yellowstone through the arch just like visitors in the early 1900’s would have, a symbolic, important moment that thousands of visitors experience every year. A visitor driving his or her car through the arch experiences the same wonder and satisfaction as the visitor riding in on a stagecoach did one hundred years ago.
Roosevelt Arch is one of my favorite parts of Yellowstone National Park, a monument as grand and stately as Yellowstone itself, an important marker that reflects Yellowstone’s history and deep imprint in American culture.
List of items put in the cornerstone:
- Copy of The World’s Almanac, 1903
- Copy of The Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Montana for 1902
- Copy of Northern Pacific Railway descriptive pamphlet, 1903
- Copy of Masonic Code of Montana
- Pictures of the first superintendent of the park, N.P. Langford
- Original articles published in the Helena Herald after the return of the Washburn party of 1870
- Copies of the Livingston daily papers
- Sundry coins of the United States
- A copy of The Holy Bible
- A picture of President Theodore Roosevelt
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