Central Montana has three historic hotels, beautifully renovated, and they all share a varied history in their past. At times they all sat idle and mostly empty. Locals wondered if they would ever see their unique beauty again.
Fort Benton’s Grand Union Hotel opened November 2, 1882. Steamboats traveling up the Missouri River docked in Fort Benton, unloading people and merchandise making the town a busy center of commerce. Sounds like a perfect location for a hotel! Fort Benton had been founded 36 years before the hotel opened and 7 years before Montana was named a state.
The Grand Union was constructed at a cost of $50,000 with it’s beautiful furnishings topping the $150,000 mark. Although the hotel ran continuously for over 100 years, two years after it’s construction it was sold at sheriff’s auction. In less than two years, visitors overnighting in Fort Benton diminished as the Northern Pacific Railroad to Helena and the Canadian Pacific Railroad to Calgary were built.
Multiple owners over the years sold the elaborate furnishings and painted over elegantly finished wood. World War I, prohibition and the Great Depression dealt blows to owners over time and the hotel closed in
A young and enterprising native Montana couple with family ties nearby saw the grand old lady, even though she was looking shabby, and realized the historic value and potential as an anchor in Fort Benton. They purchased the hotel and restoration began in 1997.
On November 2, 1999 the Grand Union reopened, 117 years after it’s initial opening. Today the hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and features an upscale restaurant, seasonal riverside outdoor dining and a beer & wine lounge. The hotel’s 26 sleeping rooms are accessed by an elegant black walnut staircase or by elevator. There is also a gift shop and meeting room.
The Historic Hotel Arvon is located in the oldest commercial building in Great Falls. By 1886, Welsh immigrant Robert Vaughn had homesteaded and established a successful ranching operation in the nearby
Sun River valley. His next venture was to begin planning a livery in Great Falls. Similar to a present day planned development, Vaughn created not only a livery but a freight transfer station, boarding house and food market, all under one roof.
When we think of Robert Vaughn, it just takes a minute to realize that his first initial “R”, and last name “Vaughn” can easily become “Arvon”. His daughter was named Arvonia and his commercial development became the Arvon Block.
Vaughn’s Arvon Block was completed in 1890. The town of Great Falls had only been incorporated since November 28, 1888 and had just over 1,200 residents. Vaughn’s boarding house/hotel closed in 1970 although several businesses still operated on the main level of the Arvon Block.
Fast forward over 125 years later and a group of local investors purchased and began a 4 year renovation on the Arvon Block. First to open in the building was the Celtic Cowboy Pub & Restaurant, a nod to the Welsh immigrant who started it all. Certainly, a pint or two of Guinness has been served and the bar has an impressive lineup of taps and spirits. Open seven days a week, the restaurant serves a variety of food including Bangers & Mash, Scotch eggs, Irish nachos with house-made potato chips, Guinness stew, beef medallions in Irish whiskey cream sauce and many standard restaurant items. While salmon may not be typical Irish fare, I gravitate to the Celtic’s whiskey & soy glazed salmon just about every visit. A Sunday brunch featuring live music is served from 10:30am – 2pm.
The lower level of the Arvon Block, a former livery, is now called the Dark Horse Hall and Wine Snug. Originally built for draft horses, today you’ll frequently find a meeting or event housed in the beautifully preserved brick-lined room.
The Historic Hotel Arvon has been restored with 33 rooms, including 11 historically named suites and 22 luxurious guest rooms. I noticed a nod to America’s Cowboy Artist Charlie Russell in one room where the in-room Keurig featured Charlie Russell K-cups made by Morning Light Coffee, a local Great Falls coffee roaster.
As you enter the lobby of the Historic Hotel Arvon, you see a 19th century French oak buffet that serves as both the registration desk and a coffee bar. Walls throughout the hotel are lined with original artwork by regional and national artists.
The Hotel Arvon, Dark Horse Hall, Wine Snug and Celtic Cowboy Pub and Restaurant are all connected and form today’s Arvon Block.
Built in 1917, the hotel was formerly a dormitory that housed rural children so they could attend school. Lack of transportation and long winters prevented many students from getting to school so the school district constructed this building. First built was the south half of the present-day Calvert Hotel, and then a north side addition. It housed boys and girls, lodging boys on one side, girls on the other. It later became a girls-only dormitory and boys were boarded in homes. A month of room and board cost $18 per student.
The Homestead Acts of 1909 and 1912 brought many people to the area – estimates are that 70,000 – 80,000 people came in search of “free land”. In the early 1920s, drought sent many of those people away after crops failed. The dormitory closed in 1925 due to financial problems facing Lewistown’s high school.
Three years later, in 1928, a local couple bought the dormitory and named it the Calvert. They converted it
to a hotel and owned and managed it as that until 1969. Upgrades (bathrooms) were done under their ownership and some rooms were combined to create larger spaces. A restaurant was added in the lower level of the building where patrons ate meals together.
In 2007 the brick structure was sold and extensively remodeled. Beautiful tile work was done throughout the Calvert Hotel. It operated again as a luxury hotel with a restaurant in the lower level. Another closure followed and new owners have now put fresh life in to the hotel. Unique artwork, luxury bedding, custom tiled bathrooms and a deluxe hot breakfast greet guests at this hotel located in the center of Lewistown and also in the center of Montana.
Three historic hotels, all with interesting history, are waiting for you to relax and absorb the ambiance and history of Central Montana.