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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Old Faithful Inn

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

May 2019

The Old Faithful Inn is not open all year.

The 2019 dates:

Opens: May 3, 2019 Closes: October 7, 2019

The Inn completely closes down for winter. It becomes a cold dark cave. All outside first floor windows are boarded up. Even the water pipes are completely drained.

If you are visiting the Old Faithful area, take the 45 minute tour of the Old Faithful Inn. You will not be disappointed! It is quite fascinating and informative!! Our guide, whose name I forgot to write down, has been conducting this tour for the last 30 years. She spends from May - October at the Old Faithful Inn and in the winter she the HR person located at the administrative office at Mammoth Springs. She was amazing!!!!

One of the fascinating things about the Old Faithful Inn is the visitors' reactions to the structure. Upon being informed of its age, most assume that this massive log and stone lodge was standard fare in a national park circa 1900. They couldn't be more mistaken...

The average park lodging at the turn of the 20th Century consisted of ramshackle, hastily built rectangular structures with undersized rooms and unimaginative designs. Construction was typically shoddy, and fire safety was dreadfully lacking. Most park visitors arrived after hours in a jarring carriage ride. They were hungry and exhausted; the typical road hotels provided large meals, a warm fire, and a very small room -- all sufficient. Larger, more luxurious hotels often presented a Colonial or some revival facade, and overly machined Victorian decor within. While these hotels were a bit rough by today's standards, they hardly looked like rugged lodges.

The original Upper Geyser Basin Hotel was a typical western stage hotel built in 1884. Poorly constructed, it was in deplorable condition by the time it burned to the ground a decade later. For the next few years a number of would-be concessionaires sought permission to build new hotels -- some were even approved -- but little came of it. Visitors to Upper Geyser Basin either camped, rented tent cabins, or moved on to other sections of the park.

Throughout most of the 1890s, the Yellowstone Park Association had permission to build. Unfortunately it didn't have the will to build. As the concession arm of the Great Northern Railway it had the means to do so, but the railway wasn't convinced that a hotel at Upper Geyser would be profitable. Shortly after the turn of the new century, however, the Railway received permission to build even closer to Old Faithful, and Upper Geyser began to look a lot more attractive. Elsewhere in the park were a series of "European" style grand hotels -- Mammoth and Lake -- that were quite successful. Surely this type of lodging would work at Upper Geyser...

"The Old Faithful Inn replaced the Upper Geyser Basin Hotel, also known as the "Shack Hotel", which had burned down. The Northern Pacific Railroad, in the form of the Yellowstone Park Association Operating Company, was required by the terms of its concession to build a new hotel no closer than 1/8 mile of Old Faithful, a stipulation the Yellowstone Park Association observed to the letter. An initial design was prepared by architect A.W. Spalding in 1898, producing a design typical of the time, a turreted Queen Anne style hotel. The design was approved by the Park Service, but construction never started. Harry W. Child instead hired Robert C. Reamer to design a much more radical building with antecedents in the rustic camps of the Adirondacks."

Harry W. Child (1857–1931) was an entrepreneur who managed development and ranching companies in southern Montana. He was most notable as a founder and longtime president of the Yellowstone Park Company, which provided accommodation and transportation to visitors to Yellowstone National Park from 1892 to 1980. Child was, with park superintendent and National Park Service administrator Horace Albright, singularly responsible for the development of the park as a tourist destination and for the construction of much of the park's visitor infrastructure.

Robert C. Reamer was born in and spent his early life in Oberlin, Ohio. He left home at the age of thirteen and went to work in an architect's office in Detroit as a draftsman.

By the age of twenty-one, Reamer had moved to San Diego and had opened the architectural office of Zimmer & Reamer in partnership with Samuel B. Zimmer. The firm produced a wide variety of projects, but the only surviving example of Zimmer & Reamer's work is the George H. Hill Block in the Gaslamp District. The partnership dissolved in 1898, but Reamer continued to work on his own, including work at the Hotel del Coronado. During this period he became acquainted with the president of the Yellowstone Park Company, Harry W. Child.

The resulting Old Faithful Inn was an immediate sensation.

