Journey through Grand Canyon's Historic Village. Explore buildings constructed over 100 years old, stories of the past, and consider Grand Canyon's future as tourism continues into the 21st century. Total walking distance is about half a mile throughout the village.
Full Steam Ahead: Stop 1 Train Depot
On September 17, 1901, the first steam-powered train arrived at the South Rim of Grand Canyon. Visitors were greeted by a wooden train depot, now one of the oldest standing in the United States. With the arrival of the train, the quiet area of the South Rim rapidly expanded into the bustling Grand Canyon Village.
[steam engine sounds] Welcome to Grand Canyon Village. We hope you enjoy your time exploring the historic district of the park! While touring the Village today, please be courteous of other visitors along the Rim Trail. During the winter, watch out for snow and icy patches on the pathways. Water and sunscreen are always a good idea at 7,000 feet elevation but are especially important during the hot summer months. You may encounter elk and squirrels within the Village. While they may appear friendly, do not approach, feed, or water them. As you learn about the expansion of visitation over the years at Grand Canyon, it’s important to remember that Grand Canyon has been home to native peoples for over 14,000 years. The canyon is the traditional homeland of the Apache, Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, Paiute, Yavapai and Zuni people represented by 11 federally recognized tribes.
On September 17, 1901, the first steam-powered train arrived at the South Rim of Grand Canyon. Visitors were greeted by a wooden train depot, now one of the oldest standing in the United States. Prior to the arrival of the railway, visitors rode by stagecoach for 90 miles from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon. By train, visitors could travel to the canyon comfortably and in style. With the arrival of the train, the quiet area of the South Rim rapidly expanded into the bustling Grand Canyon Village. [people chattering] The first decade of the railway saw the construction of the luxurious El Tovar Hotel, Hopi House, and Verkamp’s Curios Shop. Over the next three decades, the Grand Canyon Village expanded to accommodate for growing visitation. By the 1920s, more people started to visit the canyon by automobile, making it even easier to access the canyon. Increase in visitation led to the expansion of the Village. Eventually, the automobile become the preferred method of transit, and the train was forced to stop running in 1968. However, as you may see today, the train is back in commission! The train has been up and running since 1989, when it was purchased by private investors. It also provides an option for visitors to experience the legacy of the Grand Canyon Railway. As you walk towards the next stop, consider how you arrived at Grand Canyon today. Did you take the train or did you use a more modern method of transportation?
Full Steam Ahead: Stop 2 Verkamp's Visitor Center
The Verkamp’s Curio shop and family home was built in 1905 and opened early 1906. The increase in tourism, allowed the Verkamp family to own and operate their store for over 100 years making it the oldest family-owned concession in the entire National Park Service.
Before you stands the Verkamp’s Visitor Center, a curio shop and family home for more than a century. With its open front porch and shingled siding, it may be easier to imagine this as a neighborhood home than as a Grand Canyon gift shop.
[horse clopping] Just before the arrival of the railroad, as visitors journeyed to the Grand Canyon via stagecoach, an Ohio man sought an opportunity in tourism. John Verkamp rented a tent and opened the first curio shop at Grand Canyon. He primarily sold Native American crafts and other souvenirs to tourists. Unfortunately for John Verkamp, tourism had not yet spiked at the canyon so he closed his shop after only a few weeks. He certainly had the right idea, but he started at the wrong time. However, three years later, [hammer hitting metal] railroad construction was completed in 1901, which started bringing more tourists to the Village. John Verkamp ended up reopening his curio shop, which ultimately transformed into the building you see today. The Verkamp’s Curio shop and family home was built in 1905 and opened early 1906. Materials were shipped in from California and the store front was constructed right here on the rim. If you take a look at the building, you’ll notice that its design is heavily influenced by craftsman style architecture with its large porches and exposed wood. The deep porches provide a lovely way to sit and enjoy the view of the canyon in the shade. The Verkamp’s family would use these railings to display Native American blankets which would entice visitors to come inside and shop.
