Yellowstone’s Million-Dollar Room

Inside Yellowstone's Old Faithful Basin Store is Charles A. Hamilton's old office. Nearly $2 million in canceled checks covers the walls near Old Faithful.
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Yellowstone's Million Dollar Room - the office of Charles Ashworth Hamilton.

Yellowstone's Million Dollar Room - the office of Charles Ashworth Hamilton. 

The Old Faithful Basin Store, formerly Hamilton's Store, near Old Faithful in Yellowstone by Acroterion CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Old Faithful Basin Store, formerly Hamilton's Store, near Old Faithful in Yellowstone

Old Faithful is certainly one of nature’s treasures. Adjacent to the nearby Old Faithful Inn,  however, lies a treasure of a whole different sort. The Old Faithful Basin Store, formerly known as the Old Faithful Lower Hamilton Store, was built in 1897. It was the first store in the Old Faithful area and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic outpost is known for its knotted pine archway, not for its moneyed interior. 

Back in one of the private areas lies a room that once housed the office of famed concessionaire Charles A. Hamilton. And covering the walls of that room: Nearly $2 million in canceled checks.

Charles Ashworth Hamilton - The Million-Dollar Man

After attending business school in Minnesota, the Winnipeg-born Charles Ashworth Hamilton moved out to Yellowstone National Park in 1905 to take on a summer job as an assistant to the purchasing agent for the Yellowstone Park Association at Mammoth Hot Springs. In the years following, he acted as the secretary to Harry W. Child, president of the Yellowstone Park Company, which operated the hotels in the park, and became friends with Child’s son, Huntley.

Ten years after arriving in Yellowstone, Hamilton snatched an opportunity to purchase the Klamer Store at Old Faithful. With financial help from his friend Huntley, he bought the store for $20,000 and there established his home in a six-room apartment above the store. He pasted the two checks used to buy the store in the room he claimed as his office, and continued to paste hundreds of canceled checks written to the Hamilton store alongside them. The total of all those checks eventually reached $1,839,105.60.

Hamilton went on to run all of the general stores throughout Yellowstone before passing away in 1957. His family continued to run the business through 2002.

History Restored

So what’s since happened to Hamilton’s office, not to mention the $1.8 million worth of canceled checks lining its walls? It’s still standing, the only room of the six he took over that remains. It still houses the original furnishings, including the light fixtures, Hamilton’s wet bar and of course all of those old checks.

Unfortunately the checks and furnishings were deteriorating rapidly after years of smoke stains and the room’s use as an employee break area; however, thanks to a grant from the Yellowstone Park Foundation, preservation a 3D Laser Scanner created a high-resolution 3D model of the room’s interior, a paper conservator  cleaned and stabilized the checks, readying them for preservation. A special Plexiglas covering will further protect the checks.

Eventually the room will be open to the public so we can get a look at this new Yellowstone treasure. Stay tuned for details. We will update this when we learn more from Yellowstone staff. 

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