Yellowstone Storekeepers - Hamilton Stores
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.
Hamilton Stores, Inc. - 1915 to 2002
Charles A. Hamilton moves to Yellowstone . . . .
Charles Hamilton was the founder of the Hamilton Store chain that operated in Yellowstone Park from 1915 to 2002. He was born in Winnepeg, Manitoba in 1884 and came out to Yellowstone in 1905 to work for the Yellowstone Park Association. His dedication to his work paid off when in 1915, he purchased Henry Klamer's general store at Old Faithful. The Klamer store had opened in 1897 and operated successfully until Henry's death in 1914. Child’s son Huntley had previously turned down the opportunity to buy the store. Hamilton paid slightly over $20,000 for the business, receiving financial backing from his boss Harry Child.
Charles Hamilton was the founder of the Hamilton Store chain that operated in Yellowstone Park from 1915 to 2002. He was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1884 and came out to Yellowstone in 1905 to work for the Yellowstone Park Association. His dedication to his work paid off when in 1915, he purchased Henry Klamer's general store at Old Faithful. The Klamer store had opened in 1897 and operated successfully until Henry's death in 1914. Child’s son Huntley had previously turned down the opportunity to buy the store. Hamilton paid slightly over $20,000 for the business, receiving financial backing from his boss Harry Child.
Left: The Klamer general store purchased by Chas. Hamilton in 1915. YNP #22112
Left: West Thumb lunch station that became Hamilton's general store for several years. YNP #31871
Right: Hamilton's gas station at West Thumb, 1917. Museum of the Rockies #25034
Hamilton worked hard and in 1917 went into the filling station business with Harry Child and established a single pump filling station at Old Faithful. In 1919-20 he made arrangements with the Yellowstone Park Hotel Co. to use the old Thumb Lunch Station as a general store. He opened up a filling station at Thumb and used the old lunch station until 1924 when he built a new store.
In 1919, Hamilton opened up a second store at Lake in the old E.C. Waters building, in front of Lake Hotel. Construction on a new general store, filling station, and residences began in 1920 and were completed for the 1921 season. By 1924 a new, smaller store opened at Fishing Bridge. That year small stores were established in auto campgrounds at West Thumb and Fishing Bridge, which were greatly enlarged the next year. The Fishing Bridge store was replaced by a new store in 1930-31. In 1948 a new gas station was constructed at Thumb.
Below: Hamilton's Lake store, as viewed in the 1923 & 1927 editions of the Haynes Guide. Note the unique log trimwork.
Bottom Left: Fishing Bridge general store ca1929, built 1924. YNP #29902
Bottom Right: New Fishing Bridge store ca1940, built 1930-31. YNP #29940
More improvements at Old Faithful . . .
Hamilton was not content to sit idle and was continually trying to improve and expand on his operations. He erected a huge addition to the old Klamer store in 1923-24. At the time, it was reputed to be the largest store in the National Park system, measuring 110' x 160'. The knotty wood porch was added to the former Klamer store in 1925, and a new filling station constructed nearby in 1927. A small store was erected at the Basin Auto Camp at Old Faithful in 1923 and enlarged in 1925.
In 1926, Charles A. Hamilton, H.W. Child and George Whittaker formed the Yellowstone Park Service Stations, Inc., controlling all gas sales and auto repairs in the park.
Upper Left: Lower Hamilton Store (former Klamer), 1925. YNP #193429-73.
Upper Right: Basin Auto Camp store (BAC Store), 1929. YNP # 31199.
Bottom Left: Upper Hamilton gas station, located near the new Upper Basin Store, 1952. YNP #31282.
Bottom Right: Construction of the Upper Basin store, ca1929. YNP #31196-1.
In 1929 Hamilton built a new store at Old Faithful - the Upper Basin Store. It was located near the Auto Camp and replaced the Basin Auto Camp store. It had 150' of frontage with a 48-person employee dorm in the upstairs. The walls were constructed of concrete made to resemble hewn logs, placed on a masonry stone foundation with stepped stone masonry pilasters and stepped stone masonry columns that support two covered entrance porches. The eaves of the wood shingled gabled roof are wood shingled with exposed log rafter ends; log rafter purlins are used in the roof structure of the two covered entrance porches. A gas station was built next door using the same construction design.
