- Historic Sites
The sprawling inn that is the heart and soul of Yellowstone National Park has just achieved its hundredth birthday—thanks in large part to a few dedicated employees and specialists determined to keep it safe
April/May 2004 | Volume 55, Issue 2
Beck guesses that Reamer didn’t expect the inn to last much beyond 50 years, and by the late 1970s, there was talk of tearing it down. In Yellowstone the Reamer-designed Canyon Hotel—“probably Reamer’s best hotel, even better than the inn,” claims Beck—closed in 1959, even though tourists preferred its rooms to the newer motel-style digs at Canyon Village. But two decades later, with a stronger preservationist ethic at the national parks, Beck was charged with restoring the Old Faithful Inn and bringing it up to modern safety standards—a $7.35 million process that took from 1979 to 1988.
Just as the original inn was built in the winter of 1903–4, most of the restoration was also done in the off-season, so the hotel could remain open to warm-weather guests. First, workers replaced the roof and some of the siding, which had rotted. Next, crews hand-nailed 100,000 square feet of new shingles. Finally, the restoration team replaced logs that were too damaged to be repaired. In Reamer’s day, trees could be harvested right in the park, and the architect handpicked many of the twisted timbers that became hallmarks of the inn. Latter-day crews, however, had to spend weeks searching the nearby national forests to come up with suitable lodgepole pines.
Parts of the inn are not protected against snowmelt and rain, which often get trapped between the stone and logs. This breaks what Beck says are “three rules of water and buildings: Get the water off the building, keep the water away from the building, and never, ever let anything stop you from doing the first two—it’s that important.”
“In Reamer’s original design, he didn’t break the rules,” Beck says, but subsequent additions did. So since the 1980s restoration, constant maintenance has been necessary. “It won’t stand there on its own,” Beck says. “Someone needs to be there all the time taking care of it.”
Fred Paulsen, a third-generation carpenter and the manager of Yellowstone’s historic restoration crew, is that some- one. He reckons that he and his team spend most of their time working on the inn, though they’re charged with watching over all of Yellowstone’s historic buildings. A fair amount of effort is devoted to replacing deteriorating logs, often using vintage tools much like those wielded by the inn’s original craftsmen. “It’s a little frustrating at times, when pieces we replaced 10 years ago have to be re-replaced,” Paulsen says. “But I love the building. I love working on it. Ninety percent of the time it’s a pleasure.”
People on her tours sometimes ask Ruth Quinn whether, had the Old Faithful Inn burned down in 1988, she would have favored reconstruction. “You could rebuild the building just how it looked, but it wouldn’t be the same,” she says. “I’d have voted on the ‘no’ side.” Fortunately, because those rooftop sprinklers were installed just in time, and thanks to the continuing vigilance of the Old Faithful Inn’s many fans, the question remains hypothetical.