Montana natives restore Grand Union Hotel in Fort Benton

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Montana Real Estate   October 12, 2012
By Kimberley Yablonski

The Grand Union Hotel in Fort Benton, Montana, hugs the banks of the Upper Missouri River like an old friend.
After all, the Missouri River and its bustling steamboat traffic gave birth to Grand Union hotel more than 120 years ago, when Fort Benton became America’s most remote port.
Like many homesteaders who headed west full of dreams but ended up beaten down by harsh conditions or even worse dead, the Grand Union Hotel has seen its share of desperate times. Seven years before Montana became a state, in the days when Fort Benton was the crossroads of the gold and fur trades and a stepping off point for the growing nation, more than 300 people attended the hotel’s opening. In 1882, the Grand Union Hotel cost $50,000 to build and another $150,000 to furnish. Unfortunately, the grandeur was not to last.
Less than a year later, completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad to Helena and the Canadian Pacific Railroad to Calgary meant the end of the steamboat era for Fort Benton and sent the hotel into a tailspin of decline. The fact that these railroad lines bypassed the town only added to the town’s plight, and in 1884, the hotel went bankrupt and was auctioned off. In the years to follow, the Grand Union was passed from owner to owner. In 1899, it was purchased for just $10,000. Two world wars, the Great Depression, Prohibition and harsh economic times took its toll on the old building. Eventually, it was boarded up.
However, time was on her side. The Grand Union Hotel was given yet another lease on life when native Montanans James and Cheryl Gagnon purchased it in 1995. After a four-year, several million-dollar restoration, the Grand Union Hotel now offers the splendor of its early beginnings when Montana was in its rough and tumble early days.

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