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 General 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, earning it the nickname, “Yellowstone’s Million-Dollar Room.”
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, making it Yellowstone’s million-dollar room.
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.
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. Yellowstone’s million-dollar room 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, in 2015, a partner project between the Yellowstone Park Foundation and Delaware North was completed to restore the Million-Dollar Room. This project included using a 3D laser scanner to create a high-resolution 3D model of the room’s interior. A paper conservator cleaned and stabilized the checks, and prepared them for preservation. A special Plexiglas covering further protects the checks.
During the operating seasons tours of the room are provided daily at 11 a.m. and upon request. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/places/000/old-faithful-general-store-lower.htm.