Montana Official State Travel Site
Facebook Flickr Twitter Youtube 1.800.847.4868

Music, Song, and Laughter'

Yellowstone National Park's Fountain Hotel, 1891-1916

by Lee H. Whittlesey

In summer 1890 visitors to Yellowstone National Park's Lower Geyser Basin could have paused to watch the construction of the Fountain Hotel, a welcome addition to the accommodations available for the increasing numbers of people coming to see the park's wonders. F. Jay Haynes took this photograph of the completed hotel in 1895, looking northeast from the Fountain Group of hot springs with his buggy and an unidenti?ed driver in the foreground. Detail, Haynes Fnd. Coll., MHS Photograph Archives, Helena

From Montana The Magazine of Western History, Volume 53 Number 4(Winter 2003), 63-65; this article is presented courtesy of the Montana Historical Society. All rights reserved, © 2003

For twenty-six summers during Yellowstone's stagecoach days, the Fountain Hotel welcomed visitors to the nation's first and most famous park. Located at Fountain Flats, on the road between Madison Junction and Old Faithful, the hotel sat in close proximity to the paint pots, geysers, and hot springs of the Lower Geyser Basin. Although we know little about either the hotel's interior Montana, the Magazine of Western History Winter 2003(only one image of it has survived) or about its day-to-day activities, there can be no doubt that the Fountain Hotel, like others of its kind in the park, functioned as a place where visitors, including the renowned and the scientific, met and mingled.
The Fountain Hotel helped popularize the park by providing visitors with the comforts of a luxury hotel while offering access to one of the country's last great wilderness areas.
By the summer of 1890 the officers of the Yellowstone Park Association, the official park concessioner then owned by the Northern Pacific Railroad, recognized the need for more hotels in the park. Although Yellowstone already boasted two large and several small hostelries, these could hardly accommodate the increasing numbers of people coming to see the park's wonders. At Old Faithful the small "Shack Hotel" (which had no official name) bulged at the seams, and the even more primitive Firehole Hotel (formerly Marshall's Hotel) at the Lower Geyser Basin was in its last full season as a hostelry. The National Hotel at Mammoth, opened in 1883, and the barnlike, but relatively comfortable Canyon Hotel, new in 1890, were both commodious, but they were also a full day's stagecoach ride from the park's most famous geysers. Recognizing an opportunity, the Yellowstone Park Association pressed ahead with plans for two hotels that would share essentially the same design, one at Lake and one at Fountain Flats, at a site on a timbered hill north of the famous "Mammoth Paint Pots" (today's Fountain Paint Pot).1 Convinced it was "very important" to begin work that summer due to the shortage of lodging, park superintendent F. A. Boutelle authorized the Yellowstone Park Association to "commence cutting timber at once."2
Secretary of the Interior John Noble was also sympathetic to the Yellowstone Park Association's plans. "Having been through [the park] myself," he wrote, "when I was compelled . . . to stay either in a tent or the smallest of cabins, poorly constructed, and with no accommodations that were at all comfortable, From Reau Campbell, Campbell’s Complete Guide and Descriptive Book of Yellowstone Park (Chicago, 1913), p. 107I have thought that if a series of hotels could be established under reasonable restraints . . . a great advance would be made."3 Warning that workmen should not be allowed to mar the park's beauty by cutting timber or quarrying too close to roads, Noble officially approved "plans and speci?cations" for the Fountain Hotel on August 18, 1890.4
Work on the hotel proceeded rapidly. When U.S. Geological Survey geologist Walter Harvey Weed visited the construction site in October 1890, he was shocked by what he found. In an angry letter to hot springs researcher Arnold Hague, Weed decried the stacks of lumber on the sinter ?at southwest of the hotel, the construction crew's large log mess-hall just north of the hotel, the numerous haystacks used to feed stock, and the scattered log buildings and tents that were being used for housing. Nor could he stomach the cutting of trees or the fact that women were washing laundry at the Hotel Group Springs located "but a hundred yards or so from the northwest corner of the building." Wagons hauled hot water from the springs every few minutes. All in all, Weed thought the scene an "exhibition of squalor that is most disgusting."5
The man responsible was R. R. Cummins, who had been hired by Yellowstone Park Association directors as superintendent of construction for both the Fountain and Lake Hotels. Perhaps the directors should have known better than to trust Cummins. Cummins's work on the Canyon Hotel had proved less than satisfactory, and Secretary of the Interior Noble and Superintendent Boutelle had already exchanged words about his potential for causing trouble. They were right. Within months, cost overruns on the two hotels forced the Northern Paci?c to advance the association an additional sixty thousand Staffng began even before the Fountain Hotel was completed, with the new manager boasting in April 1891 that the hostelry would contain "all modern improvements, including an electric light and complete water service." This F. Jay Haynes view shot in 1891 captures a group that appears, at least in part, to be made up of hotel employees. F. Jay Haynes, photographer, Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, Helena dollars. Following an inspection of the Fountain and Canyon Hotels in May 1891, comptroller W. G. Johnson wrote that workmanship seemed very poor and that he believed "[I]t would be to the interests of the Association to experiment no longer with Cummins." When workmen struck because of Cummins's poor management, it was the last straw, and the association ?red him.6
Even before workers ?nished the hotel, however, the association began plans to staff it. When Benton Hatch, hired to manage the new hostelry, passed through Livingston, Montana, on his way to the park in April 1891, he informed the locals that the soon-to-be-?nished hotel would contain "all modern improvements, including an electric light and complete water service."7
Completed all except for one wing "about the middle of June" 1891 at a cost of one hundred thousand dollars, the Fountain Hotel was an F-shaped building with its longest side facing south toward Fountain Geyser. Floor plans show 135 guest rooms on the second ?oor, with space for 250 guests. Downstairs, public areas provided places for visitors to relax. A pleasant porch ran the length of the south side of the building, and, above it, a shorter veranda decorated the second story.8 The exterior likely gleamed with yellow paint.9
