Some years ago I was driving along US-87
in north-central Montana when I saw a sign
for Fort Benton. From the highway I
couldn't see even a hint of the town because
it was down in the Missouri River valley
but, nothing ventured, nothing gained...I
turned onto the access road and headed for
town. A few miles down the road and just
before I reached the bridge I glanced to the
left and there stood the Grand Union Hotel.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I've stayed at the hotel a number of times
over the years now and this particular visit
coincided with American Thanksgiving.
Nice room overlooking the river, good
food and drink and everyone is on a first
Fort Benton is a very old town. I've seen
some old maps that show it, the Cypress
Hills and Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan...not
much else. Supplies used to arrive by
steamboat. The Grand Union Hotel was
built in 1882...on Thursday nights in the
summer there are still gunfights on the
hotel patio. Eat, drink and be merry...
watch out for outlaws!
A few notes about some of the photos:
The new tin ceiling panels in the dining
room were custom-fabricated by a firm
in St. Loius that's been in the business
for well over a hundred years.
The second floor landing displays a piano
built by the S. Drucker Company in the
1850s and was one of only fifty
manufactured. In days gone by, the door
to the right of the piano was the entrance
to the ladies lounge; a private staircase
was the only access to this lounge...ladies
weren't allowed to pass by let alone enter
the saloon where the men-folk were no
doubt doing unspeakable things like
drinking and spitting and cussing.
The small vertical window in one photo
is situated well above and in full view of
the safe shown in the following photo...
many years ago that was the only safe in
town so that's where the cash payroll for
pretty well everyone in town was kept,
under guard of a man with a rifle behind
that small vertical window. Yes, that's
the original safe from 1882.
There are two photos near the end of this
series that are "photos of old photographs"
that are on display in the dining room of
the hotel. They show an undated photo of
a steamboat in front of the hotel levee and
a photo on the hotel dated 1884. Those
were different times!
I highly recommend a visit to Fort Benton.
Lots to see here...Virgelle is less than an
hour away. Call ahead!
A concise history of the town can be seen
Old Fort Benton History
Some history from the hotel website:
Grand Union Hotel
Photographed on November 23 (Nos.9-18),
November 26 (Nos.1,2,4-8,21,22) and
November 27 (Nos.3,19,20).