Restoring The 'Million Dollar Room' In Yellowstone National Park With The Yellowstone Park Foundation's Help

Nearly $2 million in canceled checks the line the walls of the "Million Dollar Room" at the Lower Hamilton Store in Yellowstone National Park. Photo via the Yellowstone Park Foundation.

Editor's note: Quite often the work of national park friends groups goes without notice. At Yellowstone National Park, for example, the Yellowstone Park Foundation is underwriting the cost of restoration and preservation of the "Million Dollar Room" in the Lower Hamilton Store at Old Faithful. The following from the Foundation tells that story.

Millions of Yellowstone National Park visitors have browsed the Old Faithful Lower Hamilton Store, or enjoyed views of Geyser Hill from its famous knotty pine porch. The vast majority, though, have never heard about a special enclave inside called the Million Dollar Room.

The former office of a larger-than-life figure from Yellowstone's history has a unique feature that the National Park Service wants to preserve before it's too late. The Million Dollar Room project, funded by the Yellowstone Park Foundation, will complete documentation and conservation of the interior of Charles A. Hamilton’s office at the Old Faithful Lower Hamilton Store.

Charles was a well-known personality who is historically significant in the development of concessions in the world's first national park. In 1905, Charles began work as a purchasing agent with the Yellowstone Park Association. The following year he served as secretary to Harry W. Child, president of the Yellowstone Park Company, and then as assistant to T.E. Farrow, superintendent of hotels.

Charles became friends with Child’s son, Huntley, who backed Charles’s 1915 purchase of the Klamer Store, which had been built in 1897 at Old Faithful. Charles lived in a six-room apartment on the store’s upper floor; of that apartment, only his office remains.

Charles wrote two checks from two different financial institutions to purchase the store and these, along with hundreds of other cancelled checks totaling $1,839,105.60, paper almost every inch of the walls of his office in what became known as the Lower Hamilton Store.

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The Lower Hamilton Store. Yellowstone Park Foundation photo.

Through the years, Charles created and ran all the general stores throughout the Park. He died in 1957 and his family continued to run the business through 2002.

The Hamilton store is a historic structure and Charles’ office still retains original furnishings such as light fixtures and his wet bar, in addition to those original checks documenting the financial history of the Hamilton stores from 1915 through the 1930s.

Saving a Piece of History

As a result of past exposure to cigarette smoke and years of use as a store employee break room, the checks and original furnishings of the Million Dollar Room are deteriorating rapidly. Preservation measures, which are critical to preserving this important story, began in the summer of 2012 thanks to a grant from the Yellowstone Park Foundation.

Documentation of the interior of the room will soon be under way using traditional photographic methods plus a 3-D Laser Scanner, which will create a high-resolution 3-D model of the interior of the room. Next, a paper conservator will clean and stabilize the checks for preservation. Conservators will also create a special Plexiglas covering to protect the checks from contact and rubbing of furniture.

Completion of the project is set for the end of next year, and eventually the project will be available for viewing on the park website for public learning and enjoyment.