Stagecoach passengers arriving at the Fountain Hotel unloaded onto the front porch, then passed through the hotel's entrance into a rectangular "rotunda room," a lovely space whose high ceiling seems to have extended to the roof.10 Immediately to the visitor's left loomed a large ?replace, and in the far left corner of the room stood the registration desk, opposite the main stairs in the far right corner. The "gent's parlor" was off the rotunda room to the left, opposite the "ladies' parlor." Just past the office, the strolling visitor entered a large dining room (about ?fty-eight feet by forty-two feet) that likely served as a dance ?oor once its tables and chairs were moved out. Beyond the dining room, the requisite counters, ovens, steam tables, and sinks ?lled the hotel's large kitchen, a room only slightly smaller than the dining room. Connected to the kitchen was the pantry and another large square room divided into storeroom at west and a "help's hall" at east.11
Behind the hotel, to the north, stood a two-story building that held the hotel's laundry and engine room, with seven rooms for employees on the second ?oor.12 In 1897 the company built a barn, a cold storage area, a root-house for winter food storage, an icehouse where ice cut in winter was stored in sawdust for summer use, and a charcoal bin. Over the years other service buildings were added. An unusual photo of the north side of the hotel taken in 1909 or 1910 shows the laundry building standing between the hotel's two wings, a third story having been added at some point, and a small, one-story building of unknown function between the laundry and the west wing. The large underground root cellar juts from a hill just north of the icehouse, the one-story building standing east of the east wing. At least three massive tiers of ?rewood lie stacked along the back of the hotel.13
Employees, at least those who drove park stagecoaches or handled the horses, had their own (today somewhat puzzling) area in the woods several hundred yards southeast of the hotel, indicated on maps as "stage barns." At least four buildings are thought to have stood at this site, but there are no known close-up maps or detailed descriptions of them. The remnants of corrals and a rusted metal spring-box sunk into the ground are all that remain at this site.14
To the northeast of the hotel stood the cow barns and, later, a corral. In 1900 twelve cows grazed in the nearby meadows. By 1907 that number had grown to over one hundred.15 Also to the northeast was the hotel garbage dump and what appears to have been an employee dormitory. Nearby stood a small wooden cabin where garbage cans were kept.16 Locations of the numerous outhouses that undoubtedly served the hotel's outbuildings are as yet unknown.17 Today, the remains of the buildings and the dump are the only vestiges of what must have been a large support operation for the hotel.
An important hotel landmark was a large rock outcropping near the southeast corner of the building. Not only was the hotel's location platted from this outcropping, but it was also a favorite location for taking photographs.18 Another favorite was the high rock pinnacle known as "Lover's Leap" located The only known illustration of the Fountain Hotel's interior is a drawing reproduced in "Through Yellowstone National Park," an unattributed, undated article in a scrapbook in the Yellowstone National Park Library (Scrapbook 4209, p. 26). One visitor described the room into which visitors entered as a "large hall" with big rocking chairs around the ?replace and another characterized it as a rectangular "rotunda room" that one entered from the front porch. Image National Park Service, Yellowstone National Parkabout three-quarters of a mile to the northeast and reached by a trail that ran north from the garbage dump.19
In its heyday, the Fountain Hotel was a site to behold. When visitor Patty Selmes arrived during the hotel's ?rst season in 1891, she found it "a most imposing lodge for so vast a wilderness" and called the hotel one of the many "great improvements since my former trip [in 1888]." Her poetic description tells us a bit about the hotel's interior:

Our entrance was through a large hall, where a regiment of big rocking-chairs, formed into a hollow square around the ?replace, gave silent promise of comfort. As it was getting late and we wanted to catch a glimpse of the Fountain [Geyser] and the Paint-Pots before dark, we went to tea immediately and had nearly ?nished when a boy, stationed to watch, came in breathlessly and announced that "She would go off in four minutes!" A golden-haired vision had just set our sauce-which means canned peaches-before us, but, leaving it untasted, we rushed after the boy, past the rocking-chairs, across the porch and down to the brink of a deep, hot, troubled pool of dark-blue water. . . . Only the promise of a natural hot-springs bath lured us back to the house.20

Visitor F. B. Nash found the hotel similarly charming in July of that year, calling it "a great hostelry, the largest and . . . best in the park." Nash especially liked "genial" manager Hatch whom he found "made life very pleasant in this ?ne house." Nash noted the "large lobby with its great ?re place, ?lled with all classes and conditions of men taking their ease in mutual sufferance with content is a pleasant spot to remember."21
The hotel's history is sketchy for the 1892 and 1893 seasons. In the only known 1892 account, traveler Eliza Upham praised the Fountain Hotel as "the nicest in the Park and quite a contrast to the past 'paper' hotel," the horrible Shack Hotel at Old Faithful. Upham found the rooms "are pleasant and the dining-room looks pretty and attractive, with the tables set diagonally, and lots of silver, and the napkins standing like open fans." An 1893 article published in Harper's Weekly called Fountain "one of the best [hotels] in the park," noting "the ?re on [its] great hearth is most welcome." The railroad's Wonderland Junior pamphlet reminded tourists that the hotel had steam heat, electric lights, and "hot mineral baths, the medical properties of which are, as stated by eminent medical and scienti?c men, to be found in but one other hot spring in the world."22
The amenities of the Fountain Hotel also included its delicious meals, but for all the thousands of meals served, descriptions of the dining room's offerings are few. According to journalist Jane MacMillan, items available on the menu in 1914 included mangoes, sweet pickles, and radishes for appetizers, followed by beef-barley soup, Columbia River salmon with hollandaise sauce, "duchesse" potatoes, chicken potpie, mashed potatoes, green peas, lettuce and tomato with mayonnaise, "macedoine" fruit salad, coconut-cream pie, vanilla ice cream, assorted cakes, cheese and crackers, coffee, tea, milk, and iced tea.23
Edmund Erk's description of a luncheon on August 27, 1904, provides one of the fullest descriptions of dining at the Fountain Hotel.
