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Architecture in the Parks
A National Historic Landmark Theme Study
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Northeast Entrance Station, Yellowstone NP, 1985.
(Photo by L.S. Harrison)

Northeast Entrance Station

Name:Northeast Entrance Station
Location:Yellowstone National Park
Agency:National Park Service Rocky Mountain Regional Office
Condition:Good, unaltered, original site
Classification:Building, public, accessible (restricted), government

Builder/Architect:George Larkin (builder), NPS Branch of Plans and Design (architects)


The nomination for the Northeast Entrance Station at the Cooke City/Silver Gate entrance to Yellowstone National Park consists of two buildings: a checking station and ranger station/residence, both of classic rustic design. The checking station spans most of road--Montana Highway 212--as it enters the park and is the structure most visible to the public. The ranger station/residence is a short distance away on the north side of the road. It is partially screened from view by the surrounding vegetation (primarily evergreens) and its raised elevation above the roadway. The ranger station's natural materials and dark brown color help it recede further into its sylvan setting. Both structures are built of logs.

The checking station is a log structure of three separate rooms. The central office is flanked by two small wings on the north and south that are connected to the central portion by a gable roof. The two lanes of the entrance road pass through those roof-covered spaces between the central portion and its wings to the north and south. The foundation of the building is concrete with a rubble masonry veneer. Construction specifications for the building called for native stone selected for variation in color, texture, size and shape, with irregularities of a depth up to 2 1/2" allowed in the face surfaces. The specifications for the logs were also followed. The lodgepole pine logs were cut from an area designated within the park. All of the logs had a maximum taper of not more than 1" in 15' and were peeled prior to construction. The saddle-coped joints at corners, called for in the specifications, were finely executed. The oakum rope chinking still remains. The logs were laid with alternating butts and tips, and log ends were cut with two or three bevel faces in random directions. Log rafter ends projecting beyond the eaves have that similar frontier detailing of axe-cut ends. The most expressive aspect of the logwork is the gentle concave curve of the log ends from the foundation up to the eaves. This sophisticated treatment adds an elegant touch to a building constructed of such simple materials.

The intersecting gable roofs are covered with wood shingles. The lines created by the double courses of shingles every fifth row re-emphasizes the building's horizontality. The roofs were originally stained with a creosote-based stain (Cabot's color #248--probably a forest green). The new roof put on in 1984 has not been stained. The exterior log walls were stained with a creosote stain. Exterior trim woodwork of doors and windows is painted forest green, matching the original color. Gable ends are finished with vertical channeled siding. Changes on the exterior include the addition of concrete bollards on the east and west elevations to prevent vehicles from driving into the building; the addition of a National Park Service arrowhead in the east gable end; and the addition of two street lights and one flagpole. The road originally consisted of the two lanes passing through the building and possibly a service lane to the north of the building. Additional traffic lanes have been constructed to the north and south so that larger vehicles can pass around the building upon entrance or exit. Drivers of larger recreational vehicles now get out and walk around to the checking station office to pay their fees to the ranger on duty (cars and pick-up trucks still drive under the roof). The relatively small amount of traffic that passes through the northeast entrance to the park precludes any traffic jams. This sensible solution for accommodating today's larger vehicles saved the building from having its wings literally chopped off, as has been done with other entrance stations with similar drive-throughs.

The interior of the checking station has undergone very little change through the years. The exposed logs of the walls and roof structure in the central portion retain their original finish--an oil stain coated with white shellac. The oil stove which heats the central portion replaced the original wood stove about 20 years ago, but occupies the same central location in the checking station. The brick chimney on the west wall (rubble masonry above roof line) is original. The north and south walls of the central portion each have dutch doors with sliding, paired six-light windows next to them. The dutch doors have four lights above and a diagonal board inset panel below. This original door and window configuration makes the fee-collection function easy. When the building was re-wired in recent years, simple electrical fixtures were attached to the log ceiling joists. A small shelf was also built to support a fan. The building underwent extensive rehabilitation work during the summer of 1984. Log rafters were replaced, some of the log ends were repaired with epoxy, the foundation was repaired, and the building re-roofed.

The small room of the south wing houses the fuel tank for the oil stove as well as search and rescue equipment. The north wing contains the electrical switch box. Both rooms have concrete floors that were probably poured sometime after construction. The original plans called for earth floors.

The ranger residence is a rectangular log building with an additional rectangular wing at its northeast corner. The ranger office is in this small northeast wing; the remainder of the building is a residence. The one-story building contains seven rooms and a partial basement. The foundation is battered rubble masonry more than two feet above grade in some areas. The log walls, like those of the checking station, are have saddle-notching and axe cut ends. The log end alignment at the building corners begins at the foundation, cuts back toward the body of the building, and then flanges out to the eaves. The result, like the checking station, is the expressive curve that moves the building up from a category of simple log structure to that of distinguished log structure. The roofs of the main residential section and the ranger office are both gable, finished with wood shingles. Doors and windows are original. The main entrance door into the ranger office is made of two-inch thick vertical planks with wrought-iron strap hinges and glazing above to let natural light into the building. Windows are single, paired, or tripled six-light casements, with mullions and wood frames painted green. The interior of the building has wood floors, some of which have been covered with linoleum. Fluorescent lights have been added to the office section of the building. Some re-wiring has been done over the years. As an experiment, the building's ceiling was heavily insulated at the time of construction to improve its heat retention and help prevent the build up of ice on the roof.

The buildings were designed by a member or members of Thomas Vint's Branch of Plans and Design in San Francisco. The buildings were constructed as a Public Works project through contract with George Larkin of Gardiner, Montana.


