Vanishing Buildings

While Yellowstone’s ecosystem can dramatically alter a landscape, humans have also created, and destroyed, structures in Yellowstone. There are many historic buildings and structures that are still in use in the present (like the Lake Hotel and Old Faithful Inn). However, there are other buildings, some very large and significant in size and history, that humans have built and demolished over the course of Yellowstone’s history.

One of these buildings is the Canyon Hotel. I had no idea a hotel existed in the canyon area until I started talking to museum staff about lodging in Yellowstone. Then, when I began cataloging, I found a photographic print of the Canyon Hotel, and I was rather shocked at the size and scale of the building. I was amazed that such a large building existed, and as a visitor to Yellowstone before my internship, I had no idea that the Canyon area of Yellowstone had a hotel.

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The park’s primary concessionaire in the early 20th century, the Yellowstone Park Company, offered park tours for tourists that arrived by train. Yellowstone prohibited automobile use in the park until 1916. Therefore, without roadway infrastructure the Yellowstone Park Associated provided tour packages. Included in these packages were hotel accommodations available for every stop visitors made. The Canyon Hotel, Lake Hotel, Mammoth Hotel and Old Faithful Inn were all places to stay on these tours. Yet, the Canyon Hotel is the only building that did not stay preserved into the present.

A number of factors caused the demise of the Canyon Hotel. Yellowstone had to change management policies after the park started accommodating automobiles. A large amount of visitors independently visiting Yellowstone through the automobile meant that guided trips were not necessarily as popular as they were before. In the 1950’s, Yellowstone received assistance from the Mission 66 program. The Mission 66 program provided funding to improve or replace park infrastructure, including updating visitor accommodations to reflect modern park use practices. With a rise in vehicle travel, Yellowstone managers opted to create motel-style accommodations. The decision was timely because the Canyon Hotel was also falling into serious disrepair. With tourists’ attitudes centering around temporary, automobile focused trips, and the Canyon Hotel needing serious funds to sustain upkeep, Lemel Garrison (park superintendent in the 1950’s) decided to demolish the Canyon Hotel. To make up for the hotel’s loss, Canyon Village was created. Canyon Village had about 500 rooms scattered in a series of 20 rooms per building, with a common main building providing visitor services.

The Canyon Hotel closed in 1959 ready for demolition.The closure was timely for the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake. The earthquake seriously destroyed portions of the hotel. Then in 1960 a major fire broke out in August 1960, which burned the entire building. Needless to say, the Canyon Hotel had both human and geological forces removing it from Yellowstone. The Hotel’s presence, however, lives on in the collections, primarily through photographs, prints, souvenirs, as well as items that workers would have used while employed at Canyon.

Sources come from Mark Barringer Selling Yellowstone: Capitalism and Construction of Nature and Mary Shivers Culpin For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People: A History of Concession Development in Yellowstone National Park 1872-1966


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