The table was snowy white in the array of linen and the service was equal to that of any ?rst class metropolitan hotel. . . . [W]e felt that some good angel had suddenly swept down from out of a better land and set before us a mighty porterhouse steak, an inch and one-half thick, hot and spluttering from the griddle; dusted with fragrant peppers; enriched with little melting bits of butter of unimpeachable freshness and genuineness; the precious juices of the meat trickling out and joining the gravy, archipeligoed with mushrooms; a strip or two of tender, yellowish [fat], gracing an outlying district of this ample county of beefsteak; and the long white bone which divides the sirloin from the tenderloin still in place. That good, imaginary angel, also added a great cup of home-made coffee, with cream "a-froth" on top; some real butter, ?rm, yellow and fresh; some smoking hot biscuits; a plate of hot buckwheat cakes with transparent syrup. Could words describe the sumptuousness of this layout?24
After their meal, Erk and his party watched Fountain Geyser erupt, then headed to the garbage dump to look at bears. They spent the evening in conviviality. "The hours that followed, about the spacious verandas and drawing room," gushed Erk, "were among the most pleasant in our memories of the entire trip. Music, song and laughter was general and ever present, and Contrary to modern park practices, in early years bears were allowed to feed at hotel garbage dumps, and tourists ?ocked to observe them. This photograph of bear-watching at Fountain Hotel's feeding ground was taken in 1899. E. J. Westlake, photographer, Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, Helenaall shared therein, in full accord." The party watched dancers in the "drawing room" bob and swirl until late.25
Dancing was a popular activity at Fountain Hotel. Historian Aubrey Haines noted that the hotel featured frequent balls and was, prior to the turn of the century, "the only place beyond Mammoth Hot Springs where a lady might need a silk dress, or a gentleman something better than his traveling clothes." There is no information about how frequently the hotel held dances, nor do we know what bands graced the "drawing room" at Fountain, though presumably the hotel on occasion hired Chicago's Visitors were anxious to experience all the attractions near Fountain Hotel, including Fountain Geyser (left). F. Jay Haynes, photographer, Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, Helena Nuernberger Orchestra, the same band that played at the Mammoth and Canyon Hotels. A squad of U.S. Army soldiers, encamped just to the north on Nez Perce Creek, always stood ready to squire ladies traveling without partners. Private Herbert Angelo, stationed there in 1902, noted in his diary that he and fellow soldiers spent many August nights dancing at the Fountain Hotel.26
When the tourists left for home and winter snows blanketed the park, a winter-keeper watched over the Fountain Hotel. Writer Emerson Hough described the winter 1893 caretaker, John Schmidt, as "an efficient hand at getting up good and frequent meals." Hough and soldiers from Fort Yellowstone stayed at the hotel during an extended cross-country ski trip. In his description of the trip, Hough spent quite a few sentences discussing how many western men were "cranks" or half insane due to their solitary lives in wilderness settings but noted that he found Schmidt "quite the opposite of this." Hough averred that Schmidt did ramble on in a monotone, "no doubt the re?ex voice of his monotonous, solitary life," and entertained the visitors with his attentions to his two cats and one dog. "For the dog," wrote Hough, "we visitors had no affection . . . [for he] had a habit of sitting up all night and barking at the wolves and foxes which every night came in about the hotel kitchen where we made our abode."27
Though mention of foxes and many other animals often appeared in visitors' accounts, it was the bears that most impressed visitors. The hotel's garbage dump was well known for the number and size of the bears that frequented it. Dan Beard, the founder of the Boy Scouts of America, wrote that bears began to appear merely at the sound of the garbage wagon as it rumbled to the dump. Superintendent H. B. M. Young routinely told visitors to "go over to the Fountain Hotel and there you will see as many bears as you wish." Signs at the dump warned visitors not to get too close to the feeding bears.28
Hotel porters soon learned that tips could easily be made by taking visitors to see bears. When Henry M. Field, an 1894 guest, learned there was "always a quorum in session . . . about sundown," he shouted, "Show me one!" The sight of a huge cinnamon bear nosing among the cans and bottles rewarded his effort. It was probably also in 1894 that a group of "roguish" young men thought it would be funny to see a bear actually inside the hotel. Using a loaf of sugar as bait, they lured one to the rear door, and from there the bear walked into the lobby. One lady immediately fainted, one or two guests screamed, and the hotel clerk called out, "Keep still, everybody, and the bear won't harm you." The bear proceeded rather deliberately to nose the hotel's telegraph key before walking out the front door into the night. Only then did pandemonium break loose.29
