The White Hotel on a Hill: The Stanley in Estes Park, Colorado

On a hilltop overlooking the Colorado town of Estes Park sits a red-roofed, white clapboard structure:  The Stanley Hotel.  Given that most resorts in the Rocky Mountains are fairly rustic in design, the Georgian Revival-style of The Stanley makes it a distinctive landmark in this mountain town. But its architecture is hardly the only thing that is unique about The Stanley.

MR. STANLEY’S VISION—Many people migrated to Colorado in the early 1900s, convinced that the dry air would relieve their symptoms of tuberculosis. In 1903, Freelan Oscar (F.O.) Stanley was told he had only months to live so he moved to the mountains with his wife, Flora, hoping to live out his final days in some degree of comfort. Not only did the clean, dry air improve his health, he lived another 40 years.

The Stanleys soon became enraptured with the small mountain community of Estes Park, but notably missing in their new home town was a resort hotel.  One had never been built here because the nearest rail stations were down the mountain in the towns of Lyons and Loveland.  Locals said the rugged roads through the river canyons were fit only for horse travel, so how would guests ever get to a hotel in Estes Park?  Not only did Stanley prove these pessimists wrong, he changed the complexion of Estes Park forever.

The transportation problem certainly needed to be solved and Stanley and his twin brother, Francis Edgar (F.E.) were up to the challenge.  They improved the winding, treacherous roads and invented a car—the Stanley Steamer—that would caravan arriving guests to the hotel. The hotel’s opening in 1909 marked the first time in United States history that an automobile, instead of a train, was used to convey guests to a resort area.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS—The Rocky Mountain News heralded the new hotel by reporting: “The Hotel Stanley is simply palatial, equaling anything of its size in the world.”   It proved to be the perfect destination for well-to-do tourists who wanted to experience mountain grandeur without sacrificing the lifestyle to which they were accustomed.

Just inside the front door, the lobby’s grand staircase, with its curved banisters and sparkling white woodwork, is an inviting focal point in the elegant hotel.   Two stone fireplaces, set equal-distance from the staircase, are fashioned of Colorado red rock.  Since the hotel did not have central heat until 1982, fires were constantly burning in fireplaces in all the public rooms in order to ward off chilly mountain temperatures.

Opening into the lobby is the Music Room.  During the morning hours, ladies were invited to enter this area to chat, plan their day or compose letters at finely crafted writing desks.  In the afternoon and evening, chamber ensembles entertained guests with musical performances.  A beautiful Steinway concert grand piano still sits on a platform in the Music Room.  It was a gift from F.O. to Flora the night the hotel opened.

Gents were invited to enter the Billiard Room for a competitive diversion.  Ladies could watch the games, but they could not play and were required to remain silently seated on the bench along the wall, specially built to accommodate their bustles.  F.O. Stanley was an avid billiard player and the Billiard Room was his territory.  It is told that another player once snickered when F.O. missed a shot; the gentleman was immediately asked to leave the hotel.

THE STANLEY’S OTHER WORLDLY VISITORS—Some say that folks who visit The Stanley have such a wonderful time, they stay around forever.   Whoever the ghostly guests are, they have certainly added to The Stanley mystique.

Flora and F.O. loved their hotel and they continue to welcome guests, even today.  Flora is sometimes seen standing on the grand staircase to greet visitors and F.O. still frequents his favorite area in the hotel, the Billiard Room.  They are ever the gracious hosts.

During a period when the hotel’s financial outlook looked bleak, furniture and decorative items were sold and carted off by the truckload.  Fortunately, Flora’s grand piano was put into storage, then returned to the Music Room in 1976. An often-told story is one of lovely melodies coming from the piano, though not a soul is around.  Might it be Flora serenading her guests because she is quite delighted to have her piano back?

The Stanley’s well-to-do guests often brought nannies when they came to the resort for the summer.  There was a dormitory-like room on the fourth floor where the nannies slept.  Today’s guests staying below on the third floor sometimes report hearing sounds of furniture scraping across the floor above.  Or is it the long-departed nannies moving their valises from under their beds?

Are all these eerie happenings figments of someone’s imagination or is The Stanley’s ghostly reputation well-deserved?

A “SHINING” CONNECTION—In 1975, novelist Stephen King stopped for an overnight stay at The Stanley Hotel.  King’s visit came on the last night of the hotel’s season, for it did not stay open year-round until 1984.  King was The Stanley’s only guest that evening and he was booked into room 217 because it made sense to give the best room in the house to the only visitor.

Contrary to popular belief, King did not write a single word of his novel,“The Shining,” while in room 217, but after a night spent with The Stanley’s ghosts, he was inspired to write what has become a classic among horror stories.

A COLORADO CLASSIC— The Stanley complex consists of much more than just the main hotel for total of 11 buildings are located on the 35-acre property.  All the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the entire Stanley Hotel complex became a National Historic District in 1985.

Today, The Stanley Hotel stands as a testament to one man’s dream and will remain on its hilltop perch above Estes Park for years to come.

IF YOU GO–

THE STANLEY HOTEL                                                                 

  • 333 Wonderview Avenue
  • Estes Park, Colorado  80517
  • (970) 577-4000  or  (800) 976-1377
  • Website:  www.stanleyhotel.com

 

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