The American frontier, or the Old West, as it came to be known, drew adventurers from all over the world. They came hoping to find a new life, whether that meant staking out a homestead, mining for gold, finding a husband, or starting a business. Whether it was families, single men or women, miners, gamblers, or cowboys, the same thing pulled them—the chance at a fresh start. Beyond that, they all had one need in common—a place to live when they arrived.
For some, like the cowboys, it was simple. They slept on a bedroll under the stars, their horse picketed close by.
Others slept in a bunkhouse, often with thin bat-and-board siding that allowed the wind to whistle through the cracks or the knot holes, but always with a cozy wood stove nearby.
Saloons often offered accommodations as well, as they were sometimes attached to or housed within a hotel. Even the independent saloons often provided rooms to travelers who wanted drinks, a meal and a bed. Many saloons provided a free lunch with the purchase of a drink, with the hope the traveler would decide to imbibe a bit longer and possibly spend the night. The Crystal Palace, built in 1879 in Tombstone, AZ, (and featured in my novel, Love Finds You in Tombstone, AZ) is one that provided more than drinks.
Of course, no decent lady or family would consider such accommodations, as their reputation would most certainly be ruined. Only ladies of ill repute frequented saloons, so the more genteel women chose a hotel, or a boardinghouse for something a bit longer.
My novel, Blowing on Dandelions, is centered around the life of a boardinghouse. There was more than one type and they catered to all kinds. A boardinghouse/combo hotel in Last Chance, CA, featured in my book, Love Finds You in Last Chance, CA, only took men, and they all slept in a common room on the second. The average boardinghouse was different than a single family home, often having a large number of bedrooms, a common washroom, a good-sized dining room and a cozy parlor made available to the boarders.
Of course, a bathroom as we understand it didn’t exist in the 1800’s. Most boardinghouses provided a wash bowl, towels, and a pitcher of fresh water per room, along with a chamber pot. In very rare cases you might find some type of rustic indoor plumbing, but typically a bath was drawn by heating and carrying buckets of water to a wooden or tin tub in a wash room.
Breakfast was almost always included, and oftentimes supper, with some hostesses occasionally offering laundry service as well. Boarders could share a room, and often did, but the more wealthy patrons could choose to room alone. The least expensive rooms tended to be in the top floor, including smaller attic rooms, as heat rises and made sleeping uncomfortable. For the poor, cheap lodging houses provided basic accommodations for low prices. In San Francisco over a century ago, the majority of people frequenting a hotel were either working class or poor, and a passable room might cost 35 cents a night ($8 in today’s currency).
Life at a nicer boardinghouse could be quite like home, especially to a lonely widow or single woman struggling to make it on her own. In fact, many boardinghouses in the Old West were owned and operated by women, as it was a respectable way to make a living while keeping your children close by. Warm fires in the parlor and kitchen, reading in the parlor or playing games in the evening, along with story-telling and sharing the happenings of the day, were all common entertainment for the residents.
I’ve always had a fascination for the Old West and the historical research for my novels has become one of my favorite parts of writing. Life was varied in the 1800’s, and often extremely challenging. The more glimpses I get of the strong men and women who made up the West, the more I’m compelled to share their stories.
If you’d like to contact me or see pictures of the settings for several of my historical novels, I’d love to have you stop by my website or my blog. Both can be found at www.miraleeferrell.com
Then she crosses paths with Micah Jacobs, a widower who could reignite her heart, but she fears a relationship with him might send things over the edge. She must find the strength, wisdom, hope, and faith to remake her life, for everything is about to change.
Great news – Miralee is doing a giveaway today! Two commenters will each receive a copy of her book BLOWING ON DANDELIONS. So leave a comment and let her know what you think of her post and get your name in the hat. (Sorry, but Miralee has requested this drawing be open to US residents only)