The Great Connection Between National Park Lodges, Trains and Foodservice

Posted by Chad Stamm on Jul 27, 2018 12:00:00 PM

In food and beverage, Restaurants

If you trace the history of lodging in America's great national parks back to its roots, you can literally see the beginnings of foodservice in the United States, and how those roots are closely linked with railroad expansion.

To start, you have to meet some of the great pioneers in hospitality.

Harry Child had an exclusive agreement with the Northern Pacific Railway to bring and host guests in Yellowstone National Park, the world's first national park. He tasked architect Robert Reamer to build the Old Faithful Inn, which is still the largest log hotel in the world and is designated a National Historic Landmark.

You also have Fred Harvey. Harvey created Harvey House lunch rooms along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and is widely considered to be the founder of the first chain restaurant in the United States. Using the advent of the refrigerated rail car to help distribute product down the line to his different locations, meals were served by the legendary "Harvey Girls," whose hospitality was so famous it even led to the creation of a 1946 movie starring Judy Garland.

Passengers would place their orders before arriving at the stations, and meals were ready to serve upon arrival. The level of service was so renown, Walt Disney even studied the Fred Harvey Company and mimicked its signature-style logo, which is still used today across the entire Disney empire.

The railroad is the important part of the equation here, particularly as it relates to the national parks. Because the Santa Fe line's premier tourist destination was the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the Fred Harvey Company was instrumental in the development of famous hotels such as the El Tovar.

Over time, names like Childs and Harvey eventually faded away or were acquired by other, larger conglomerates. Ironically, they both reside under the same umbrella today, as they are owned by Colorado-based Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

There is nothing more awe-inspiring than pioneering architecture and world-class hospitality served at some of America's most iconic locations, so get out there an explore!


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