The Izaak Walton Inn is steeped in railroad history. Sure, it’s located alongside the railroad tracks, across from the Amtrak station, and offers accommodations in the inn itself, in rustic cabins – and in luxuriously re-furbished railroad cars – to the dream of rail enthusiasts.
But there are greater connections.
In the early 1900s, James J. Hill, owner of the Great Northern Railway, and his son Louis Hill, began developing Glacier National Park. Louis marketed the park as the “American Alps” and the “Little Switzerland of America.” The landscape is reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, and Hill’s exclusive use of Tudor-revival architectural style for the lodges and chalets he developed inspired the connection further.
In January, 1926, the Great Northern Railway changed the name of the Essex station to “Walton” because “fish abound near the station.”
The name “Walton” is a nod to the 17th-century, English author Izaak
Walton. Walton wrote “The Compleat Angler” in 1653 and is considered the “patron saint of fishermen.” It was not uncommon for fishermen to consider themselves “disciples of Izaak Walton” or belong to the Izaak Walton League of America, one of the nation’s first nature conservation organizations.
On June 13, 1939, the Great Northern Railway announced its plans for a “30 room hostelry at Walton.” The hotel was to “be of Swiss architectural style to conform with Glacier National Park structures.”
And since the lodge was located at the “Walton,” the name “Izaak Walton Lodge” made sense. Today, it’s called the Izaak Walton Inn. And “Walton” is now known as Essex (once again).
The lodge was originally built and leased by the Addison-Miller Company of St. Paul, Minn. The “new $40,000 hotel” formally opened on Nov. 15, 1939. It was designed to accommodate railroad personnel – and the anticipated troves of tourists passing through a new planned entrance to Glacier National Park. Unfortunately, that plan never came to fruition.
The lodge was proclaimed to be “modern in every detail.” The ground floor was designed with a “good-sized lobby, fireplace, newsstand, kitchen and dining room and four master bedrooms with private bath.” The second floor had “sixteen spacious rooms with ample baths, closet and locker space,” while the third floor was allocated for sleeping quarters for the hotel staff.
The lodge stands alongside a rail yard that was (and still is) critical to railroad operations. Railroad workers toiled on snow removal gangs and locomotive helper-engine operations. Helper-engines were added to help eastbound trains make it over the Continental Divide at Marias Pass, with its peak elevation at 5,216 feet. And helper-engines were taken off westbound trains after they came down the pass.
Incidentally, the Izaak Walton Lodge had nothing to do with Izaak Walton’s cottage built centuries before in England, yet they share many peculiarities.
For example, the Izaak Walton Lodge was designed in Tudor-revival style. Coincidentally, the cottage in England was built in the original, 16th-century Tudor style.
The Izaak Walton Lodge was built alongside a railroad. And coincidentally, a railroad was built through the property and alongside the cottage in England (that also had a national forest nearby).
And, the Izaak Walton Lodge was built where a previous “hotel and beanery” (restaurant) once stood – until both were destroyed by fire in 1935. And coincidentally (if not just eerily) the cottage in England caught fire in 1927 and in 1938 from sparks from coal-fired, steam locomotives.
So, if you’ve never been to the Izaak Walton Inn, or haven’t visited in awhile, you must (re-)experience it – with its rich history, architecture, and coincidences in mind.
JC Chaix is a writer and certified home inspector and appreciates history, art and architecture.
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