Journalist Henry Finck, who visited the Fountain Hotel in 1897, found the parade of between six and sixteen bears heading to the dump every evening around six o'clock a "most interesting illustration of the rapidity with which wild animals can be tamed." "There they are," noted Finck, "black bears, a few cinnamons, occasionally even a grizzly, quietly munching the bones and fruit peelings, while a dozen or two of the hotel guests look on ten yards away. One soon gets used to the scene; some men feed the bears apples out of the hand, and we ourselves adapted our habits so soon to the situation that when we met a bear in the woods afterward we paid no more attention to him than if he had been a dog."30
During a trip in April 1903 naturalist John Burroughs and President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Fountain Hotel, though it was not yet open for the season. The president hoped to see the bears for which the hotel was famous, but the country was covered with snow, and they were "not yet out of their dens."31
According to one writer, the famous naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton met The Fountain Hotel bear (above), photographed by E. J. Westlake in 1899, became the symbol for the Yellowstone Park Company's logo (right). E. J. Westlake, photographer, Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, HelenaWahb, the bear that became the focus of Seton's celebrated Biography of a Grizzly (1903), at the Fountain Hotel. In 1912 Seton returned to the park to sketch and photograph at the hotel's garbage dump. Based on his observations, he wrote the lengthy piece that included a detailed description of one old sow's determined spanking of her two cubs for misbehavior that appeared in his book Wild Animals at Home (1913).32
Another of the Fountain Hotel bears became the most famous bear in Yellowstone history: the bear that ultimately became the symbol of the park's concessioner was photographed at the dump sometime between 1893 and 1899. According to the Yellowstone Park Association's 1905 brochure "the bear who looks at you so quizzically from the cover of this booklet was a 'Fountain bear,' and this excellent picture was made by the young son of a former manager of the Fountain Hotel. . . . [I]t has been adopted as an emblemThe Fountain Hotel bear (above), photographed by E. J. Westlake in 1899, became the symbol for the Yellowstone Park Company's logo (right). From Reau Campbell, Campbell’s Complete Guide and Descriptive Book of Yellowstone Park (Chicago, 1913), p. 107 to represent Yellowstone Park."33 After the picture's ?rst publication, company president Harry Child placed the bear in the center of three red, white, and blue circles, creating the logo for both his Yellowstone Park Association and his Yellowstone Park Transportation Company. Photographer F. Jay Haynes reproduced this bear image as number 118 of his "one-hundred" postcard series published in 1908.34
If bears were one attraction at Fountain Hotel, geysers, particularly nearby Fountain Geyser, were certainly another. In the period between 1881 and 1898, Fountain Geyser's sixty-foot-high water bursts occurred every two to eight hours and lasted ?fteen minutes to an hour. Because the geyser "displayed its charms with vigorous regularity," it became immensely popular with hotel visitors, who could watch it from the building's front porch or walk the quarter mile to see it up close.35
Other geysers also electri?ed hotel visitors and employees alike. On June 26, 1899, at 9:20 a.m., an unnamed pool to the north of the hotel suddenly began to erupt 200 to 250 feet high. A newspaper writer called the eruption "the grandest I have ever witnessed in the park." Named Dewey Geyser in honor of presidential hopeful Admiral George Dewey, but also referred to as New Fountain Geyser, the geyser provided a show for Fountain Hotel visitors several times that summer. It played twice on June 11, then put on a night show on August 6.36 On that August evening, hotel employees built a ?re near the geyser at 9 p.m. in order to light it up for tourists, but army corporal M. J. Whalen made them put it out. Hotel manager E. J. Westlake telegraphed his boss, pointing out that such ?res had been permitted "heretofore" and asking permission for one "as it [the geyser] is a great attraction to tourists when it plays at night."37
That same August a stagecoach traveler named Mrs. James Morris was asleep in her hotel room when about midnight gongs sounded, bells rang and porters went running about pounding on the doors and crying, what seemed to our sleepy imagination, "Fire," but presently we heard distinctly the words, the new geyser is playing. "The new geyser is playing," went echoing down the corridor. In ten minutes every tourist was out, in all sorts of costumes from blanket to full dress, either shivering on the long veranda or hurrying down to the basin to see the new geyser play, and right royally he did it, too. Upward into the black night shot a stupendous column of water three hundred feet high.