"It was decidedly not what guests expected nor were accustomed to. In the words of author Reau Campbell, who penned the first authoritative guide to Yellowstone, it was both new and old-fashioned...and far superior to the "modern" and pricey hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs."

For most visitors, it was the first time they had been at hotel that was a destination unto itself. Mammoth and the Colonial (Lake) Hotel were built on a grand scale, but the furnishings and decor were virtually no different from that found in an eastern city brownstone. At Old Faithful, all of the decor was rustic, but not the "rustic" of a hunting lodge. Each glance about the great "old house" revealed superior quality and craftsmanship in every detail. Add in the natural construction materials, and the overall impression provided such escape from the tedium of everyday life that guests found themselves wanting to stay longer. Very few hotels could make that claim at the time.

At the time, the design was described as bold, bizarre, quaint, queer, and generally fantastic. Architect Robert Reamer often joked that he arrived at the outlandish log cabin after consuming too much ale one evening. Reamer did fight a lifelong battle with alcoholism, so whether or not this is true is anybody's guess.

The apologies and explanations were little needed. The structure was such a sensation that it influenced every significant lodge that followed, including the El Tovar, which was already in the design stage. When Louis Hill outlined his plans for Glacier's network of lodges and chalets, he sought a different architectural style, but pointed to the Old Faithful Inn as the benchmark for guest experience. And in the end, the Glacier Park Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel had more similarities to Old Faithful than differences. Even today there are virtually no decisions made about the decor, preservation, or rehabilitation of a western park lodge that cannot point to the direct or indirect influence of Reamer's transforming design.

Design work on the Old Faithful Inn took place in 1902, and construction started in 1903, with work continuing through the winter to open in 1904. The original cost of the Inn was about $140,000, using materials gathered from within the park. The hotel was furnished for another $25,000. Most of the logs came from a location about 8 miles (13 km) south of Old Faithful, where a temporary sawmill produced boards as needed. Stone came from the Black Sand Basin and from a site along the road to Craig Pass, about five miles to the east. The unusually-shaped log brackets were collected from the surrounding forests.

The Old Faithful Inn welcomed its first guests, June 1, 1904. It has weathered severe winters, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, and the fires of 1988. It has survived generations of changes in social attitudes and cultural trends.

The Old Faithful Inn has a view of the Old Faithful Geyser. The Inn has a multi-story log lobby, flanked by long frame wings containing guest rooms.

Outside of the original front door.

Inside of the original front door. Amazing hardware.

The foundation of Old House is stone and concrete with a stone veneer. Many of the stones were hewn from exposed bedrock. The weathered portion of these stones were intentionally left untouched and placed facing out, so it appears as if they were more or used as found. In some cases even the lichen was left on the stone, adding to this illusion. In fact, virtually all of the stones were shaped somewhat, and the inward facing side contributes to the structure.

The log walls on the first floor are load-bearing, making it the world's largest true log cabin. The upper stories are a mix of log framing and milled lumber; each of these stories are sheathed with hand-sawn shingles, most are a yard in length. The shingles cover these upper six floors, creating an impression that the building is mostly roof.

Although a seven story building is by definition out of place in a National Park, the effect of a six-story roof negates this impression. Borrowing a page from his California bungalow background, Reamer recognized that a roof with an overhang draws the eye to the ground, tying the structure more naturally to the landscape. Thus by using a combination of overhangs and dormers with a sloping roof, the seven-story building is infinitely less objectionable than it otherwise would be. Reamer perfected the look by varying the size of the dormers, and presenting a variety of angles. Two of the gables, in fact, are completely non-functional other than their contribution to the overall appearance.

Once inside, visitors have a difficult time comprehending what they are seeing. At 92 feet high, the interior is nothing less than mind-boggling. Rustic log stair treads and balustrades seem to climb forever. Above the first floor are two balconies built of logs, from which rise up more logs and trusses, a staircase to a log crow's nest, and finally to a half-log ceiling.

With its log and limb lobby and massive (500-ton, 85-foot) stone fireplace, the inn is an example of the "Golden Age" of rustic resort architecture, a style which is also known as National Park Service Rustic. It is rare in that it is one of the few log hotels still standing in the United States, and was the first of the great park lodges of the American West.

