The Great Northern Railway was built through what is now Whitefish in 1904, which sparked development of the town. Early residents of the town worked for the railroad and nearby logging industries. By the late 1940s, with the successful construction of a ski resort on Big Mountain (a collaboration between outside developers and local businessmen) the tourism sector was becoming increasingly important. The community was named for its location near Whitefish Lake.
In 2006, over 68,000 passengers embarked and disembarked through the historic Whitefish Depot, a stop on Amtrak's Empire Builder line, with some percentage of those being headed to the ski resort on Big Mountain. Whitefish was also called Stumptown as the area was cleared for the train station.
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