The hotel porters shone their red calcium lights on the massive body of falling water, giving the visitors a display of "?re and water" that took people's breath away. Delicate rose-colored steam ?oated away into the black night. The hotel's cat hurried to the geyser and stood trans?xed by the magic scene, geyser water falling all around him until someone picked him up and carried him out of danger.38
The great number of geysers and hot springs near Fountain Hotel made a stay there magical, something akin to attending a theater presentation of Aladdin's Cave, according to one early Yellowstone visitor. In addition to Fountain and Dewey Geysers, tourists could take a surrey to see the huge Great Fountain Geyser, Firehole Pool, which exhibited "blue ?re" ?ashing gas bubbles, and the Surprise Pool that burst into a boil whenever a handful of sand was thrown into it (a show no longer permitted today). Or visitors could walk a short distance north to the Hotel Group (today called the Thud Group) where tour guides Tourists could take a surrey from Fountain Hotel to see the great number of geysers and hot springs located nearby. Above is the crater of the Great Fountain Geyser. At right a visitor observes the Firehole Spring in 1895. Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, Helenawould show them Barbara Frietchie's Well, the Star Spangled Banner, Hiawatha, Thanatopsis, and other hot springs romantically named from great literature. Here a visitor might also see Evangeline Geyser, named after the romantic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The spring's heart shape, its red and white color, and the escaping steam that created a thumping noise reminded visitors of a beating heart and inspired tour guides to relate the story of Evangeline and her lover who were ?nally reunited after a long separation.39
Leather Pool, then called White Sulphur Spring, supplied hot water to the hotel baths that were greatly enjoyed by hotel guests. A 1909 guidebook announced that "the ?ne sulphur baths of the Fountain are in grateful remembrance of all who have had the good fortune to enjoy them; the water comes from one of the hot springs near the Paint Pots at an elevation sufficient to send the water to the bathrooms on the second ?oor of the hotel." Yellowstone Park Association president Charles Gibson claimed the baths were "not equaled [anywhere] in Tourists could take a surrey from Fountain Hotel to see the great number of geysers and hot springs located nearby. Above is the crater of the Great Fountain Geyser. At right a visitor observes the Firehole Spring in 1895. F. Jay Haynes, photographer, Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, Helena the United States." A 1908 visitor called his ablution the most delightful bath he had ever taken. "I do not know why," he opined, "but there is some subtle quality in the water that leaves the skin like a baby's-some of nature's alchemy, one of her mysterious compounds that the chemists cannot duplicate nor even imitate."40
Also nearby were the Mammoth Paint Pots, which by 1914 became known as Fountain Paint Pot. Tourists of the 1870s had called them "paint pots" because of the mud's resemblance to paint. Indeed, Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane noted in 1870 that "a plasterer would go into ecstasies over this mortar" because it had been "worked" for perhaps ten thousand years. This idea was not lost on hotel managers. Company records show that sometime before 1903 Fountain Hotel maintenance personnel used the pinkish mud to "paint," or calcimine, many interior walls of the hotel. John Burroughs, who accompanied President Roosevelt to the hotel in April 1903, con?rmed "that they had kalsomined [sic] some of the rooms with materials from one of the devil's paint-pots. It imparted a soft, delicate, pinkish tint, not at all suggestive of things satanic."41
As tourists learned of the amenities of the hotel-the baths, the balls, the bears-the hotel enjoyed an increasing number of guests. According to Yellowstone historian Aubrey Haines, 6,118 visitors visited in 1902, 5,955 in 1903, 8,488 Fountain Paint Pot (right, 1884), another attraction near the hotel, contained mud that resembled paint. The pinkish mud had, in fact, been used to "paint" many interior walls of the hotel before 1903. F. Jay Haynes, photographer, Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, Helenain 1904, and 14,814 in 1905.42 Yet, despite the substantial number of tourists staying at the hotel, Yellowstone Park Association managers worried that the planned construction of a new hotel at the Upper Geyser Basin, eight miles to the south, would destroy business at the Fountain Hotel. Their report to stockholders in 1897 emphasized that the Fountain Hotel was "the best planned and the best built hotel owned by the Association, but it is at the wrong place, and will become almost valueless when a new hotel shall [sic] have been constructed at the Upper Geyser Basin, either by the Association or [by] other parties." The manager of all the park hotels, James H. Dean, lamented to his superiors in 1900 that he had no power to stop tourists from staying with the hated Wylie Company at Old Faithful (a competitor that offered cheaper accommodations in tent camps called "tent-tops") instead of returning for a second night at Fountain. Park photographer F. Jay Haynes's establishment of the Monida-Yellowstone Stage Company in 1898 no doubt aided Fountain Hotel, and it was probably that additional business that helped keep Fountain alive after the Old Faithful Inn opened in 1904.43
Strangely, in the new century, especially after 1910, extended references to the hotel are few. The usual sources-magazine articles, diaries, and archival documents-do not reveal much about events at the hotel or the lives of the employees who lived there. Presumably Fountain Hotel's idyllic times continued during these years, but sadly we do not have those stories.
Fountain Hotel's last summer of operation was 1916. Automobiles had been officially admitted to Yellowstone on August 1, 1915, where they confusedly coexisted with stagecoaches. Accordingly, the summer of 1916 was a disorderly one, with both motor and horse-drawn vehicles plying park roads. The simultaneous operation of both types of transportation caused chaos: car Competition from tent-camp rentals, from the new hotel that opened at Old Faithful in 1904, and from car camping after 1915 augured the demise of the Fountain Hotel. Above, visitors camp at West Thumb Public Auto Camp in 1923. F. Jay Haynes, photographer, Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, Helenaengines frightened horses and park roads were not engineered properly for cars. But cars could get farther in a day than could stagecoaches. This meant two hotels and twelve lunch stations were no longer needed. The Fountain Hotel abruptly closed following the summer of 1916.44
One visitor saw the boarded-up edi?ce as a stark symbol of the new popularity of car travel. He suspected that its closure was "a result of the camp kits slung on the running boards of the endless stream of private cars on the road." He was essentially right. More and more park visitors camped rather than staying in hotels, and motorization was the reason.45
The Fountain Hotel stood empty for eleven more years. In June 1927 it was ?nally torn down, and assistant chief ranger Joe Douglas burned the ruins.46 Automobiles officially entered Yellowstone National Park on August 1, 1915. In addition to popularizing family camping, motorized transportation increased the distances visitors could cover in a day, thus making the Fountain Hotel redundant. The "best built hotel" owned by the Yellowstone Park Association closed abruptly following the summer 1916 season. Jack E. Haynes, photographer, Haynes Foundation Collection, Montana Historical Society, HelenaToday most of the thousands of visitors that throng the walkways leading to Fountain and Clepsydra Geysers and the famous paint pots have no idea that music, song, and laughter were celebrated for so long and so near to those fabulous Yellowstone thermal attractions.

