Family Looks to Protect Hotel Libby

By Beacon Staff

Gail Burger never thought it was weird to roller skate through the hallways of her family’s home on California Avenue in Libby. Nor did she think it was peculiar to change rooms every week “so long as you were willing to drag all of your stuff.”

Of course, not everyone lived in an old hotel.

Burger’s family purchased the historic Hotel Libby in the late 1970s and growing up she often spent summers there. Now the family’s visits are less frequent and they’re looking to protect the building that was constructed more than a century ago and opened as a hotel in 1910. This fall Burger filed the necessary paperwork to designate the building as an historical landmark with the state of Montana. What happens after that is something only she and her family know and it has created quite a stir in town.

“There is a lot of mystery around Hotel Libby,” Burger said. “It sparks interest because no one really knows what’s going on in there … I want to keep (that) going.”

With the exception of a few friends, only the family has been inside the hotel since it closed in the late 1970s. According to local historian Jeff Gruber, construction began on Hotel Libby in October 1899, but two months later work stopped for winter. It didn’t resume again until 1910, when someone purchased the decade-old skeleton and finished the hotel. Gruber said Libby saw a lot of growth that year, which may explain why someone showed interest in the unfinished building. In 1910 alone, the city got electricity, telephone service, a water system and a sewer system.

“Libby was taking off and there was a lot of optimism,” said Gruber, who is a high school history teacher and is currently working on a pictorial history of the town.

In the years following, Gruber said Hotel Libby became an important place in town. The first bank was located in the lobby, various businesses called it home and at one point the Lincoln County Library was there. In the 1960s, while the Libby Dam was under construction, rooms were rented out on a monthly basis to meet housing demands for the growing community.

In the 1970s the hotel fell on hard times and shut down. In 1978, Burger’s family purchased it and moved in. Burger said people were often shocked to find out where she lived. Many locals thought the old hotel was haunted, a perception that still surrounds the shuttered building.

“It is kind of one of the more mysterious buildings in town,” Gruber said.

Burger has been spending time looking into those legends and stories surrounding her family’s home and this past summer she and her daughter came to Libby to do some research. They stopped by The Heritage Museum, where she met with Laurie Mari, one of the museum’s directors. Like others in Libby, Mari doesn’t know what Burger’s plans are, but she’s hopeful.

“I think as a general rule of thumb, we’re always excited when someone is trying to preserve an old historic building,” Mari said. “It’s a major landmark and it has been here forever.”

The Burgers say they’ll move forward with their plans once they get the building designated as a historic site, which will likely happen within the next year. Burger looks forward to announcing her intentions for the hotel, but noted that people shouldn’t be concerned about the building’s structural condition.

“It’s in amazing shape,” she said. “When they built that hotel, they built it to stand forever.”