The increase in tourism, allowed the Verkamp family to own and operate their store for over 100 years making it the oldest family-owned concession in the entire National Park Service. The National Park Service acquired the building in 2008, which now houses a museum and bookstore operated by the Grand Canyon Conservancy. Explore the native plant garden on either side of the entryway. Step inside the building and discover a replica of Verkamp’s original curio tent. Learn more about the Verkamp family and early pioneer life at the canyon. Imagine living life at the canyon back then. You may have to wait for supplies to be delivered by train or perhaps make the long eight hour trip to Flagstaff on horseback or stagecoach. Could you have handled the extreme weather of the canyon without the luxuries we have today? Take a moment in the shade of the Verkamp’s porch to think about life back then. Though it may have been challenging, sitting on the porch with a view like the Grand Canyon makes it all worth while.
Full Steam Ahead: Stop 3 Hopi House
The Hopi House, which opened in 1905, pays tribute to the Hopi people and their ancestors that have inhabited the Grand Canyon for centuries. Architect Mary Colter created an indigenous art gallery for the Fred Harvey Company that housed a museum and salesroom for Native American Arts.
Increased visitation lead to more opportunities for souvenirs along the South Rim of Grand Canyon. The Verkamp family used this opportunity to reopen their storefront. Built immediately next to the Verkamp’s Curio Shop, is the Hopi House. Before you continue listening, take a moment to compare these two buildings. How are they the same? How are they be different? What kind of intentions do you think went into the design of Hopi House? Pause the audio tour and consider these questions.
The Hopi House, which opened in 1905, pays tribute to the Hopi people and their ancestors that have inhabited the Grand Canyon for centuries. Architect Mary Colter created an indigenous art gallery for the Fred Harvey Company that housed a museum and salesroom for Native American Arts. This is the first of many buildings that Mary Colter designed here in the park. She was inspired by the natural beauty of Grand Canyon and the people that lived there. The Hopi House is modeled after a one-thousand year Hopi dwelling. As you walk around Hopi House, you’ll see local Hopi influences that Mary Colter incorporated amongst red sandstone and juniper log materials. This building has a feeling that it has been here for thousands of years, not just over 100. That is what Mary Colter envisioned: a building that respected the past and appeared to belong here on the canyon rim.
Once constructed, most workers at the Hopi house were in fact Hopi people. The top level of this building actually served as a residence for some of those workers. The idea of the Hopi house was for it to feel less like a gift shop and more like and actual home. Hopi craftsmen and women worked on the items they would ultimately sell in front of visitors, which provided a meaningful experience. By establishing a building like the Hopi house, it was a way that Colter could introduce the public to the art and rich cultural traditions of Native people.
Over 100 years later, visitors can still visit this National Historic Landmark and discover a large selection of Native American art made by many of the traditionally associated tribes with Grand Canyon, but not limited to the Hopi people. Today, we may not see Hopi people inside the Hopi House practicing their craft, but the legacy continues within the park at Desert View, where the park has developed a robust cultural demonstration program, allowing members of all traditionally associated tribes to share their work with the public. Take a step inside the Hopi house and imagine it how Mary Colter intended it, Hopi people practicing their craft and exposing visitors to a new and valuable perspective. [native flute music]
Full Steam Ahead: Stop 4 El Tovar
The El Tovar Hotel helped provide luxury lodging to early travelers arriving on the Santa Fe Railway. The establishment of the El Tovar was a pivotal element which helped bring tourism to the park. Increased visitation helped to establish Grand Canyon as a National Monument in 1908 and later as a National Park in 1919.
