Welcome to the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton, Colorado, founded in 1883.
Excitement spread throughout the area! Silver had been found amidst the 12,000-foot-high peaks of the surrounding San Juan Mountains. Because of the remoteness and relative inaccessibility of the mines, the ore that made its way down the mountainsides had to be of the highest quality. The town that sprang up in this valley in 1874 was soon on its way to becoming the richest mining town in the West.
As the story is told, a local was asked if there was gold in the area. He answered that there wasn’t gold, but “we got silver by the ton.” By 1880, the population of Silverton had swelled to more than 5,000. The town really began to flourish when the Denver & Rio Grande railroad was completed, linking the ore that was carted into Silverton with the smelters down the mountain in Durango.
A BIT OF ENGLISH REFINEMENT IN A MINING TOWN—Investor C.S. Thomson came to Colorado to inspect his mining interests and could see that rapidly growing Silverton needed a fitting hotel. Combining his money and his vision came easy for the Englishman and in July 1883, his three-story brick edifice in the middle of town was completed. The Grand Hotel boasted a mansard roof, saloon, dining hall seating one hundred guests, a bridal chamber, hot and cold running water, sample rooms for salesmen, and public restrooms. The structure’s 53 rooms provided guests with comfort and every modern convenience, putting the Grand on par with other fine hotels in the mountains.
Many of the hotel’s early guests were silver barons who, like Thomson, came to Silverton to check on their holdings. Soon, the Grand was known as the “home of the silver kings” and the basement saloon was where they gathered to smoke, drink and conduct their gentlemanly business. After a few harsh Silverton winters, the idea of housing other businesses in the lower level was abandoned as the access stairway was usually filled with snow.
The Hub Saloon relocated upstairs and became the gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The centerpiece of the tavern was a massive mahogany and cherry wood bar backed by three one-inch thick plate glass mirrors, imported from France. The bar, in three sections, was shipped up the mountain by train. Open for speculation is whether the bullet hole in the bar was made by Sheriff Bat Masterson while attempting an arrest or by one of his cronies—Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday—who also frequented the saloon.
|The Hub was reputed to have never closed its doors nor locked its safe; indeed, no one even knew the safe’s combination. According to legend, a newly hired bartender inadvertently twirled the tumblers one night and the establishment had to borrow operating cash until a locksmith could travel from Denver and open the safe.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE—The name evolved from the Grand, to the Imperial, and to the Grand Imperial as ownership changes were numerous during the hotel’s history. The true decline of the hotel began in 1893, during the Silver Panic. Prohibition also put a huge hit on the Grand Imperial’s operating capital. Without money, owners were hard-pressed to keep the doors open.
In the 1920s, the saloon was converted to a restaurant—the American Café—and it stayed in business mainly because it served everyone from the town’s good citizens to the prostitutes working on notoriously naughty Blair Street. This business practice succeeded only because the “working girls” were restricted as to when they could go to town to dine and shop. While in the café, they were seated in a screened-off portion of the restaurant, effectively shielding them from other diners.
Anyone who decides to purchase an old hotel—like the Grand Imperial—must have money in their pockets and a fondness in their heart for the project they are about to take on. Undoubtedly, this was the situation with all who stepped through the front door as an owner. Not all these undertakings were successful.
Fortunately, in 1972, Don and Dorothy Stott from Philadelphia were traveling through Colorado and happened upon the Grand Imperial. Hearing that it was about to meet the wrecking ball if a suitable buyer could not be found, they sold what they had accumulated in Pennsylvania and began to pour funds into this 90-year old white elephant. Interesting and beautiful it was; in good shape it certainly was not. With a tremendous amount of money and even more passion, the Stotts were successful in the monumental task of saving “The Old Lady of Greene Street.”
THE GRAND IMPERIAL TODAY—Silverton experienced a decline as the mines played out, but luckily a revitalization came at the end of World War II when tourists discovered the Denver & Rio Grande narrow gauge train which makes a spectacular trip from Durango to Silverton. Once again, this old mining town and its quaint hotel are in vogue, for many travelers who are tired of glass and plastic look to the historic when choosing their lodging.
The Grand Imperial was, to the dismay of many, once again showing her age of more than 135 years. In the spring of 2015, the hotel was purchased by the Harper family who also own the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. They embarked on an extensive, $4.5 million restoration project because they wanted “to see the Grand grand again.”
Structural issues were addressed but the project also focused on restoring the beauty and charm that was once so much a part of the hotel. Windows and trim were painted, new carpet was laid, and bathrooms were remodeled. Authentic furniture from the late 1800s was added to guestrooms. The lobby, restaurant and saloon will also be enhanced. The Harper family’s passion for the Grand will ensure that her past is preserved and her future is secure.
Today’s visitor to the Grand Imperial will find that the stairs leading up to the second and third floors tilt a bit and have a discernible creak. There is no elevator. Parking is wherever it can be found. Short, quirky hallways make it a bit tricky to find one’s room. There is no air-conditioning, but by opening a window and the transom above the door, the room is quickly cooled by a refreshing mountain breeze. Sounds of honky-tonk piano music waft into the lobby from the saloon next door. Several times a day, the blare of the whistle can be heard through the open window as the narrow gauge train pulls into town.
A bit old fashioned? Perhaps. But today’s guest will soon discover that these unique traits are what make up the colorful personality of the Grand Imperial Hotel.
Next stop on the road trip . . . . . The Beaumont Hotel in Ouray, Colorado.
IF YOU VISIT—
For information about the town of Silverton: www.silvertoncolorado.com
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers packages that include train tickets along with a stay at the Grand Imperial Hotel: www.durangotrain.com