Hotels in the Yellowstone
Fountain Hotel - 1891-1916
Copyright 2020 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.
Fountain Hotel, from a double-oval postcard by FJ Haynes.
Construction of the Fountain Hotel began in 1889 by the Yellowstone Park Association on a small rise on Fountain Flats, close to the Fountain Paint Pots, facing Fountain geyser. It has sometimes been called the Fountain Geyser Hotel. It replaced the old Firehole Hotel, located nearby at the junction of Nez Perce Creek and the Firehole River, which was abandoned in June. It became the first overnight stop for travelers from both the north and later the west entrances of Yellowstone. The Fountain Hotel opened in 1891, the same summer YPA opened a new hotel on the shores of Lake Yellowstone.
The structure cost $100,000 and featured electric lights, steam heat, and piped in hot water from a nearby hot spring. Capacity was 350 guests and the interior walls were calcimined with material from the paint pots. Eventually the exterior was painted yellow. The park hotel association now had three 1st class hotels in the park to serve park visitors - the National Hotel at Mammoth and Lake Hotel.
Reau Campbell, in his Campbell’s Complete Guide to Yellowstone, 1909, describes the Fountain Hotel:
“There are electric lights and steam heat, with the cheerful accessory of a log fireplace in the
lobby. The house is three stories, with rooms light, cheery and well ventilated. The dining-room is particularly a cheerful one. It has been said that the walls of the rooms were tinted with material taken from the Paint Pots, and from their soft colors we may believe it. The fine 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 floor of the hotel.”
The Fountain Hotel.—This elegant and modernly constructed hotel, is pleasantly situated on the
east side of the valley, commanding an extended view of the surroundings. Its appointments are tirst class throughout, electric light, steam heat, and the only hotel in the Park having natural hot water baths. It is the first hotel reached by visitors entering the Park from the west. The adjacent streams are stocked with “Loch Leven” and “Eastern brook” trout, and with the many natural curiosities in this vicinity one can profitably spend several days at the “Fountain.”
[Haynes Guide, 1898]
Map of the Lower Geyser Basin.
From Campbells Guide to Yellowstone, 1909
The Fountain Hotel, No. 115.
Published by Haynes-Photo in 1908.
In the mid-late 1800, "Taking the Waters" was a popular past-time for folks who believed the mineral hot spring waters were a restorative to body and mind. The water that was piped into the Fountain Hotel was also believed by many to have these properties. If you look closely at the photo at left (click to enlarge), one can see the pipeline (center) that ran from Leather Pool to the hotel. The 1905 YPA brochure claimed,
"Here also one may obtain the privilege of bathing in the naturally heated waters of Mother Earth, for the baths at the Fountain Hotel are supplied from a pool of hot sulphur water nearby. These baths will be found extremely refreshing and invigorating, and Doctor Howard Mummery, F. R. S., of London, gave it as his opinion that the hot water that supplies the baths at the Fountain Hotel contains properties that will most effectually act as a remedial agent in case of kidney complaints. Bright’s disease and all kindred ailments. These baths should be continued for one or more weeks to obtain the full benefit of their medicinal value."
Top: Rare view/sketch of the lobby of the Fountain Hotel.
Bottom: Front of hotel with stagecoaches.
Los Angeles Co. Museum, SCWHR-P-002-2498
Top: Fountain Hotel with Coach
[YNP Archives #147588)]
Bottom: Rare view of the back side of the hotel.
The Bears of Yellowstone
One of the popular features of Yellowstone National Park was the legion of bears. Early on, bears were attracted to the hotel dumps at all the park hotels, Mammoth excepted. The first "bear shows" originated at the Fountain Hotel garbage dump, perhaps a 100 yards in the woods behind the hotel. According to a 1904 Yellowstone Park Asso. brochure, this iconic bear photo, "was made by the young son of a former manager of the Fountain Hotel." The manager is believed to be Ellis J. Westlake, who served from 1896 through 1900. His son's name was John, who would have been 16-20 years of age during that time. At some point the "Association" and YP Transportation Co. (both were partly controlled by Hary Child in 1901), began using the photo for the bear-in-Circles logo. The original photo showed the bear standing amidst a plethora old tin cans, but they were eventually "photoshopped' to look like cut logs. F.Jay Haynes published the postcard shown below in 1908, and also in latter years.
From Our Friends, the Bears, by James E. Tower, Good Housekeeping, 1901
“At the Fountain Geyser hotel the black bears allow the Kodak fiend to get within thirty or forty feet of them, while feeding. I saw seven bears there in a group, including a mother and two cubs. Not even the rattling of the stage and the sound of human voices prevented a large black bear from coming in full view of a stage load of us, in the woods near the Grand canyon.
The expression on a black bear’s face when a snap-shot intruder creeps to within thirty or forty feet, is a study. He gives the visitor a side glance, munching the while on his food, as much as to say: "Well, I guess you’re harmless: this piece of meat is too good to leave, and there wouldn’t be a thing left of you, anyway, if you should get too fresh and compel me to make trouble.”
Dooley, a silver-tip cub tied to a tree at the Grand canyon hotel, was so wroth because I snapped my camera at him that he "had it in for me,” as the boys say, the rest of the day: glaring at me, turning his back when he thought I was trying to photograph him. He snapped at visitors - quite pardonably. He was to return to the woods and his mamma in the fall, for silver-tips cannot be tamed, it is said.”
