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Old Faithful Inn

Yellowstone Hotels & Lodges: Old Faithful Inn,
Old Faithful Shack Hotel / Hobart Hotel

Copyright 2009 by Robert V. Goss. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced
or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by an
information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author.

Click Here for 1909 Map of Old Faithful Area - Campbell's Guide
Click Here for 1937 Map of Old Faithful Area - Haynes Guide
Click Here for 1942 Map of Old Faithful Area - Haynes Guide

Hobart Hotel / Shack Hotel

[1887 Winter View by F.J. Haynes.
Photo Courtesy YNP Archives #127883]
[Photo Courtesy YNP Archives #114948]

The first formal lodging at the Upper Geyser Basin was a tent hotel established in 1883 by the Yellowstone Park Association (YPA).  In the next twenty years there were two hotels at Old Faithful that preceeded the Old Faithful Inn.  Both stood on the same site and have been referred to as the Shack Hotel. The first however was originally known as the Hobart Hotel.  It was built in 1885 by Carroll Hobart and former park Supt. Robert Carpenter.  Hobart's brother Charles was in charge of the construction.  However, financial squabbles between the owners caused Carpenter to leave the park the following year and YPA took over the operation around that time. The 2-story hotel was a somewhat crude affair that accommodated 70 guests. The rooms were painted different colors with pigments taken from the Alabastine Basin and 17 rooms were named according to their color. The structure burned down on Nov. 17, 1894. An equally crude building replaced it the next year that served as dining room, kitchen, and managers quarters.  Guests were put up in nearby tents. The tents had 6-8 divisions that only extended about 3/4 the way to the ceiling and created 96 so-called "rooms." 
Larry Mathews managed the operation in 1901 which was replaced in 1904 when the OF Inn opened.

Old Faithful Inn

 In 1898 architect A.W. Spalding was selected by the Yellowstone Park Association (YPA) to desgn a new hotel at Old Faithful. He came up with a Queen Anne style design that was approved by Interior, but was eventually turned down by the financial backers of the Northern Pacific RR.  Harry W. Child (H.W. Child) made the decision in 1901 to select architect Robert Reamer to design the new hotel.  Reamer's original drawings of the hotel called it the Old Faithful Tavern.  Reau Campbell, who published his "Campbell's Complete Guide to Yellowstone" in 1909 claimed to have been the original designer for the basic plan of the building and alleged he sent the first sketch to Harry Child.  Regardless of the author of the original design, construction began in June 1903 on what became known as the "Old Faithful Inn." 
[Click image for larger view.
Image Courtesy Xanterra Parks & Resorts Engineering Archives.]
 The Old Faithful Inn opened in June 1904 after a year of construction under the direction of architect Robert Reamer.  The design reflected the philosphy of the Arts & Crafts movement, which called for simplicity , the use of natural materials, and a blending of the building with the environment. The immemse log structure had 140 rooms with a massive open ceiling 3 stories high. The huge stone fireplace graced the lobby with 8 separate fireboxes. The walls in the guestrooms were rustic with rough pine boards. The lobby feautured twisted and gnarled pine limbs.  Larry Mathews (of Larry's Lunch Station fame) managed the Inn during the first season, but did not return the next year due to a pay dispute.
[Detroit Photographic Co. Postcard]

 Spotlights were installed on the Widow's Walk in 1904 and 1910 so that the various geysers could be lit up at night, along with occasional "rotten loggers" (romantically-inclined couples).  However, they were removed in 1948 as being inappropriate in a national park.  Around 1927 the number of flagpoles on the Widow's Walk were reduced from eight to six in number.
[View of the Inn from the Klamer Store ca1910]
 Several additions were made to the original Inn over the years. The East Wing (towards the current Visitor Center) was built in 1913 with 100 rooms. The West Wing was added in 1927-28 with 150 rooms. All of these rooms featured plaster walls instead of pine boards. During the last renovation, the lobby was enlarged and the Porte-cochere extended out with an open veranda on top. The Bear Pit was added in 1936 and was located in the area between the West Wing and the dining room. It was moved to its present location in 1962. The earthquake of 1959 damaged the lobby fireplace chimney structure, parts of which had to be rebuilt. The upper balconies and Widow's Walk were also closed to the public due to safety concerns. The Inn was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. 
[Bloom Bros Postcard #Y.P. 61]

Interior views of Old Faithful Inn - Click on images to enlarge.