LEE H. WHITTLESEY is Yellowstone National Park historian and author of numerous books on the park, including Death in Yellowstone (1998), A Yellowstone Album (1997), and, with Paul Schullery, Myth and History in the Creation of Yellowstone National Park (2003).

1. Item in Yell. Park Assoc. folder, box C-16, Yellowstone National Park Archives, Mammoth, Wyoming (hereafter YNP Archives). A comparison of the specifications of Lake Hotel and Fountain Hotel shows that the two buildings were almost identical. The architect of the Lake Hotel, N. L. Haller of Washington, D.C., was probably also the Fountain Hotel architect.
2. Archive document 360, July 19, 1890, YNP Archives. Histories of the Yellowstone Park Association and other early concessioners include Mark Daniel Barringer, Selling Yellowstone: Capitalism and the Construction of Nature (Lawrence, Kans., 2002); Patrick J. Curran, "Yellowstone Park Association, 1886-1896," August 23, 1968, copy in Yellowstone National Park Library, Mammoth, Wyoming (hereafter YNP Library); and Richard A. Bartlett, Yellowstone: A Wilderness Besieged (Tucson, 1985). For the history of the Firehole Hotel, see Lee H. Whittlesey, "Marshall's Hotel in the National Park," Montana The Magazine of Western History, 30 (Autumn 1980), 42-51.
3. Livingston (Mont.) Enterprise, August 23, 1890.
4. Archive document 358, August 18, 1890, YNP Archives; archive document 359, August 18, 1890, ibid.; archive document 615, November 29, 1890, ibid.; John Noble and I. B. Casey, "Agreement for Lease of Site at Fountain Geyser . . . ," August 18, 1890, ibid. Noble's office laid out the requirements for Fountain Hotel's construction in a detailed fourteen-page document: I. B. Casey, as approved by John Noble, "Specifications of labor and material . . . of the Frame Hotel . . . at Fountain Geyser," n.d., Yell. Park Assoc. file, box C-16, YNP Archives. See also F. A. Boutelle to John Noble, May 9, 1890, p. 91, Letters Sent, vol. 3, YNP Archives; F. A. Boutelle to John Noble, May 28, 1890, p. 93, ibid.
5. Walter Harvey Weed to Arnold Hague, October 1, 1890, box 6, Arnold Hague Papers, Record Group 57, Records of the U.S. Geological Survey, National Archives, College Park, Maryland.
6. Archive document 361, July 22, 1890, YNP Archives; Aubrey L. Haines, The Yellowstone Story: A History of Our First National Park, rev. ed., 2 vols. (Boulder, Colo., 1996), 2:47; Curran, "Yellowstone Park Association, 1886-1896," 8. See also archive document 352, November 7, 1890, YNP Archives; and archive document 353, August 1, 1890, ibid. The financial crunches of that year made it difficult to secure funding, and association president Charles Gibson and his associates were forced to advance thirty thousand dollars out of their own pockets for construction costs. Thomas C. McRae, "Yellowstone National Park," 52d Cong., 1st sess., 1892, H. Rep. 1956, 181.
7. Livingston (Mont.) Enterprise, April 25, 1891.
8. "Fountain Hotel Approval Plan," August 18, 1890, folder 6, F. J. Haynes Architectural Drawings, unprocessed collection, Montana Historical Society Library, Helena; "First Floor," Fountain Hotel plan (apparently a working drawing), n.d., ibid. See also "Outline Plan, Fountain Hotel, Yellowstone Park, Yellowstone Park Hotel Company," [circa 1911], folder H, drawer 14, YNP Library; [W. B.], "Fountain Geyser Basin Hotel," 1896, folder 16.0124, drawer 37, ibid.; and "Fountain Geyser Basin Hotel," 1896, ibid. A National Park Service archeological inventory of the hotel site is William J. Hunt, Jr., et al. "1992 and 1993 Archeological Inventories and Evaluations of Cultural Resources, Madison Junction-Biscuit Basin Road Reconstruction (Pkg. 254D), Yellowstone National Park," March 1994, Midwest Archeological Center, Lincoln, Nebr., pp. 36-38, figs. 38-41.
9. Exactly when yellow was selected as the exterior color for Fountain Hotel is not known, but probably it was at the very beginning. An 1899 company memo makes it clear that 180 gallons of yellow paint were ordered specifically for the hotel's exterior. "Memorandum for Mr. Relf. For a Requisition," August 15, 1899, file 619, Yellowstone National Park General, box 134.F.5.11B, Chief Engineer's Files, Northern Pacific Railway Records, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul (hereafter Minn. HS). This memo lists other colors selected for the hotel: white, black, French gray, and cream for the exterior and "Ohio Stone," yellow-brown, French gray, and lavender for the interior.
10. The only known interior drawing shows the ceiling in this room lower than the "rotunda" plans of the hotel seem to indicate.
11. There are slight variations among the several sets of floor plans, and we do not know which building was erected. For example, one plan shows "writing room" in the place of the "gent's parlor," and there are several variations in the location of the stairs and the configuration of the hotel's front porch. One plan shows the locations of the icehouse and laundry-engine room reversed from those given in the text.
