Michelle Trappen |Grand Lady of the Lake

The Remarkable Legacy of Yellowstone’s Lake Hotel

Books & Writers
Grand Lady of the Lake celebrates Yellowstone hotel
Grand Lady of the Lake celebrates Yellowstone hotel

Yellowstone Park’s Lake Hotel, as it was originally called, was built in 1889-1891 by the Northern Pacific Railroad as part of its efforts to bring East Coast and European travelers out west to experience the wonders of America’s first national park.

The hotel boasted three stories, 51 modest rooms, electric lights, and steam heat. A pivotal point in the hotel’s history would be the hiring of noted architect, Robert Reamer, who designed the hotel’s first major expansion project, adding new wings and stately columns to the exterior. With the grand new look came a new name – it was dubbed the Lake Colonial Hotel in 1904. Guests enjoyed gourmet meals, fine wines and a variety of outdoor experiences in addition to upgraded rooms and common areas.

The Great Depression and both world wars affected park attendance and resulted in periods of closure for the Lake Hotel. Downsizing, and even threats of demolition, alternated with renovations and redecorations.

In 1981, a massive restoration project was undertaken that went on for ten years. The hotel reopened in 1991 as The Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and celebrated its 100th anniversary by earning a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The latest renovation took placed during the winters from 2012-14, and entailed stripping the walls down to the studs, replacing flooring, repairing the original windows, and redesigning the rooms at the cost of $28.5 million. The structure has a fresh coat of its distinctive yellow paint and will celebrate 125 years in 2016 with a return to its former glory as the Grand Lady of the Lake and designation as a National Historic Landmark.

Author Michelle Trappen is a journalist who moved to Yellowstone in 2012 where she has worked as a concierge, yellow-bus driver and tour guide. The book contains 136 photographs, some by noted Yellowstone photographer, F. Jay Haynes.

– Judy Shafter