While visitors enjoyed the canyon and learned about the Native culture in the Hopi House the upper-class visitors still wanted to rest their head somewhere familiar. The El Tovar Hotel helped provide luxury lodging to early travelers arriving on the Santa Fe Railway. Take a look at the building in front of you. What is your first impression of this hotel style? Where would you place this building if it were not at the Grand Canyon? To many, this building may seem like you should be at an European ski resort and not in a high elevation desert. This is not a misconception; this was done on purpose. Hired by the Fred Harvey company, Architect Charles Whittlesey envisioned the El Tovar as a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Norwegian villa, in an effort to appeal to the taste of elite visitors who considered European culture as the epitome of refinement and class. Opened in 1905, this hotel is named after one of the first Spanish conquistadores to arrive in this area. Look back upon the Hopi House. Do you enjoy the varied architectural styles or do you sense a juxtaposition here in the Village? [Spanish style rhythmic guitar]
When it first opened, many visitors believed the El Tovar was the most luxurious hotel west of the Mississippi River due to its indoor plumbing and electric lights. To add to that luxury, the Fred Harvey Company had Mary Colter design its own dishware for the dining room, which you can still purchase today. There is an element of this expensive hotel that we might find odd today: only the pent house suite has windows with views of the canyon. This was done intentionally by the Fred Harvey company to encourage visitors to get outside and enjoy the canyon, rather than sit in their rooms the whole time.
Put yourself in the shoes of the visitors of the early 1900’s. You’ve just gotten off the train and walked up the hill to the El Tovar. Would you be impressed with its grandeur? Take a walk inside. Would the moose head in the lobby feel like a warm welcome? Or would you feel confused since moose do not live in this area? Are the noises and smells coming from the dining room enticing or not something you would normally go for at a park?
The establishment of the El Tovar was a pivotal element which helped bring tourism to the park. Increased visitation helped to establish Grand Canyon as a National Monument in 1908 and later as a National Park in 1919. Today the hotel has been updated to modern standards and is still one of most expensive places to stay in the park. Would you want to stay somewhere of this caliber or save you money for other things? What kinds of luxuries are you okay with giving up to make your stay more affordable?
Full Steam Ahead: Stop 5 Kachina and Thunderbird Lodges
After WWII, National Parks saw a big boom in visitation leading to the Mission 66 project. Mission 66 helped fund new construction to accommodate all these visitors. The Kachina and Thunderbird Lodges were built like a motel style room, which keeps things simple and therefore more affordable to American Families.
Tourism boomed with the arrival of the railway but tapered away during World War I and World War II, during which, Americans were traveling much less. As tensions started to lessen, the emphasis went from railways to automobiles [old time car engine starting up]. Middle class families were hitting the roads and seeing new sights. During this time period, National Parks were impacted due to the high volume of visitation, suffering from overuse and deterioration in many cases. Additionally, restrictions and lack of funds made it hard to expand the National Parks during WWII. As a result, the National Park Service wanted to provide a new way for the American public to experience the National Parks after the war.
This spawned a movement called the Mission 66 project, which ended up being the largest construction program within the agency. The goal of the project was to build more infrastructure to accommodate for the influx of people visiting these parks. The project was intended to start in 1956 and end in 1966 but was ultimately extended till 1973 since many projects hadn’t been completed and new parks were still being planned, designed, and built. Through Mission 66, 70 new National Park units were created, in addition to 2700 miles of road and 900 miles of trails.
Look at the buildings before you, Kachina and Thunderbird Lodges. Take a moment to pause the audio and consider the following: what is the first word that comes to mind when you see these buildings?
These lodges, built in 1971 and 1968 respectively, look a whole lot different than the last few buildings that we saw here in the village. Many people walk right past these two lodges and don’t give them a second thought. For that reason, it’s important to understand the intention behind the construction of each of these buildings. As with other post-WWII construction, their design trended towards modernism, concrete, and an overall industrial style. They were built this way to keep the construction costs down and therefore accommodate for the middle-class family, compared to what the El Tovar offered the upper class. The Kachina and Thunderbird feel very much like a motel style room, which keeps things simple and therefore more affordable to American Families. Today, these lodges are fully operational and still accommodate visitors from all over the world.
Full Steam Ahead: Stop 6 Bright Angel Lodge
The completion of the Bright Angel Lodge brought on a couple of pivotal moments in Grand Canyon Village history. It allowed the Fred Harvey company to catch up with tourism demands until post WWII, when the Kachina and Thunderbird lodges were established. It was also a culminating project for Mary Colter, as it was her last major architectural commission from the Fred Harvey company.