Initial construction was carried out over the winter of 1903–1904, largely using locally obtained materials including lodgepole pine and rhyolite stone. When the Old Faithful Inn first opened in the spring of 1904, it boasted electric lights and steam heat. The 1,959 lights in the lobby have been replaced with 4.5 LED light bulbs.

They use Old English oil to polish. The railings had the bark left on when they were made. But, 35 years later, the bark came off.

The structure is the largest log hotel in the world; possibly even the largest log building in the world. In 2007, the American Institute of Architects conducted a survey to determine the 150 favorite buildings in America; the Old Faithful Inn ranked 36. The Inn, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, is itself part of the Old Faithful Historic District. Old Faithful Inn is a member of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The inn's architect was 29-year-old Robert Reamer, an architect for the Yellowstone Park Company, which was affiliated with the Northern Pacific Railway. Reamer was hired by Harry W. Child, the president of the Yellowstone Park Company, who had met Reamer in San Diego through mutual acquaintances. Reamer designed the lobby and the initial phase of 90 guest rooms, known as the Old House, which was built in 1903-1904, much of it in the long winter. The east wing was extended in 1913-14, and the west wing in 1927, creating a single structure almost 700 feet (210 m) long. The Old House is rotated 90 degrees with respect to Old Faithful so that a view of the geyser is framed by the entrance porch for arriving visitors. The porch roof provides a viewing platform for viewing eruptions of Old Faithful and other geysers, while the main facade faces Geyser Hill across the Firehole River, where the old Circuit Road once ran through the geyser basin.

The people are walking toward Old Faithful.

The west wing all have bathrooms.

Although the initial amazement and overall experience at Old Faithful Inn is little changed over the past century, there have been a series of subtle and sweeping changes through the years. Most of these are minor in nature, such as a ground floor guest room removed in favor of a gift shop. But there are four changes that are worthy of further discussion, in order to gain a better understanding of the present Old Faithful Inn.

The timing of the construction coincided with the ascent of the automobile. In the years that followed more and more Americans found it easier to travel. This in spite of the dreadful condition of most roads, and the fact that it was virtually impossible for the average motorist to reach Yellowstone in the early years. As it became easier to get to and from the rails, travel increased. As early as 1910, it was clear that the Old Faithful Inn was strained to capacity, and as the old "shack" hotels collapsed or burned, more and more visitors sought lodging. In some ways the Old Faithful Inn hastened the demise of the inferior hotels, as many travelers made plans based on overnighting there, leaving others empty and now off the beaten path.

Thus in 1913, construction began on the 100-room East Wing. Externally it is somewhat cohesive with the Old House; internally it lacks even that fleeting charm. It is important to remember that the grandest hotel rooms were significantly smaller at that time, and the room was thought to have minimal importance versus the sights outside. With a complete roster of evening activities, card games, dining and entertainment, guests were expected to spend little time in the room. The wing was connected to the Inn proper by a two-story corridor, which is virtually the same today.

Following this addition, the capacity of the Inn was sufficient for a few years. But as the automobile gained ground, "highways" began to take shape, and Americans were on the move. By the mid 1920s, motorists began to collect National Park paid entry stickers on their front windshields. These were worn as a sort of badge of honor. The NPS worked with the National Geographic Society to promote park attendance, which also contributed to increased visitors. The economy was percolating nicely, and it wasn't too long before the Old Faithful Inn again found its resources strained.

These factors set the stage in 1927 for the second -- and the third -- significant changes to the Inn structure.

The first of the 1927 changes was a major alteration to the very front of the hotel. Interestingly enough, most visitors didn't really notice. To this day many people need to have the change pointed out before they "see" it.

The change was made to the porte-cochere and the viewing balcony. The covered driveway was choked with vehicles of all sorts by the mid-1920s, and it needed to be expanded. The balcony too was crowded at geyser viewing times, leaving many guests straining to see over the person in front.

