Longmire: Designing a National Park Style

Front of the Administration Building showing use of large boulders and timbers.
The front of the Administration Building shows the use of native materials like the large boulders and timbers.

NPS/ A. Spillane

Walk through any of the forty-nine national parks, and you might notice something very similar about their buildings despite the very different locations and history. There’s a common theme through the architecture you find in parks; simple, rustic design using native materials to blend in with the scenery. Some of the best early examples of this are here in Longmire at Mount Rainier National Park.
Longmire didn’t start out as part of a national park. James Longmire built the first buildings here on land he patented as a mining claim. He dreamed of building a health resort for vacationers to enjoy the mineral springs and serve as a base for exploring Mount Rainier. As James built a road, hotel, and other buildings and allowing greater access to the area, people began to see the potential in the beautiful slopes of Mount Rainier. They lobbied Congress for years to make it a national park and succeeded in 1899.
Longmire Museum moving across the road on large trailer.
The Longmire Museum, once a range office, moved across the road in October, 1977.

NPS Photo

The new park management needed buildings, starting with an office then houses, a kitchen and various others. Two of these early buildings can still be seen; the library (1910) and the museum (1916). They’re simple, wooden buildings that almost blend in under the trees. As the park staff grew, so did the need for office space. In designing the Administration building in the 1920s, National Park Service architects in San Francisco decided to make a building that looks like it should be here; a rustic building constructed with local stone and wood, echoing the surrounding forests and mountains. As managers sketched out a plan for the park, this became the blueprint for all buildings and structures. Eventually, these ideas became a style know as “NPS Rustic” and copied in many other National Park Service sites.
Throughout the 1920s, the Longmire area continued to be developed, with renovation and construction projects. Through buyouts and a fire, what was a hotel annex became the National Park Inn. The gas station was redone to match the simple, rustic style of the Administration building. Meanwhile, the oldest building in Longmire, the general store (1906), would keep its appearance the same while changing its use. Over the decades, it has been a clubhouse, a hiker and skier information center, and a store. Warehouses and residences for rangers were also added to the landscape. As time went on, some structures went away like the many rental tents, the tennis court, horse livery barn, auto barns and hydroelectric plant. Some buildings moved in the 1970s and 80s, as the museum moved across the street and parking was rearranged to make Longmire more pedestrian friendly.
Flooding at Longmire in 2006 endangered the Emergency Operations Center.
Flooding of the Nisqually River at Longmire in 2006 endangered the Emergency Operations Center.

NPS Photo

Decade by decade, Longmire became the place that we know today. Some changes continue today, such as the steady work of Nisqually River. Like many mountain rivers fed by glaciers, flooding is a way of life on the Nisqually. Floods have come through Longmire on a number of occasions, like 1959, 2003 and 2006. Through the work of scientists, park management realized that Longmire is built on a flood plain and took steps to relocate staff and offices to drier ground. Today, the park headquarters and a number of residences are located outside the park in Ashford. Many park employees still work in Longmire, with quite a few calling it home during the summer. Every building is used whether for a gift shop, museum, library or auto shop. As the second most popular place in the park, it is a spot many visitors think of as their place at Mount Rainier.
Despite the threat from flooding, park rangers work constantly to preserve the history of Longmire, preserving these simple, rustic buildings that echo the beauty of the great mountain that they stand on. The Administration building, community building and gas station were nominated to the national historic register of historic places in 1986. Many of the other historic buildings were added to the historic register as part of a district in 1991. Maintaining the historical integrity of Longmire’s buildings is not only important to the park service, its important to our nation’s history and to park visitors everyday.
Learn more about visiting the Longmire area within the park.
Resources:
National Historic Register Nominations for National Park Inn, Administration Building, Community Building, and Gas Station
Wonderland: An Administrative History of Mount Rainier National Park
100 Years at Longmire Village by Sarah Allaback (Author), Victoria Jacobson (Author), Ronald Warfield (Photographer) Northwest Interpretive Associates, 2000.
Archaeology and History In the Nisqually River Corridor by: Greg C. Burtchard Jacqueline Y. Cheung Eric B. Gleason July, 2006.

Last updated: August 11, 2017