My dad, a history and political science professor, passed his love of history to his kids and years after studying American Lit & History at UCLA, I went back and got a teaching credential so I could teach English and Social Studies to junior high and high school students.
Whenever I travel, I try to stay in one of the oldest hotels in a town, or one of those fascinating historic buildings that have been turned into a hotel today, preserving a bit of the past while making the building relevant for today’s generation.
In my Taming of the Sheenan series, my hero and heroine in The Tycoon’s Kiss, are both preservationists. Troy Sheenan, a hi-tech tycoon in the Silicon Valley, never forgot his roots in Marietta, Montana and has bought the turn of the century Graff Hotel and restored it to its former glory after the hotel had been abandoned for twenty plus years. Renovating the Graff has nearly bankrupt him, but he had to do it because the hotel was too big a part of Montana history to let it be demolished. Fortunately, he meets the new Marietta librarian, Taylor, who is equally passionate about Montana history, including the town’s 19th century library and my tycoon and book girl fall in love with each other in part because they both love Montana’s rugged history.
Thinking back, I could have happily written an entire story just about American Frontier buildings, except I don’t think my romance readers would have been happy with me f I’d left out people and romance completely.
I’ve used Marietta’s Graff Hotel as a setting many of my Sheenan Brothers stories, but it plays a central role in my brand new release, A Christmas Miracle for Daisy.
In A Christmas Miracle for Daisy, single dad, Cormac Sheenan, and his four-year-old daughter Daisy are living at the Graff during the holidays while their Paradise Valley log cabin style home is being remodeled to make it ‘child-safe’. Cormac isn’t big on Christmas and festivities and Marietta has become Christmas town, with the handsome old Graff featuring daily visits with Santa Claus.
My new Christmas story is a riff on Miracle on 34th Street, and so I don’t need to tell you the challenges everyone faces. Cormac is a non-Kris “Krinkles” believer, while Daisy knows without a doubt that Kris is the real thing. Santa needs to pull off a miracle but its not easy without magic and faith.
I loved using the Graff for a Christmas setting because I could fill the dark paneled lobby with a soaring fir tree, and put garland and red ribbons above doorways and add weekend holiday teas to the hotel’s restaurant menu. I also added another historic building to my Marietta, Montana collection with the addition of the turn of the century “Crookshank Department Store”, a big brick building on Marietta’s Main Street. I’m also sharing a couple Pinterest links to boards featuring Marietta decked out for Christmas, along with the great turn of the century buildings I love so much:
As you can tell, when researching, I spend considerable hours pouring over histories and pictures of my favorite old hotels of the West so I thought I’d share some of my favorite recommendations with you. I’ve been able to stay at each of these places, too, and am including a link so you can visit, either in person or as an armchair traveler…which sometimes can be the best way to travel!
Five of Jane’s Favorite Historic Hotels of the West
- The Grand Union Hotel – Fort Benton
The historic Grand Union Hotel was opened in 1882, seven years before Montana became a state. However, within a year two new railroads opened—the Northern Pacific and the Canadian Pacific Railroad to Calgary—and overnight the hotel and town declined. Just two years after it was opened, the bankrupt hotel sold at a “sheriff’s auction” for $10,000. The hotel struggled on through the 20th Century, before closing in the 1980’s and then undergoing a multi-million remodel over a period of years before reopening in 1999, making the Grand Union Montana’s oldest operating hotel.
- The Davenport Hotel – Spokane, WA
Spokane’s 1914 Davenport Hotel is one of my favorite hotels in the West. It was built to be a destination spot where guests could escape from the noise and chaos of the outside world for the Davenport’s elegance and refinement. The hotel was nearly demolished in 2002 but saved at the last minute for an extensive renovation that has once again made the Davenport the place to go west of the Cascades.
- The Oxford Hotel – Denver, CO
Opened to the public in 1891, the Oxford Hotel was built by Colorado brewer
Adolph Zang with the newest technology, and stunning grandeur with oak furnishings, silver chandeliers and frescoed walls. The newest technology meant that all guest rooms had rare creature comforts: steam heating, electric and gas lighting and bathrooms with separate water closets. The hotel was updated a number of times over the next seventy-five years, but restored to its former glory in the 1980’s to the tune of $12 million.
- The Browns Palace Hotel – Denver, CO
Browns Palace Hotel is the second oldest hotel in Denver, opened just one year after the Oxford Hotel and name for its owner, Henry Brown. The hotel was designed around an atrium—one of the features I love best about this hotel—and features a gorgeous afternoon tea (my favorite thing to do when traveling…).
- The Sacajawea Hotel – Three Forks, MT
The historic Sacajawea dates back to 1910 and was renovated one hundred years later, after spending almost a decade boarded up. Unlike the big city sandstone and red brick hotels, this is a white painted beauty in a small, rural community thirty miles outside Bozeman. I’ve been here several times, if not to overnight, then for a fantastic steak dinner in the hotel’s handsome dining room. I could write an entire blog about Three Forks, MT as it factors hugely in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as well as being a key stop on the Milwaukee Railroad.
(Plus one extra favorite from my childhood, The Wawona Hotel outside Yosemite, near the Mariposa Grove, a station stop in 1856 with rustic accomodations that were replaced in 1879 with the 25 room hotel. Just 90 minutes from my home in Visalia, the Wawona was a magical Victorian period two-story hotel with lots of crisp white paint and picturesque verandas overlooking the lawn. I could picture the horse drawn carriages at the turn of the century arriving with guests from San Francisco and Los Angeles. The hotel today has 104 guest rooms and has been operated by the Park Service since the 1930’s, and remains my first hotel love….with the Awahnee Hotel in Yosemite valley as a very close second! http://www.yosemitepark.com/wawona-hotel.aspx )