The solution was simply to enlarge both by extending them forward. The problem was the massive roof couldn't accommodate an expansion without an extremely costly alteration, not to mention that it would over-inflate the structure and destroy some of its charm. So the extension proceeded -- but the roof was left as-is. Thus the porte-cochere and the viewing balcony were both doubled, but the new section of the viewing balcony was not covered. While some grumblings were made about the aesthetic impact, it was soon agreed that the design was sound, the addition was cohesive with the original, and that the appearance was not negatively impacted.

The problem of guest capacity was addressed at the same time, which gave rise to the third significant change to the Inn. Like the East Wing before it, the West Wing would provide hundreds of new guest rooms but very little in-room charm.

The Y-shaped 4-story West Wing has a slightly more agreeable facade, making use of faux top-floor dormers and a mansard shingle roofline. Both are purely decorative; the structure is a series of box-shaped structures. An overhang at the second story breaks up the visual monotony, and it makes more liberal use of logs, so all in all it presents a more cohesive outward appearance than its sibling on the east side. It has some interior charm thanks to a two-story lobby-like connector to the Old House, but it more or less ends there.

The Inn saw a series of minor changes over the next few decades, but nothing overly important until the fourth significant event in 1959. Unlike the previous three, this one had nothing to do with changing demographics, and everything to do with the Inn's location: Earthquake.

Late evening August 17, 1959 was just like any other at Old Faithful Inn; most guests had turned in but a few were fighting the night, quietly sipping drinks, reading, or enjoying a card game in the various corners of the lobby and balconies. At 11:37 it all changed when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake rocked the region. The epicenter was just a few miles west, and the Old House swayed wildly.

The dining room fireplace collapsed, the roof buckled and shed shingles, and bricks fell within the flues of the main lobby chimney. Fortunately the dining room was long empty; the only human toll was lost sleep and a bit of shock as the Inn was evacuated.

The building itself still bears the brunt of the tremor. Four of the fireplace flues were hopelessly blocked and remain unusable. But the most unfortunate aftermath is that the upper structure of the lobby was twisted and shifted. The roof was repaired quickly, but the structure remains unstable. So while the lower rooms and balconies are all fine, the crow's nest and widow's walk are now off-limits to all but maintenance personnel. It is a harrowing reminder that even the most beloved man-made structures have but a brief existence in the geological timeline.

The central feature of the Old House is a tall gabled log structure housing the lobby, dominated by a deep, steeply-pitching shingled roof. The Old House uses load-bearing log lower exterior walls with a log pole interior framework supporting seven stories, six of which are the roof structure. The upper gable walls are of milled lumber framing with shingle sheathing. The front slope of the shingled roof is accented by shed and gabled dormers, some of which are purely decorative. Both interior and exterior framing is supported by twisted or curved branches, giving the entire structure a strongly rustic air.

There are two levels of balconies, the lower encircling the lobby and the upper on two sides. Stairs climb from the second balcony to a platform in the framing known as the "Crow's Nest" which once was used by musicians to entertain guests, then on to the crown of the gable 92 feet (28 m) above the lobby floor. The entire structure is crowned by a roof walk that once held searchlights to illuminate Old Faithful Geyser at night. The original guest wings are 3-1/2 stories tall on either side of the lobby. It is anchored to the ground by a rhyolite foundation that extends to the first floor window sills.

Offset to the southeast corner, the stone fireplace measures 16 feet (4.9 m) square at the base. It features four main hearths, one on each face, with smaller hearths, each with a flue, at the corners. The stone extends to the roof, and until it was damaged by earthquake, a brick flue extended above the roof, covered in log cribbing. An ironwork clock decorates the north face of the upper chimney in the lobby. The fireplace is centered in a shallow depression in the lobby floor that sets the area around its hearths apart from the rest of the lobby. Custom ironwork, most notable in the main entrance door and the clock, was forged at the site by an ironmonger named Colpitts.

The dining room extends to the south of the lobby, with log scissors trusses supporting a more shallowly-pitched roof at right angles to the lobby roof. The dining room has its own stone fireplace, less massive than the lobby's, but still large.

The Old House guest rooms retain much of their original character.