Of all of the entrance stations in national parks and monuments, the Northeast Entrance Station at Yellowstone is a classic in terms of its rustic design. Its pristine, nearly original condition makes it outstanding in the National Park system, and perhaps unique, for its architectural integrity. At the time of its construction it was considered one of the most ambitious of its type.

In 1935 the National Park Service published a volume entitled Park Structures and Facilities to serve as a training tool for architects and landscape architects hired under Emergency Conservation Work and Public Works Administration programs. Very few, if any, of the designers hired under those programs had any experience in designing the types of structures needed for visitor use in county, state, and national parks. Their design training emphasized European architectural precedents. American architectural schools still patterned their curricula after that of L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, the premier architectural school in the western hemisphere. That type of classically oriented architecture had no place in natural areas. From the outset directors of the National Park Service stressed the importance of harmonizing improvements with the landscape. Even in 1918 Director Stephen T. Mather urged "the employment of trained engineers who either possess a knowledge of landscape architecture or have a proper appreciation of the esthetic value of park lands." [1] By 1935 the sense of appropriate park architecture was fully developed. When the National Park Service was designated to supervise development in state, county, and metropolitan recreation areas under the Emergency Conservation Work Act of 1933, the need for training the large numbers of new architects and landscape architects was pressing. Thus, Park Structures and Facilities came about, first published in 1935. An expanded three-volume version, Park and Recreation Structures, was printed in 1938, with separate chapters reprinted several times before World War II.

The books stressed that rustic design "is a style which, through the use of native materials in proper scale, and through the avoidance of rigid, straight lines, and over-sophistication, gives the feeling of having been executed by pioneer craftsmen with limited hand tools. It thus achieves sympathy with natural surroundings, and with the past." [2] The native materials used in the Northeast Entrance Station are the logs and stone from the park, and the wood shingles of the roofs. The axe-cut log ends contribute to that frontier/pioneer feeling. The checking station in particular far exceeds those criteria by combining its solids (rooms) and voids (drive-throughs) with the sculptural quality of the concave log ends creating a highly mannered, expressive structure. The ranger station/residence is inseparable from the checking station in terms of both design and function, even though its form has simpler lines.

One of the most important building types for rustic design in park areas was the entrance station, or checking station. The station served several purposes. First was for collecting fees and counting visitors. Second was to provide the first visitor contact in a national park, so the ranger could be a tangible Park Service presence while answering questions and providing a quick orientation at the same time. The third purpose was to provide a definite entrance, so that the visitor would know that he was entering an area different than that which he left, and on a subconscious level to create a sense of place and identity. A small wood-frame box of a building, for instance, could serve the purposes of sheltering a ranger for fee collection and minimal orientation, and could provide boundary definition; but the log entrance station did that and more. It subconsciously reinforced the visitor's sense of the western frontier and the wilderness he was about to enter. The building was not only the physical boundary, but the psychological boundary between the rest of the world and what was set aside as a permanently wild place. According to the Park and Recreation Structures reprint, the entrance station "should at once invite and deter, encouraging use while discouraging abuse of the park by the public. It should be all things to all men, tempting the devotees to Nature and of the past, while warding off and detouring that block of the public primarily bent on a greater gasoline consumption--a king of semaphore simultaneously reading 'stop' and 'go,' yet somehow avoiding all accidents to traffic and to temperament. Surely no easy accomplishment, perhaps unattainable!" [3] The checking station of Yellowstone's northeast entrance was featured in that publication as a prime example and an "ambitious" structure whose looks, in the eyes of the author, could only be improved by the addition of some "judicious low growth to break the harsh and barren foundation line." [4]

A 1932 plat of Silver Gate, the small community just east of the entrance station, proposed that all of the structures in the community be of log construction. [5] A log two-story hotel, several log restaurants and residences are extant. Perhaps the architect's choice of logs for the primary building material of the checking station and ranger residence was also influenced by that local decision. In any case, the Northeast Entrance Station's architectural quality surpasses not only the Silver Gate buildings in design and craftsmanship, but also surpasses other national and state park log structures of similar function.


1. William Tweed, Laura E. Soullière, and Henry Law, National Park Service Rustic Architecture 1916-1942 (San Francisco: National Park Service, 1977), p. 23.

2. Ibid., p. 93.

3. "Entranceways and Checking Stations," reprint from Park and Recreation Structures (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office), p.1.

4. Ibid., p. 21.

5. A photograph of the plat specifying log construction for the buildings in Silver Gate hangs on the wall of a restaurant in that village. The original plat undoubtedly could be tracked down through county and state records.


Conservation Services. Completion Report--Stabilization of Northeast Entrance Station, Yellowstone National Park. September, 1984.

National Park Service. "Entranceways and Checking Stations," Reprint from Park and Recreations Structures, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1938. No date on reprint.

Park files including List of Classified Structures Field Inventory Report, Yellowstone 3073-B Construction Specifications, and Forms 10-768 Building Folders.

Tweed, W.C., and L.E. Soullière and H.G. Law. National Park Service Rustic Architecture 1916-1942. San Francisco, National Park Service, 1977.


The boundary begins at a point in the center of the entrance road 100 feet east-northeast of the exact center of the checking station building, then proceeds south-southeast 100 feet, then west-southwest 125 feet, then west-northwest 275 feet, then north-northwest 125 feet running parallel to and 25 feet west of the west wall of the ranger station, then 100 feet east-northeast running parallel to and 25 feet north of the north wall of the ranger station, then 250 feet south-southwest to the starting point, as shown on the enclosed sketch map.


Ranger Residence Northeast Entrance Station

(click on the above photographs for a more detailed view)

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Last Modified: Mon, Feb 26 2001 10:00:00 pm PDT

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