The Sentinel Pine is a private estate in Bigfork, MT available for personal and professional gatherings. These accommodations are near Glacier National Park.

Sentinel Pine Home
boat on Swan Lake


Sentinel Pine History & Facts


boat dockThe Sentinel Pine is located near Glacier Park in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, where the forces of nature have worked for hundreds of millions of years to create some of the most majestic mountain ranges found anywhere in the world.


Swan Lake itself is approximately 9 miles long and nearly a mile wide, with depths of over 200 feet in certain areas. The property is at an altitude of approximately 3,000 feet, with the mountains surrounding it reaching nearly 9,000 feet in height.


This part of the Northern Rockies is the natural habitat of many different species of animals. Deer and turkeys frequently wander across our lawns, and if you move slowly you can sometimes get quite close to them. Elk, moose, otters, beavers, and foxes also ocassionally visit the Sentinel Pine. Many birds, including bald eagles and osprey, can often be seen overhead.


For hundreds of years, the Blackfeet, Flathead, Kootenai, and Pend-Oreille tribes regarded the Swan Lake area as hallowed hunting grounds. An early Kootenai settler first named the lake "Nasaquat", which means "Swan Lake" in the Kootenai language.


Montana became a territory of the United States in 1803 following the Louisiana Purchase, and three years later Meriweather Lewis passed just south of the area on the epic Lewis and Clark expedition. One of the first white men to visit the lake was the Belgian Jesuit missionary Pierre de Smet, in 1863. He named it "Lac Hughes" in honor of his patron, the Bishop of New York, but the name did not stick. Montana attained its current borders and became a state in 1878. Even after statehood, most of the land in Montana continued to be owned by the United States government until the Homestead Act of 1893, which opened much of the land to private ownership.


On June 19, 1895, the federal government deeded today's Sentinel Pine property as part of a total 13,940.91 acres to The State of Montana. In 1916, the property had its first private owner, who built the Main Lodge and Sentinel House. JL McLaughlin, a contractor from Great Falls, Montana, bought the property in 1944 as a vacation home, and he made most of the improvements to the property we enjoy today. McLaughlin also built much of the legendary Going-To-The-Sun Highway in Glacier Park, the Libby and Hungry Horse dams, the Trans-Alaskan Highway, and the road systems for Yellowstone.


The McLaughlins named the property "Sentinel Pine" for the massive 800-year-old Ponderosa pine overlooking the lake, a scene renowned by artists and photographers alike. The Sentinel Pine itself is believed by the Forest Serviceto be one of the oldest Ponderosa pines still standing.


McLaughlin was a general contractor, primarily buildings major roads and highways, and later in his life became one of America's largest builders of Army tanks and armored vehicles. Most notably, he built much of the legendary Going-To-The-Sun Highway in Glacier Park, and some of the Libby and Hungry Horse dams, Trans-Alaskan Highway, and the road systems for Yellowstone Park. As his business interests and networks grew, McLaughlin used Sentinel Pine's spacious and comfortable accommodations to host numerous prominent individuals, many of them on an annually recurring basis. Among politicians, one regular guest for over two decades was Burton K. Wheeler, perhaps Montana's most famous senator. Mike Mansfield, who served for 34 years in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate before becoming US Ambassador to Japan, was also a guest. John Hoeven, former Governor and current U.S. Senator from North Dakota, frequented the property in his youth when a family member married into the McLaughlins.


Because of McLaughlin's involvement in the defense industry, generals and other military figures were also frequent guests. Among them was General Charles Sweeney, who piloted the atomic bomb plane over Nagasaki and the camera plane over Hiroshima in 1945.


Not all of the visitors have been business associates. Sentinel Pine has also hosted several renowned western artists who have found inspiration from its mountain vistas. These have included Nicholas de Grandmaison of Canada, Branson Stevenson of Great Falls, Elmer Sprunger of nearby Bigfork, and more recently, well-known bronze sculptor Eric Thorson. Others who have enjoyed the estate's hospitality include NHL Hall of Fame hockey player Red Dutton, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, and the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner (who is married into our family). The Dean of Harvard College and its Director of Admissions are also both part of our family and at times have been owners; they now live next door, where they have summered every one of the last fifty years.


Business partners and associates included the heads of Kaiser - Permanente, Genstar, and other co-venture partners with Mr. McLaughlin. Reginald Jennings, one of Calgary's most prominent business leaders and owner of the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League, visited annually for many years. Cornelius Kelley, who made the Anaconda Copper Company the third largest corporation in the world, often dropped in by boat from his next-door Kootenai Lodge, which itself is now registered as a federal national historical site.


The Sentinel Pine has a very rich and deep tradition. We welcome those who wish to share our beloved summer home by choosing us as your Swan Lake vacation rental.

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