Some places allow you to step back in time. However, the Kalispell Hotel pulls you in. It’s a place worth visiting for a night, a meal, or even just a tea – especially if you’re yearning for some nostalgia and sense of yesteryear.
Indeed, much like inns and taverns boasting of a “George Washington slept here” distinction, the Kalispell Hotel could similarly claim “Charlie Russell lounged here,” “Frank Linderman pondered here,” or “knights, outlaws, and sheriffs have slept here” all the same.
The hotel was built in 1909 and opened in 1912 – an era when safe-cracking was still lucrative (albeit illegal). And chambermaids, “swampers,” and night-clerks did their best to serve a more affluent clientèle of guests attracted to the fine amenities and the away-from-the-railyard location of the hotel.
Incidentally, the earliest hotels in Kalispell once stood near the railyard and the depot. The Kalispell Hotel was a latecomer of sorts and was built a few blocks away. And as history would have it, the last one built is the last one standing. There is nothing left of the other hotels of the era. Only the Kalispell Hotel remains, and is now known as the Kalispell Grand Hotel.
And during its time – spanning more than a century – the Kalispell Hotel has witnessed the trials and triumphs of generations – including things many of us can hardly recall (or even know about).
For example, the hotel offered “winter rates” for teachers and also for students who stayed at the hotel to attend school during the week, and returned to their distant family farms when school was not in session.
The Kalispell Hotel was also the first place many veterans stayed upon returning from war. The hotel was also the final address for many long-time guests who resided at the hotel for years.
And in between, there was a seemingly never-ending flux of guests from all walks of life. Some were of a more “fly-by-night” persuasion, conducting business at the hotel, from selling dairy cows, to promoting baldness cures, and hawking low-price automobiles (with undoubtedly “good running” engines, of course).
Meanwhile, guests from across the valley – and across the continent – assembled in the lobby or near the water fountain that once stood outside. Indeed, the hotel was a starting place for a night on the town, whether attending an event next door at the opera house, taking in a movie at the nearby theaters, or merely strolling about town.
Likewise, today the hotel is central to the curious shops and good eats and drinks downtown Kalispell has to offer. And as it was “in the good ol’ days,” nowadays you can get a shave and a haircut at the barber shop, nosh food at a restaurant and discover artworks by local artists – all without leaving the lobby.
Inside the lobby, the hotel waits to be appreciated for its charm. Its late-Victorian stylings and sensibilities. Its sense of nostalgia from the exposed brick walls, the original, grand oak stairway, and the pressed-tin adorning the high ceilings. And not to mention the prized moose and elk heads mounted on the walls, which seem not only fitting, but somehow expected.
Yet perhaps the most unique thing about the Kalispell Hotel is that it offers immersion and an opportunity to gain an historical perspective. Book a stay. Park the car (and forget about it). And walkabout enjoying downtown Kalispell – like it was done decades ago.
In a short while, you’ll likely see things from a different historical perspective.
Jaix Chaix is a columnist and author of Flathead Valley Landmarks and other local history books that are available for sale at the Flathead Beacon at 17 Main St. in Kalispell.
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