Heart of Whitefish: A recent painting project restores the historic beauty of a city treasure



At the north end of downtown, the Whitefish Depot features classic Tudor-style architecture with an appearance similar to historic buildings in Glacier National Park, offering a glimpse into the past that formed the town of Whitefish.

First built in 1927, the Whitefish Depot was truly the start of a more vibrant town and is an iconic symbol of the ski resort-turned-railway to this day. In 1990, the depot was due to be demolished before a group of Whitefish residents decided to save the building and restore it to its former glory, once again sparking a revitalization of Whitefish.

Jill Evans, executive director of the Stumptown Historical Society which manages the repository, says she and members of the Historical Society’s board of trustees consider the building to be the heart of Whitefish. The area flourished as a rail town in the late 1920s and is still a rail destination today; the Depot remains a real asset for the community for its historical and current value.

“Long-distance train travel is still an important part of western culture that keeps the need there…” Evans said. “We are still a railway town.”

Over the past two months, the exterior of Whitefish Depot has been meticulously repainted with careful attention to historic detail to continue to preserve and maintain the building. The project cost around $75,000, which is a huge undertaking for the Stumptown Historical Society. Annual maintenance of the Depot costs around $50,000 and the painting project is on top of that.

“It’s a complex building and it’s just a beautiful building,” Evans said. “The paint has to be repainted every 15 years or so and that’s extremely expensive. It’s part of our responsibility that we assumed when we bought it, for a dollar.

The Historical Society purchased the Whitefish Depot in 1990 for one dollar from Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), which planned to demolish it. It was essentially a write-off for the railroad and a massive undertaking for the Historical Society, Evans explained. But it is a building that the Historical Society is proud to have saved and its upkeep remains the organization’s top priority.

“I think [this building] anchors the concept of a quality of life that honors our past,” said Evans. “Without having this building, we would have a completely different downtown area – it wouldn’t be the same.”

The Stumptown Historical Society is a non-profit organization established in 1982 by people committed to preserving the history of Whitefish and the Flathead Valley for the present and the future. After a major renovation that cost over $850,000 in 1990-91, it has been maintained by the company ever since.

Evans says some of the maintenance projects in recent years include installing new furnaces, replacing flooring, installing an upgraded smoke detection system, various bathroom maintenance jobs. and Amtrak concourse, repair of doors and replacement of patios. The dated building is not easy to maintain and the Historical Society needs the help of Whitefish residents to keep track of it.

“We love the building and take care of it,” Evans said. “And that’s hard to do alone, we need people who love Whitefish and appreciate the Depot, which I consider the heart of Whitefish.”

The Stumptown Historical Society took responsibility for the building all those years ago because of its rich history in the formation of Whitefish.

In 1904 the Great Northern Railway moved its splitting point to Whitefish from Kalispell. The small depot served the railway until 1927 when the new Whitefish Depot was built by Louis Hill, the son of James Hill who formed the Great Northern Railway. The decision to build the large Swiss-style building that matched the Glacier Park Chalets that the Hill family had also built, made the front page of the Whitefish Pilot that year.

The creation of the iconic building brought even more rail passengers to Whitefish and it grew from nothing more than a stump clearer to a bustling town.

The Historical Society hopes that more people will learn of the significance of the Whitefish Depot and what it means to be able to preserve a small piece of this town’s history.

“I’m really proud of what the Historical Society has done for this city – saving this building, nurturing it and loving it the way we do,” Evans said. We are heading towards the 100 year mark with this building.

The Stumptown Historical Society is relaunching its membership program which helps the non-profit organization receive consistent funding to track the upkeep of the Depot. The society is also looking for volunteers to help out at the Whitefish Museum.

For more information or to donate, visit sumptownhistoricalsociety.org

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