12. John Egger ran the power plant in 1916. "I was the engineer the last year they ran it, 1916," he said in a 1981 interview. "I used to shut [the] electric generators down about nine in the morning and start them up about four in the afternoon. That was to save energy and personnel." Historian Doris Whithorn discovered a photo taken about 1900 that shows employees working the steam engine "used to run the laundry facilities, saw wood or do any other jobs where power machinery was desirable." John Egger, interview by Lee Whittlesey, January 17, 1981, Gardiner, Montana; Bill and Doris Whithorn, Photo History from Yellowstone Park (Livingston, Mont., [1970]), 18.
13. This photo, number YELL-129827-1, is unattached in the H. B. and Isabel L. Weatherwax Scrapbook, [circa 1910], accession number YELL-1998, Yellowstone National Park Photo Archives, Mammoth, Wyoming.
14. The "Fountain Barn" (probably the relevant site) is mentioned in "Hotel Company Sites," n.d., item 59, Leases Reissued[,] Yellowstone Park Hotel Company file, box 28, YNP Archives, as being an area of more than twenty-one thousand square feet that was leased to the Yellowstone Park Association.
15. Reau Campbell, Campbell's New Revised Complete Guide and Descriptive Book of the Yellowstone Park (Chicago, 1909), 106, 107. For cows at Fountain Hotel, see Lee H. Whittlesey, "Cows All Over the Place: The Historic Setting for the Transmission of Brucellosis to Yellowstone Bison by Domestic Cattle," Annals of Wyoming, 66 (Winter 1994-1995), 50.
16. Gardner Stilson Turrill, A Tale of the Yellowstone; or in a Wagon through Western Wyoming and Wonderland (Jefferson, Iowa, 1901), 93.
17. Yellowstone Park Association, "Report on Hotels," year ending October 31, 1897, folder 2, President's File 209-[1], Minn. HS; letter, June 26, 1897, folder 14, President's File 210A, ibid.; letter, July 3, 1897, ibid.; letter, September 2, 1897, ibid.
18. "Lease No. 2. Lease to Yellowstone Park Association," November 10, 1905, p. 3, Yell. Park Assoc. folder, box C-16, YNP Archives.
19. The name of the place is mentioned in George D. Marler, Inventory of Thermal Features of the Firehole River Geyser Basins . . . (Springfield, Va., 1973), 605.
20. Patty M. F. Selmes, newspaper clipping, 1891, in Scrapbook 4209, p. 146, YNP Library.
21. F. B. Nash, "Vacation Notes," [1891], in Scrapbook 4208, p. 22, YNP Library.
22. Eliza A. Upham, "Eliza A. and E. Annie Upham's Excursion with the Raymond Party to the Yellowstone National Park in September 1892," p. 50, Vertical Files, YNP Library; Anonymous, "The Yellowstone National Park," Harper's Weekly, 37 (July 1893), 722; Northern Pacific Railroad, Wonderland Junior (St. Paul, Minn., 1893), 13.
23. Helena (Mont.) Daily Independent, July 26, 1914.
24. Edmund Frederick Erk, A Merry Crusade to the Golden Gate (Akron, Ohio, 1906), 80-81.
25. Ibid., 86.
26. Haines, Yellowstone Story, 2:116; Herbert L. Angelo diary, [August 1902], p. 70, facsimile copy in Vertical Files, YNP Library. For mention of a 1900 dance, see Charles M. Taylor, Jr., Touring Alaska and the Yellowstone (Philadelphia, 1901), 330.
27. Emerson Hough, "Forest and Stream's Yellowstone Park Game Exploration. No. 9," Forest and Stream (July 21, 1894), 47. Hough immortalized this trip with his description of the capture of notorious buffalo-killer Ed Howell.
28. Dan Beard, "In a Wild Animal Republic," Recreation, 15 (December 1901), 423; Turrill, Tale of the Yellowstone, 93.
29. "In the Playground," newspaper clipping, [1895], in Scrapbook 4209, p. 135, YNP Library; Campbell, Campbell's . . . Guide, 106; Henry M. Field, Our Western Archipelago (New York, 1895), 220-22; "An Unwelcome Caller," newspaper clipping, [1895], in Scrapbook 4209, p. 109, YNP Library.
30. H. T. Finck, "Yellowstone Park in 1897," Nation, 65 (October 7, 1897), 277.
31. John Burroughs, Camping and Tramping with Roosevelt (Boston, 1907), 65-67. While out for a sleigh ride near the hotel, Roosevelt captured a mouse that he saw running across the ground. He sent it to Dr. Hart Merriam who told him later that it was Nacrotus nanus, a species not theretofore identified in Yellowstone. Roosevelt's own account of this is in his book Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter (New York, 1923), 343.
32. Wilbur F. Gordy, "A Trip to Yellowstone Park," Perry Magazine (November 1901), 86; Ernest Thompson Seton, Wild Animals at Home (Garden City, N.Y., 1922), 204-13. See also H. Allen Anderson, "Ernest Thompson Seton in Yellowstone Country," Montana The Magazine of Western History, 34 (Spring 1984), 46-59.
33. YPA Hotels, Yellowstone Park (n.p., [1905]), 20, copy in YNP Library. Unfortunately, neither this manager's name nor his son's name is known.
34. The photo was published in Olin Wheeler, Wonderland 1900 (St. Paul, Minn., 1900), 117; and William Tod Helmuth, Yellowstone Park and How It Was Named (Helena, Mont., n.d.), copy in Rare Box 15, YNP Library.
