The Architect of Old Faithful Inn
Updated: Jun 3, 2019
Recently I visited Yellowstone in Wyoming and found more than just the landscape fascinating. Among the landscape lies the history of Yellowstone in more than one form. The evidence of the past is not only limited to the always changing volcanic features of the park, but also includes the past of tourism, which lies heavily within the hotels inside Yellowstone. The majority of these hotels were designed by Robert C. Reamer in the early 1900s. His most famous design, that still stands today, is located at the Upper Gyser Basin, the home of the very popular Old Faithful. It was almost 11:00 a.m. when my husband and I decided to explore the interior of the hotel. We saw the sign for a tour starting soon and knew this was something that we could not pass up. The tour took us to the outside of the building briefly so that we could see which parts were original and which parts were added by Reamer later on in the 1920's. Reamer did not want the additions to over shadow the original structure so he built these on with flat roofs. The additions brought the rooms available from the original 140 to a total of 340 rooms. The Exterior of the Old House and the additions are sheathed in cedar shingles and the corners are finished in log cribbing. The Old House features a series of dormer windows and windows consisting of multiple sizes, shapes, and scroll work. It has been determined that Reamer must have had a fascination with window placement and lighting, based on his use of windows on all projects across Yellowstone. The tour guide, who I now know as Ruth Quinn, the author of publications about Reamer and his work in Yellowstone. I found this out as I was researching to put this blog post together and wish I had known I would be writing this when taking the tour. She and Karen Wildung Reinhart both wrote an article in Yellowstone Science, Volume 12, #2, spring 2004, where I found I lot of the helpful information for this blog post to back up what I heard on the tour. Please check out their complete articles here: https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/upload/ _12_2_sm.pdf
Next, we walked back inside where she showed us the large, mid-evil looking, red doors that opened to the lobby. She pointed out the device on the back of the door that served as a doorbell for late guests in the early 1900's. In the lobby as you look up you can see that the lodge pole pines used on the interior reach all the way up to the ceiling and the height of them are incredible. She explained to us that the height of the lobby is constructed to be around the average height of this type of pine tree. Reamer was trying to merge the look of the Inn with the look of nature and even when the tourists were indoors he wanted them to feel as though they were connected to the outdoors. He realized how special this park was and he wanted to build a hotel that was in harmony with nature, not something that would contrast against it. Reinhart describes in her article that Reamer's various shaped windows were also to harmonize with nature's lack of geometric symmetry. She mentions in her article that the light from the windows penetrates through to the lobby like the sunlight through the canopy of pines in the forest. There is even a tree house at the top of the trees at the ceiling. When the hotel was first opened people could go up to the top level of the hotel and look out at the landscape below. Because of today's fire code and safety concerns, it is not permitted anymore.
The lighting is original to the building and so is the 500 ton fireplace made from queried Yellowstone, volcanic rock that has room for fire on to burn on all 4 sides. The clock, other fire place accessories, room numbers, and other metal works were made by Reamer's Blacksmith, George W. Colpitts. The clock was designed by Reamer and Colpitts made it. Our tour guide told us that Reamer was only 29 when he received the job at the park and it was his first hotel job. I wondered how he was able to get such a job at his young age, not having any hotel experience previously and I turned to my husband and said, "He must have known someone."In fact, as I researched I found out that that is exactly how he received the job. Reamer was living in California at this time of his career and he was working for a man named Elisha S. Babcock who managed Hotel del Coronado. Harry Child, President of the Yellowstone Park Hotel Company, vacationed here in the Winter and he had become friends with Mr. Babcock. This was it, the connection that would bring Child to find the talented Robert Reamer, and that would give Reamer the chance of a lifetime. Child's wife chose all of the furnishings for the hotel, and some of them are still in the hotel today. We were able to go into one of the rooms in the old house and view these 2 original furnishings below. These include, dresser and wash station. Reamer designed these as small rooms without a bathroom, but with a community bathroom down the hall and a wash basin in the room so that the guests could wash in their own room. Later additions to the hotel included a private bathroom.
Another beautiful touch of this hotel that makes you feel like you are back in time are the writing desks that are on the second level. Guest used to, and still do today, sit at the desks and write postcards home to their families. In the picture below of the desk you can also see another creative touch from Reamer. He decided to send the crew out to find the oddities of the forest, the trees that grew crooked or had bulbous formations. Uses for these trees were found all over the hotel including the stair rails and supports.
The outside material of the additions and the original structure are the same, but the interior of the additions were plastered walls and were less ornate in detail. The photo below shows the entrance into one of the added additions.
Reamer and his team stayed at the Inn and worked through the winter of 1903 - 1904 in order to finish by the summer of 1904. Even though much of the structure was up by the time
winter hit the temperatures would have been grueling inside and out of the hotel. The hard work and dedication of the team certainly made an impact on so many lives that were touched by the experience of staying at the inn and exploring the magnificent landscape surrounding it. Some repairs and changes have been made over the years, but the look and feel of the hotel remains much the same from what you see in the historic photographs. If you get the chance to visit The Old Faithful Inn, I would highly recommend taking a look around at Reamer's creative architecture of the early 1900's.