OF Inn Lobby with no log railings
Detroit Photographic Postcard 8810

Close-up of fireplace, log railing and area rugs.
Detroit Photographic Postcard 12538
F.J. Haynes Sepia Postcard view OF Inn Lobby
View of original Inn dining room. An addition was added in 1922 to rear of the room.
F.J. Haynes Postcard Sepia No. 517
In 1927-28 a multi-sided addition was made to the dining room with large windows and carved wood panels. It became the Bear Pit Lounge in 1962.
Haynes Postcard #28461
1st floor guest bedroom ca1910.
F.J. Haynes Postcard #10165
Front porch area with log cribbing. The lobby was expanded out into this area in 1928 and a new porte-cochere was added.
Detroit Photographic Postcard #12537
OF Inn lobby & stone water fountain,
view looks west.
Detroit Photographic Postcard #12539
Lobby view looking toward the front of the Inn, prior to lobby expansion. A gift shop now occupies the corner area.
Detroit Photographic Postcard #12546

Description of the Old Faithful Inn by a Yellowstone tourist in 1905

Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, Mass., 8/22/1905

I must mention Old Faithful Inn, though no one can do it justice. It is a wonder in the architecture of the world. It is an immense construction entirely of logs, mediaeval style. As you enter the great hall you stop involuntarily and gaze about you in amazement. 100 feet above is the ridgepole; the walls are of logs; the balconies haave balustrades of logs; apparent candles hold a tiny electric light; chandeliers of logs are suspended by chains; there is a stone chimney and fireplace, 18 feet square at the base; there is a stone well at one side of the great hall where a carefully concealed faucet in a log brings a glass of cold water. The dishes used in the dining rooms are of blue china. In the sleeping rooms old-fashioned yellow crockery is used; the beds are four-posted; every detail is perfect. The architect did a marvelous thing. It is said the idea came in an alcoholic vision for unfortunately this gifted youn man [Robert Reamer] had an uncontrollable appetite for liquors. Later in life he became very dissipated, poor fellow.

The Geysers at Yellowstone Are Now Shone by Night
The Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisc., 5/31/1904

St. Paul, Minn., May 31. General Passenger Agent Cleland of the Northern Pacific received word today from Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone park that a powerful battleship searchlight had been put in operation in Upper Geyser basin last night in order to show the working of the geyser at night. The effect, it is said, was marvelously beautiful and hereafter the searchlight illumination of the active geysers will be a feature in the National Park.

Old Faithful Inn Description, from an interview with W.H. Merriman
Excerpt from the Gardiner Wonderland, 3/23/1905

"It was my ambition," said Mr. Reamer, "to construct a building without a piece of planed wood in it. In all the big structue there is not a foot of smooth finished board or molding .  .  .  The work of construction was slow and tedious. Hundreds of miles of forest was searched for gnarled and twisted branches and trunks of trees. Nature's forest cripples were collected by the thousand and the odd freaks of tree growth were seized upon and made part of the big hotel. The balustrades of the staircases are of gnarled branches. The newels and pillars of twisted truncks. Logs everywhere, and the oddest and most fantastic have entered most prominently into the architect's intricate scheme of interior decoration."

1914 Wine List from the Old Faithful Inn. Also included were beers, ales, 
a full range of liquors, cigars, and cigarettes.  (Click to Expand) 

 YPA built a hothouse in 1917 to provide fresh vegetables for guests at the Inn, using the benefits of geothermal heat. Located near the current site of the Lower Gas Station, the building was in existence until at least 1939.    [From Olaf Odden Collection, 1914 employee]

Yellowstone Park & Old Faithful Inn:
    Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, San Francisco, 1915

     The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was held in San Francisco in 1915 to celebrate the construction and opening of the Panama Canal, the 400th anniversary of Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean, and to showcase the recovery of San Francisco after the disastrous earthquake and fire of 1906. Three years were spent upon construction of the various exposition halls, and display with over 50 million dollars in expenditures. The 635-acre fair was built along the ocean towards the northern section of the city in the location currently known as the Marina, located between Van Ness and the Presidio.
[Aerial photo postcard of the Yellowstone Park Exhibit]
The Yellowstone Park exhibit was located in The Zone, the primary amusement area of the fair. The Zone was filled with amusement rides, concessions, exotic foods, games of skill and chance, performers and live shows. Other monumental exhibits included the Grand Canyon of Arizona, an 1849 gold miner’s camp, a western ranch (101 Ranch) Japanese, Chinese, and Samoan villages, and a five-acre working replica of the Panama Canal.