Bears feeding at an unknown park dump, tourist nearby, ca1910.
[Museum of the Rockies, MOR #92-41-2
From: Book of a Hundred Bears, Frederick Dumont Smith, Rand McNally, 1909
And here we saw our first bears. All the Park hotels have a garbage pile, where the refuse from
the kitchen is dumped once a day, and here the bears come from the woods for meals “a la cart(e).” The garbage place at the Fountain is some distance from the hotel, and that summer a particularly ugly old she-grizzly and two cubs had taken possession of it, and it was considered unsafe to go near them. Two of the soldier guards stand there with their riHcs anti heavy service revolvers to keep us from approaching too closely and to guard against the bears. This reassures us. We know they are wild bears; that there is no hippodrome about it. Your first sight of a real wild bear there in his native woods gives you just a little thrill. It is not like a caged or menagerie bear. You realize that there are possibilities of danger and when, just at dusk, they came galloping down the hill—three of them, a mother and two half-grown cubs—it was an event.
The mother was very suspicious and, when she stood up to sniff for danger, she looked as big as the side of a house.
PIPER IS LOST IN THE PARK
Missing From the Fountain Hotel Since Monday Night
He Mysteriously Disappeared
THOUGHT TO BE INSANE
Not a Trace of Him Can Be Found and It Is Feared That He Has Fallen
Into Some of the Many Bottomless Holes.
All Hope of His Rescue Given Up
A Squad of Cavalry Has Been Tirelessly at Work on the Search.
Special Dispatch to the Standard. - Livingston, August 2, 1900
Another day has gone by and still there has been found no trace of J.R. Piper, [L. R. Piper] the man who wandered away from the Fountain Hotel in the national park last Monday evening. Searching parties, consisting of soldiers, stage drivers, hotel employees and tourists, have scoured the country in the vicinity of the Fountain hotel since Tuesday morning, but they have been able to discover no trace of the missing man. It seems as if the earth had opened and swallowed him, and, indeed, it is not unlikely that he has stumbled blindly into one of the many pools or bottomless cauldrons of seething mud that are so numerous in the Midway geyser basin.
So read the headline of Montana’s Anaconda Standard newspaper of August 3rd, 1900 - a Yellowstone mystery that has never been solved. No trace of Piper’s body was ever found and nothing was ever heard of him again. Leroy Piper was a mild-mannered bank cashier at a bank in St. Mary's, Ohio. Piper's "rich uncle" had died the previous year in California, and Piper was on his way west to help straighten out affairs, and hopefully collect his inheritance. Riding a Union Pacific train, he and a few friends stopped at Salt Lake City to make a side trip to Yellowstone Park.
They rolled into Yellowstone Station at the west entrance and proceeded to Fountain Hotel for the first night. On the evening of July 30, 1900, Piper wandered downstairs to the dining room. He ate a leisurely dinner, purchased a cigar from the lobby newsstand and stepped into the night to enjoy a pleasant smoke and fresh mountain air on a peaceful evening . . .
. . . and disappeared into the mists of time - never to be seen again, and nary a trace of him was ever found. Still a Yellowstone Mystery to this day.
The Man Who Wandered Away:- A Yellowstone Mystery, an article by this author, is available in
"Annals of Wyoming" Autumn 2008, Vol. 80, No.4
Left: Fountain Hotel in 1896, Keystone-Mast photo
Right: Touring car with Fountain Hotel in background, undated.
Prior to the opening of the Old Faithful Inn in 1904, guests often stayed two nights at the Fountain with a day trip to Old Faithful in between. After the Inn opened, the stay was only for one night. With the advent of the motorized bus fleet in 1917, travel times were shortened considerably and the trip from Mammoth or West Yellowstone to Old Faithful could be made in a single day, eliminating the need for facilities at Fountain.
The hotel closed after 1916, a mere 25 years of operation. It stood empty and deserted for over 10 years when permission was received to tear it down. It vanished into the past in 1928. Today, little remains of the old hotel - a few crumbled concrete foundation walls, water pipe fragments, concrete supports for the old generator cabin, remains of the old bear dump with sparkling pieces of old glass, pottery, and rusted cans.
Left: Article about objects found during the demo of the hotel in 1928.
[Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Mn., 17Aug1928]
Right: Photo of the foundation supports for the old generator house. Photo by author 2005
SLY MOUSE GHOST OF PARK HOTEL
The Davenport Iowa Democrat and Leader, June 13, 1928
Yellowstone Park, Wyo - (AP) At six o'clock of every cold, raw, winter evening a bell in room 203 of the Fountain Hotel would ring. Every night at six o'clock a frightened, but conscientious caretaker made his cautious way to room 203, only to find it empty. Finally even the caretaker's earnestness could not stand the spectral twilight calls, and he fled the hotel in the company of a park photographer.
The old hotel was remodeled the next spring, and the workers found that a mouse had made its nest in the wall of room 203 over the wire leading to the bell. It had nibbled off the insulation as that every time it touched it the bell rang. The regularity of the ghostly rings testify to the excellent character of the rodent.
Even this explanation has not entirely put down the evil reputation of the hotel, and native, park rangers and general park employees have held for 20 years to their belief in the "haunt." Demolition of the building this spring, however, is expected to lay the ghost forever.