The east and west wings were purposely designed by Reamer to be less prominent than the central house. The wings are three to four stories in height with a mansarded top floor and a flat roof. The east wing is straight, originally with 100 rooms. The west wing is Y-shaped, with 150 guest rooms as built. The interiors of the wings are unremarkable compared with the Old House.

The Inn has been expanded and modified several times. In 1913, the East Wing was added to the 120-room original structure, and in 1922 the dining room was enlarged.

Dining room

The original dining room had long tables. A bell was rung fifteen minutes before dinner was served. Dinner was served at 7PM. You were expected to dress for dinner. Food was served home style. The bar was originally in the basement. It was closed during prohibition.

The orchestra was set above the dining room. While the people dined, the rugs in the lobby were folded up so dancing could take place in the lobby after dinner. The orchestra only had to turn around.

Easy to tell the old section of the dining room from the newer section. The older section has wood flooring and the newer has carpeting.

In 1927-1928, the West Wing was built, and the front of the main building extended. All of these modifications were carried out under the supervision of the original architect, Robert Reamer. A 1927 addition to the dining room has since become home to the Bear Pit Lounge. Installed in 1936, just off the lobby, the first Bear Pit featured carved and inlaid wood panels with humorous scenes involving bears, created at Reamer's suggestion. When the lounge was converted to a coffee shop, the lounge was relocated to the dining room extension and the panels were replicated in etched glass in 1988. Some of the original panels remain in the snack bar.

The etched glass had hidden clues: the designer's initials, coins to represent the year the Inn was built and when it celebrated the centennial.

Michael and I had lunch in the dining room. I asked different wait staff where the clues were. Well, they did not know to start but we finally found them all.

In 1940, the interior logs were peeled, revealing patterns created by bark beetles, and in 1966, the logs were cleaned and varnished. An automatic fire sprinkler system was added in 1948, together with fire doors in the wings.

Some of the original furnishings remain, while care has been taken with newer pieces to remain compatible with the rustic design.

We were able to see original furnishings that are still used in a room in the old section. Rooms in the old section still do not have their own bathrooms.

Rooms are not air conditioned. There are no TV's and Internet connection is almost nonexistent. Our room in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge did have its own bathroom, however.

Although the rooms in the Old House have unique charms, they can be subject to noise from the lobby as well as other rooms. In some cases, these rooms have shared baths, which is either suitable -- or not, depending on your personal preferences. Rooms in the wings have little charm and sometimes are a lengthy walk, and are generally a let down after the joys of the main lobby area.

It is important to understand that the value and quality experience at the Old Faithful Inn will not be found in your guest room. It is found in the quiet glass of wine in a corner of the balcony, in a new acquaintance by the fireplace, or an after dinner stroll among the geysers. As in any of the grand National Park Lodges, the less time spent in the room, the better.


The toilets and showers are down the hall.

Now this is not to say that the rooms are unpleasant; far from it. The cleanliness and quality are excellent.

Beautiful lodgepole pine



Some furniture at the Old Faithful Inn was salvaged from the Canyon Hotel before it was demolished. particularly the Limbert chairs in the dining room extension and some of the reading desks on the balcony.

The facility was closed for the duration of the Second World War (along with all other hotels in the park) and the park was unprepared for the huge number of visitors in 1946.

On August 17, 1959 the Old Faithful Inn was shaken by the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake, which collapsed the dining room fireplace chimney and damaged the huge lobby fireplace, reducing the number of usable hearths from eight to two. The building was partially shaken loose from its foundations, and access to some of the upper levels had to be restricted due to safety concerns. There were no deaths or serious injuries at the Inn as a result of the earthquake. The dining room fireplace was finally rebuilt in 1985, but the outside portion of the lobby fireplace chimney was replaced with a single steel pipe, visible in many exterior photos.

In 1988, the Inn was seriously threatened by the North Fork Fire, but was saved by the actions of firefighters, volunteers, and a sprinkler system which was installed on the roof the previous year.

The high-range rooms in the East and West wing additions were renovated in 1993 and 1994.