Before visitation increased post-World War II, a different post-war boom lead to the development of the Bright Angel Lodge. In front of you stands the log cabin style main lodge. The park hoped to incorporate additional lodging before World War I, but with the onset of the war, many projects were put on pause. After the war, in 1925, Mary Colter came up with a plan to use part of the old Bright Angel Hotel. She couldn’t use the main lodge because of its “ramshackle condition” but instead incorporated some of the older cabins into her design. These cabins would come at a variety of price points and be much more appealing to the average visitor. What accommodations do you look for in a place to stay? Would you want something glamorous, rustic, or something in between? Would your choices be different if you lived in the 1920?
After about 20 new cabins were constructed , the stock market crashed in 1929 and America entered the Great Depression. Resources and funding put a halt on tourism focused construction, as the park saw a steep drop in visitation. Shortly after the end of the Great Depression, visitation slowly increased back at Grand Canyon. With an increase in tourism, the National Park Service put pressure on the Fred Harvey company to finish the Bright Angel Lodge construction. Despite setbacks along the way, the main building of the Bright Angel Lodge opened for business in 1935, with a celebration including cowboy songs, Hopi dances, and a barbeque. [Arkansas Traveler song played on a fiddle] One year later, the remainder of the cabin style accommodations were completed.
By walking around the Bright Angel cabins, you’ll notice a variety of materials were used. Mary Colter’s goal was to make it seem as if the cabins had grown and developed over time while on the rim of the canyon. Rather than having every cabin identical, she used log and stone materials in varied quantities to ensure that no two cabins looked exactly the same. The cabins were built to accommodate three price points for various income levels: economy, moderately priced rooms, and deluxe cottages.
The completion of the Bright Angel lodge brought on a couple of pivotal moments in Grand Canyon Village history. It allowed the Fred Harvey company to catch up with tourism demands until post WWII, when the Kachina and Thunderbird lodges were established. It was also a culminating project for Mary Colter, as it was her last major architectural commission from the Fred Harvey company.
With the establishment of three new lodges -- Bright Angel, Kachina, and Thunderbird -- more visitors than ever could stay overnight inside the park. The Hopi House and Verkamp’s Curio Shop allowed to buy souvenirs. Enough shoppers lead to the establishment of more businesses and even competition between them. Further west in the historic village, we see evidence in this with another Mary Colter building, Lookout Studio, and the privately owned Kolb Studio.
Full Steam Ahead: Stop 7 Lookout Studio
Built in 1914, Lookout Studio was also designed by Mary Colter during the tourism boom era. Photographs, painting, and postcards were sold as souvenirs to visitors here. The Fred Harvey Company built Lookout Studio so that visitors would come across it first, as opposed to making the extra five minute walk to Kolb Studio, creating a direct line of competition between the two.
Built in 1914, Lookout Studio was also designed by Mary Colter during the tourism boom era. Photographs, painting, and postcards were sold as souvenirs to visitors here. However, it was not the first art-based gift shop built here on the rim of Grand Canyon. The prize for that goes to the Kolb Studio, which you will learn more about on the next stop. The Fred Harvey Company built Lookout Studio so that visitors would come across it first, as opposed to making the extra five minute walk to Kolb Studio, creating a direct line of competition between the two.
Why do you suppose this place was called Lookout Studio? The answer is actually rather simple! Visitors frequented the rock outcropping where the studio was built and referred to it as “the Lookout”. Mary Colter designed this building to have a multiple levels, various porches, and ledges so a visitor could get the best possible photograph. This area was also used as a local gathering spot for the community, where visitors and locals would swap stories, stargaze, or watch the mule riders go down into the canyon. Today, visitors can still use these multi-layered porches to watch mule riders heading down the Bright Angel Trail or spot an endangered California condor. She intended to have this studio blend in with the natural landscape, a sharp contrast from the wood cabin feel of the Kolb Studio. Exterior stonework is representative of native dwellings found in the area. She used the natural shapes of the rock outcroppings to guide her design. Exposed rock and internal beams help support the building itself.
