Enter Yellowstone National Park from the north entrance and you’ll get a chance to see (and take a picture next to) the iconic Roosevelt Arch. Completed on August 15, 1903, the massive stone structure offers a glimpse into the park’s early years.
Back in those days, before the mass production of the automobile, vacationers traveled by train. Before 1903, trains brought passengers up to Cinnabar, Mont., where people would then get into horse-drawn carriages to enter the park’s sweeping landscape. That year, however, with the Northern Pacific Railway’s extension to Gardiner, Mont., visitors would now have easier access.
Historians Lee H. Whittlesey and Paul Schullery note the serendipitous events that surround the arch. According to them, the arch was in part a measure to satisfy park administrators concerned that Yellowstone’s entrance lacked the visual flair expected of America’s first national park. It also provided a great location for a train depot.
And the most happy coincidence of them all: President Theodore Roosevelt had planned a two-week trip to the park—after all, he said, “For the last 18 months I have taken everything as it came, from coal strikes to trolley cars, and I feel I am entitled to a fortnight to myself.” Roosevelt arrived in time to set the arch’s cornerstone in a grand ceremony.
During the commemoration, the president offered a speech praising “the Yellowstone Park” as “something absolutely unique in the world.” He goes on to say, “Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors, where at the same time not only the scenery of the wilderness, but the wild creatures of the Park are scrupulously preserved, as they were the only change being that these same wild creatures have been so carefully protected as to show a literally astonishing tameness. The creation and preservation of such a great national playground in the interests of our people as a whole is a credit to the nation; but above all a credit to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.”
Designed by famous Yellowstone architect Robert Reamer, the arch stands 50 feet high, its two towers each 12-feet across at their base. The opening creates a space 30-feet high by 25-feet wide, more than enough room to allow the passage of horse-drawn coaches, as it was originally designed to do. An inscription at the top reads “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”