The Union Pacific RR (UPRR) contributed a full-size replica of the Old Faithful Inn, lobby, and dining room, along with a working model of Old Faithful Geyser and a huge relief map of the park. The Inn lobby housed a restaurant which seated 200 guests who were entertained by an 80-piece orchestra. The display was reported to be the largest ever at a world’s fair at a cost of $500,000. Two million board feet of lumber was used for the Yellowstone display. Visitors entered this pavilion through a portal designed to represent the Eagle’s Nest rock along the Gardiner River and the Golden Gate pass south of Mammoth Hot Springs.
[Union Pacific RR Postcard, 1915]

[Union Pacific RR Postcard] 



Deseret Evening News, Utah
October 29, 1914


    At the Panama-Pacific international exhibition at San Francisco, undoubtedly the most elaborate concession is the great Yellowstone park exhibit of the Union Pacific system, involving a reproduction of Old Faithful Inn, a birdseye profile miniature of Yellowstone park, Old Faithful geyser in action, vista of various Yellowstone park scenes reproduced in all their beauty of coloring, exactly as they meet the eye in the park.

    Some idea may be obtained of the scope of this wonderful spectacle when it is known that the sum of $400,000 has been spent in reproducing upon an elaborate scale the glories of the great national playground. Neither money nor effect was spared to make the reproduction worthy of the original down to the most minute detail. With this spirit dominating the work it was decided that the great scenic effects of rocky crags and cliffs should not be mere haphazard combinations of wood framework and plaster and paint. Instead, forms were made over real rocks, which were first dipped in plaster of paris and spread over the rocks, being fitted to every crack and crevice. This was allowed to dry and at the proper time an extra half-inch of plaster was applied to the surface.

    Before Old Faithful Inn is the largest relief map in the world, showing every feature of the Yellowstone National Park on a measured scale. The map is 230 feet across and the relief shows every peak, river, and geyser, the latter steaming and throwing up columns of water. The whole is encircled by the buttressed walk upon which the visitors move about. Through the mountains runs a trail more a mile long, flanked with ferns and wild growth. Waterfalls, dropping from a height of more than 80 feet add to the beauties of the scenic effect and great caves can be explored . . . Old Faithful geyser, the most wonderful of all the natural phenomena of the park, will be reproduced with life-like reality, throwing into the air a large volume of water and steam. This scene will be repeated every 65 minutes, reflecting eruptions by moonlight, at sunrise, at sunset, in a storm, or with clear sunshine, with all their varied effects, produced with water, steam and marvelous light devices.


    Another feature will be the official exposition orchestra of 80 master musicians under the leadership of one of the world’s most noted directors. Concerts will be given in Old Faithful Inn every afternoon and evening, constituting a decided feature of the great exposition. One thing should not be overlooked and that is that the international fair will be ready when the gates are opened on February 20, 1915.

     When the whole was entirely dry the mountain surface were raised to the desired position, the perfect outlines of the rocks being preserved. Those pieces were placed in a range of mountains that rises more than 100 feet in the air and the whole painted and tinted to nature’s colors. Shrubs, plants and moss are added to complete the picture. Through clever adaptation of the laws of perspective the illusion of vast mountain ranges, miles in the distance is impressed upon the visitor.
Two hundred tons of plaster of Paris, 600,000 yards of burlap, eight tons of paint and 30 barrels of waterproofing were used in the construction of the ranges. The cost of the labor for applying the plaster alone amounted to $25,000.

Entrance to the Yellowstone concession is through a canyon with Eagle Nest rock on one side and the Golden gate viaduct on the other. The striking feature after passing through the canyon portal is the absolutely accurate reproduction in every feature of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone park. The statement applies not only to the architecture but to the exact size, while the banquet hall was necessarily made three times larger than the original.

Link to more information and photos of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition:

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