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West Yellowstone Montana

The extension of the Union Pacific System's rails from Idaho to the West Entrance of the Park in 1907 created a need for a town at the end of [the] track on the boundary line, and the town had to have a name — which was not so easy, as it turned out.

At first the terminus was referred to merely as “the boundary,” or unofficially, for the purpose of forwarding mail to the end of [the] track, as “Yellowstone, Montana.” But, upon establishment of a post office under Peter Arnet on October 23, 1908, the name became officially “Riverside, Montana.” That name was unsatisfactory for several reasons: The town was not on a river, there was a well-established soldier station by that name four miles to the east, and the railroad management wanted a name identified with the Park. As a result, it was changed to “Yellowstone, Montana” on November 17, 1909, but that was even less satisfactory, leading to confusion with the Park headquarters (where the post office name had been changed to Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, in 1902). The problem of misdirected mail was finally solved on January 7, 1920, by yet another change — to West Yellowstone, Montana, which remains the town's name.

The original settler was Joe Claus, who built a cabin in what is now the townsite during the winter of 1906-1907, probably in the hope of profiting from construction of the railway. But the necleus from which a settlement sprang was the group of one-acre store sites abutting the railroad right-of-way that the Madison National Forest leased to Charles A. Arnet (1907), and to Samuel P. Eagle and L. A. Murry (1908).

In the latter year a six-block area, including those commercial leases, was surveyed by the Forest Service, which retained control of the land. Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana introduced a bill in Congress (1913) to set aside that land as a town site, and in 1919 more liberal legislation established a town of twenty-six blocks. However, no lots were sold until 1924, when squatters were allowed to buy the occupied lots for $59 each. The others were auctioned that year and in 1928.

A road was cut through the forest in 1907, to the Madison River two miles distant, where the Wylie Permanent Camping Company and the Monida and Yellowstone Stage Company built barns and other facilities required by their stages engaged in transporting the tourists into the Park from the Union Pacific depot, after scheduled service began June 1, 1909. The “Riverside Barns” were converted to a facility for the yellow buses after motorization of the Park in 1917, and they were razed following the Union Pacific System's abandonment of its service to the Western Entrance after 1957.

Gallatin County built a road through the northwest corner of Yellowstone Park in 1911, thus putting the new gateway town on an important north-south route that fed automobile traffic to the Western Entrance from both Bozeman, Montana, and Idaho Falls or Pocatello, Idaho. By the 1920s, West Yellowstone had become in all but a few seasons the most popular place for automobilists to enter the Park. It is an advantage the town has retained over the years, compensating very well for the loss of railroad tourism.

Information from: Yellowstone Place Names - Mirrors of History by Aubrey L. Haines pp 261, 262.

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