By building Lookout Studio in a place that blocked foot traffic to Kolb Studio, visitors found pleasure in the souvenir options without having gone to the actual photography studio operated by the Kolb Brothers. Venturing further west in the village would have allowed them to find the famous studio they were looking for, but as new visitors to the Grand Canyon, their guess was as good as any!
Full Steam Ahead: Stop 8 Kolb Studio
The Kolb brothers were known for their death defying photographs of Grand Canyon and being the first to film a river trip on the Colorado River. The Fred Harvey Company didn’t like other businesses as it created competition. To contend with the Kolb brother’s they started selling their own photos of the canyon at Lookout Studio.
Just around the completion of the Santa Fe Railway, brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb arrived at the Grand Canyon. Ellsworth was always eager to explore, and while Emery would often join him, he was a more practical man. In order to make a living, they started a photography business. [1920s camera flash] While they made most of their money from photographing tourists on mules and selling them as souvenirs, the brothers were known for their death defying photographs of Grand Canyon. They also, became famous for being the first to film a river trip on the Colorado River. In 1904, they started to build the home and studio you see today.
When the El Tovar opened in 1905 the Fred Harvey Company, which operated the hotel, didn’t like other businesses in the area as they created competition. To contend with the Kolb brother’s they started selling their own photos of the canyon and wouldn’t tell visitors about Kolb Studio.
The construction of Lookout Studio in 1914 made tensions worse with the Fred Harvey company. When Emery learned that the Fred Harvey company was trying to run him out of business he wrote a letter to the owner Ford Harvey. Emery stated that El Tovar employees were intentionally harming the Kolb’s business. Mr. Harvey’s response was the opposite that "Emery's lecturing was helping to promote Canyon business”. By this time in 1915 Emery was able to expand the studio to include a theater where he narrated and played the river trip film, which attracted visitors from all over.
Ellsworth helped promote the business by writing a book titled: “Through the Grand Canyon from Wyoming to Mexico”. The introduction incidentally helped with the Kolb’s relationship with their competition. It brought awareness to how the Fred Harvey Company employees talked about Kolb Studio. This created enough bad press for the Fred Harvey company that they agreed to only tell accurate information about Kolb studio if that section of the forward was removed from future editions.
The Fred Harvey Company was never able to put Kolb Studio out of business. Up until his death, Emery showed and sometimes still narrated the film he and his brother made, making it the longest running movie in history. When Emery died in 1976, The National Park Service acquired the building. Today, thanks to renovations, the building has been beautifully restored. A visit inside will allow you to learn more about the Kolb family and their crazy adventures here in the Canyon. You’ll also see some of their photographs and the river trip film that made them a lasting presence in at the canyon, despite the constant competition and challenges they faced many years ago.
Full Steam Ahead: Stop 9 Edge of Vastness
The National Park Centennial in 2016 and the Grand Canyon National Park Centennial in 2019 brought yet another spike in visitation. If visitation continues this way how would you solve these problems?
Take a moment to enjoy the canyon views. At this point you’re away from the crowds in the village. Look down and you’ll see hikers on the Bright Angel Trail. Is this a peaceful spot in the canyon or is there too much activity around you? The National Park Centennial in 2016 and the Grand Canyon National Park Centennial in 2019 brought yet another spike in visitation. The parks are becoming more popular and available to people but at a cost. The view points are more crowded. Shuttle buses are required as there is not enough parking. Lodging and campsites are constantly impacted. If visitation continues this way how would you solve these problems? Where would people stay? Would you build more on the rim? Away from the rim? Or would you decide not to build at all? Would you develop more viewpoints to accommodate for more people? Would you establish a timed entry system or limit the number of visitors per day? Are the trails are too busy? Would you require permits to hike in the canyon?
Inevitably, visitation will continue to grow at National Parks. Individual parks must continue to adapt in order to accommodate for increasing numbers, whether that means adding more or cutting back. The mission of the Park Service is to preserve and protect natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration this and future generations. At what point will parks have to decide between the visitor and the resource?