Right: Upper Basin Store in 1931. Haynes #311086,
Povah Collection, Museum of the Rockies #2009-4-784
Geyser water swimming pools . . . .
Hamilton expanded his business in 1933 when he bought out Henry Brothers Bathhouse & Plunge at Old Faithful. It had been established in 1914 in the basin across from the Old Faithful Inn. Hot water from Solitary Geyser was piped in to fill the pools. Brothers Plunge was enlarged in 1923 and a new log building was erected. In 1927 he built a bathhouse at the Old Faithful auto camp, and three years later built facilities at the Fishing Bridge auto camp. This bathhouse included tubs, showers, laundry and irons.
Hamilton razed most of the old buildings and rebuilt/remodeled the structure that year, creating a peaked roof with log beams and skylights. There were 147 dressing rooms and 'sand porches' for sun bathing. After a prolonged political battle, the structure was razed in 1951 after the government determined it was inappropriate for a National Park.
Left: Brothers Bathhouse & Plunge, as pictured in the 1928 Haynes Guide.
Right: Hamilton's _lunge & Bathhouse, ca1935. HABS Photo
Hamilton takes over all the park general stores . . . .
C.A. Hamilton had controlled all the general store business in the south end of the Park for many years, and his dream of having control over the whole park (excluding Haynes Photo Shops) would be fulfilled in 1953 when Anna Pryor and Elizabeth Trischman retired and put up the Pryor Stores operation for sale. Hamilton purchased the businesses at Mammoth and Canyon for $300,000. George Whittaker originally owned the general stores and filling stations in those two locations, but sold out to sisters Anna Pryor and Elizabeth Trischman at the end of the 1932 season. (For more information, see my Pryor & Trischman page) The 1953 sale to Hamilton gained him the Mammoth General Store (established in 1896 by Jennie Ash), the filling station next door, the Pryor Coffee Shop, and the general store and filling station at Canyon.
Mission 66 calls for great changes in the Park . . .
The store operation at Canyon did not last long after that, as the new Canyon Village was mandated to be constructed for opening in 1957. Hamilton shelled out a million dollars to build a new store, gas station, and employee dorms at the new location at what is now Canyon Village. Charles Hamilton died May 28, 1957 - one and a half months before his new store was to open at Canyon. Daughter Ellie and husband Trevor Povah took over the operations of the stores. The old Canyon store and gas station, located at the current Upper Falls parking lot, were eventually razed, passing into history.
Right: Modern, new Hamilton Store at Canyon Village, 1957. Haynes post card #K57157
From the Billings Gazette, May 30, 1957 . . .
Hamilton Stores Founder Dies
YELLOWSTONE PARK, Wyo.
— Charles Ashworth Hamilton, 72, who since 1915 has operated general stores, service stations and curio shops in Yellowstone National Park, died Tuesday night of a "heart ailment. Park Supt. Lemuel A. Garrison said Hamilton was talking on the telephone about his health to his physician in Santa Monica, Calif., when he was stricken about 10 p.m. Hamilton died in his residence above the lower store at Old Faithful. He had been president and operator of Hamilton Stores, Inc., since 1915. His winter residence
was at Santa Monica, in one of two apartment buildings he owned there.
Hamilton first went to Yellowstone Park in 1905 at the age of 21 as assistant to the purchasing agent of the Yellowstone Park Assn., now the Yellowstone Park Co. He became a concessionaire in 1915 when he purchased a curio shop at Upper Basin. Except for two seasons, Hamilton had spent every summer since 1905 in the park.
He was born Nov. 19. 1884, at St. Paul, where his father was the British vice counsel. Survivors include one daughter, Eleanor May Povah of Santa Monica. Her husband, Trevor S. Povah, is vice president of Hamilton Stores, Inc., and general manager of Yellowstone Park Service Stations. These firms jointly operate all stores and service stations in the park and all the lodge curio shops.
Top Left: C.A. Hamilton letterhead, 1931, featuring the rustic Lower Store. Image from Minnesota Historical Society.
Top Right: Pennant decal for Hamilton Stores, Inc, ca1940s. Author Collection