In celebration of the Inn's centennial in 2004, a major multi million-dollar renovation project of the original "Old House" started construction with the help of A&E Architects of Missoula, Montana. The project was broken into 3 construction phases with the final phase completed in June 2008. The building will now meet current building codes and will have a complete infrastructure upgrade including new electrical, plumbing, and heating systems as well as major structural upgrades. In addition to the replacement of the systems of the building, finishes were cleaned (They used Old English Polishing) and restored while maintaining as much of the historic material as possible. Wood and wool floor finishes, bathroom tile and fixtures, new replica historic hardware, and an interpretation of the original lavatory stands and basins by Charles Limbert were installed. Original elements including the recessing of the floor and hearth of the large fireplace in the main lobby and reconstruction of log walls removed in the lobby will correct multiple modifications and changes over the years and bring the Inn back to match more closely Reamer's original design. Great care and sensitivity has been taken to integrate systems and restore and install original and new finishes to maintain the appearance and layout of the Inn during the period immediately after it opened its doors in 1904.

No wood was thrown away during the renovation. One artist bought the pieces of wood and is using them to make picture frames.

Reclaimed wood used in making this mirror.

You should know the approximate time, give or take 10 minutes, Old Faithful will erupt.

Known Timeline: Upper Geyser Basin Hotel constructed, 1884 Upper Geyser Basin Hotel destroyed by fire, November 1894 FJ Haynes receives approval to build cabins (never built), 1896 Yellowstone Park Association receives approval to build hotel, 1898 New Upper Geyser Basin Hotel design submitted by A.W. Spalding, June 1901 Construction begins, 1903 Old House with dining wing, original east & west lodging wings completed, 1904 100 room East Wing addition, 1913-14 Employee Pub (now carpentry shop) constructed, 1913 Lobby guest room converted into art gallery, 1915 Dining room expanded, 1922 Girls Dormitory constructed, 1922 Portions of original red roof replaced, 1923 Registration desk relocated to northeast corner, 1923 2 lobby guest rooms removed for bellhop's desk, 1923 Utility building (plumbing, electrical) constructed, 1925 Old Pumphouse constructed, 1925 Caretaker's House constructed, 1925 Employee laundry building constructed, 1925 Laundry Manager's House constructed, 1926 Porte-cochere extended and partially enclosed, 1927 150 room West Wing addition, 1927 Boiler house & laundry building constructed, 1929 Old House roof repainted red, 1932 Bear Pit cocktail lounge constructed, 1933 Bark peeled & logs treated in lobby, 1940 Dining room floor replaced, 1940 Timbers added to Old House truss system, 1943 Old House roof & original lodging wings reshingled, 1947-48 Sprinkler system & fire safety doors added, 1947 Geyser spotlights removed from widow's walk, 1948 Audited occupancy 363 rooms, 1949 Audited occupancy 338 rooms, 1951 Dining wing reshingled, 1953 Fireplaces & chimneys damaged in earthquake, August 17, 1959 Complete plumbing overhaul, 1960-65 Bear Pit converted to coffee shop, 1962 Indian art shop added to lobby, 1964 Yellowstone Park Company sold to Goldfield Corporation, 1966 Yellowstone Park Company sold to General Host, Inc., 1967 Some windows blocked off in dining room, 1968 Lobby logs clear varnished (7 stories), 1971 Major guest room renovations, 1975-77 Yellowstone Park Company sold to United States government, 1976 Concession awarded to TWA Services, 1979 Old House roof reshingled, circa 1980 Fire escapes added to expansion wings, 1980 10 year concession awarded to TWA Services, 1981 Kitchen remodeled, 1981-82 Laundry Manager's house moved, converted to stable activity building, 1983 Firefighters & volunteers save structure from North Fork Fire, September 7, 1988 Additional 10 year concession awarded to TWA Services, 1991 Guest rooms renovated in East and West additions, 1998-99 Current Occupancy: 92 hotel rooms, 7 hotel suites, 24 bungalow rooms.

From the craftsmen whom created the Inn over a 100 years ago to Paco Young’s painting of “Old Faithful” on the dining room chimney today, the artistry of Old Faithful Inn pays tribute to its incomparable environment, Yellowstone National Park.

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