35. Nash, "Vacation Notes"; Lee H. Whittlesey, Yellowstone Place Names (Helena, Mont., 1988), 58.
36. "New Geyser in the Yellowstone," June 27 [1899], in Scrapbook 4210, p. 34, YNP Library. See also Livingston (Mont.) Enterprise, July 1, 1899; E. H. Barbour, "The Rapid Decline of Geyser Activity . . . ," Science, n.s., 10 (October 6, 1899), 490-91; and Wheeler, Wonderland 1900, 104, 111. George Dewey is discussed in Laura Wexler, Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U.S. Imperialism (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2000). In the manner typical of Yellowstone's constantly changing geothermal springs, the new geyser quit erupting before the year was out, and Fountain Geyser resumed its former activity. Today the new geyser is officially known as Morning Geyser, and it occasionally erupts to heights of two hundred feet or so but with long periods of dormancy between eruptions.
37. Archive document 4911, J. H. Dean to Capt. Brown, July 12 [1899], YNP Archives; archive document 5011, E. J. W[estlake] to Dean, referred to Superintendent O. J. Brown, August 6-7, 1899, ibid.
38. Mrs. James Morris, A Pacific Coast Vacation (New York, 1901), 246-48.
39. G. C. Doane quoted in Orrin Bonney and Lorraine Bonney, eds., Battle Drums and Geysers (Chicago, 1970), 344; Campbell, Campbell's . . . Guide, 108; G. L. Henderson, Yellowstone Park: Past, Present, and Future (Washington, D.C., 1891), 7. All of the geyser's names are different today. See Whittlesey, Yellowstone Place Names.
40. Campbell, Campbell's . . . Guide, 155; McRae, "Yellowstone National Park.," 193; F. Dumont Smith, Book of a Hundred Bears (Chicago, 1909), 109. A 1993 archeological project uncovered the remnants of a "wooden hot water line" that archeologists believe once connected the hotel to nearby Gentian Pool, a hot spring in the vicinity of Leather Pool. What the pipe was actually used for and where it connected to the hotel are not known. Hunt et al., "1992 and 1993 Archeological Inventories," fig. 40; William Hunt, Jr., telephone conversation with author, April 30, 2002.
41. Bonney and Bonney, eds., Battle Drums and Geysers, 289; Burroughs, Camping and Tramping, 67-68. There are numerous accounts of calcimining at the hotel: see Rube Shuffle, Yellowstone Letters (New York, 1906), 51; Nicolas Senn, Our National Recreation Parks (Chicago, 1904), 35, for stories told by park guides. For mention of the calcimining as fact, see Campbell, Campbell's . . . Guide, 108; Hiram M. Chittenden, The Yellowstone National Park (Cincinnati, 1903), 216; Paul Schullery, ed., Old Yellowstone Days (Boulder, Colo., 1979), 225; and "To Yellowstone Park Over the Lines of the Salt Lake Route," [1911], in Scrapbook 2, p. 13, Accession 3151, Howard Hays Collection, American Heritage Center, Laramie, Wyoming. This last pamphlet states: "The rooms of the Fountain Hotel were calcimined with this [mud-pot] material."
42. From Yellowstone Park Association annual reports at the Minnesota Historical Society as read by Aubrey Haines on audiotape 63-65, side 1, track 3, Oral History Collection, YNP Library. A more thorough study of visitor numbers is needed to illuminate the hotel's fluctuating business, but it is worth noting that in those days park hotels tended to lose money while the stagecoach companies that transported visitors were always profitable.
43. Yellowstone Park Association, report on hotels and profits to "Stockholder, Y.P.A.," January 2, 1897, folder 11, President's Subject Files 209-B, Minn. HS; James H. Dean to C. S. Mellen, July 25, 1900, folder 2, President's Subject Files 210-C, ibid. For an angry discussion of the Fountain Hotel being in the wrong place, see Finck, "Yellowstone Park in 1897," 276.
44. The story of the motorization of Yellowstone is in Richard A. Bartlett, "Those Infernal Machines in Yellowstone Park," Montana The Magazine of Western History, 20 (Summer 1970), 16-29. Details on the confused summer that followed are in [Chester A. Lindsley], "Annual Report of the Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park," 1917, pp. 1-11, YNP Library. See also Haines, Yellowstone Story, 2:256-75; and "Auto Tourism Conquers Yellowstone," in Bartlett, Yellowstone, 73-102.
45. Quoted in Anne Farrar Hyde, An American Vision: Far Western Landscape and National Culture, 1820-1920 (New York, 1990), 298.
46. [Horace Albright], "Monthly Report of Superintendent, June, 1927," p. 12, YNP Library; [Horace Albright], "Annual Report of Superintendent, 1927," p. 9, ibid.; Newell F. Joyner, "History of Improvements in Yellowstone National Park," 1929, p. 12, ibid. The hotel's windows, doors, and oak staircase were pressed into service in the new women's housing building near Old Faithful Inn, today known as Laurel Dormitory." Egger interview.

From Montana The Magazine of Western History, Volume 53 Number 4 (Winter 2004), 22-35; this article is presented courtesy of the Montana Historical Society.  All rights reserved, © 2001.

Give your opinion on travel & recreation;
sign up to be a research panelist now!
Interested in the latest Montana travel tips and suggestions?  Sign up now to receive our monthly insider travel tips, and news from Montana's backroads.
  • Follow us on twitter
  • Connect with us on Youtube
  • Bookmark and Share