THE HISTORY OF CONCESSIONS IN YELLOWSTONE

While National Park Service employees protect both the visitor and the resources of Yellowstone, provide information to the visitor through interpretive programs, and maintain park facilities, the job of serving the visitor’s basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter is accomplished by park concessioners. These private corporationsare licensed by the federal government to conduct business inside national parks.Prior to 1872 when Yellowstone was established as the first national park, there were already business entrepreneurs operating in the area. In1871, James C. McCartney and Harry Horr opened a hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs for the benefit of invalids who hoped the geothermal waters might help relieve their various afflictions. The qualities of McCartney’s Hotel, as it came to be called, were described by one traveler in 1874 as being “in an inverse ratio to the gorgeous description contained in the advertisements of the Helena and
Virginia [City, Montana Territory] newspapers.” However, this traveler was willing to allow that the hotel was “the last outpost of civilization–that is, the last place where whiskey is sold. . . .”

Following establishment of the park, the federal government controlled and licensed the businesses operating in the park. The early concessioners found Yellowstone a difficult place to do business. With few roads and a short summer season, making a living wasn’t easy. Some concessioners were men of vision, who could see that being good to the park and its patrons was good for business and a recipe for success. Others were unscrupulous scoundrels who attempted to use money and influence to gain leases to the land around all the major attractions in the park with the intent of making the public pay money to
see the sights. Fortunately, these schemes failed.

Through the years, Yellowstone has had some outstanding concessioners, one of whom was Frank Jay Haynes. He received his first concession license in 1881, and he and his son, Jack Ellis Haynes, were Yellowstone’s official photographers until the latter’s death in 1962. Through most of these years the Haynes Photo Shops were a familiar and helpful business along Yellowstone’s roads, and the Haynes Guide, published and updated nearly every year from 1890 to 1966, remains (in many people’s opinion) the best guidebook ever published about Yellowstone National Park.

The hotel operation in Yellowstone has always been the park’s largest concessioner. The first grand hotel, the National Hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs, was constructed in 1883 by the Yellowstone Park Improvement Company. Through a number of bankruptcies, consolidations, and changes, this concession was acquired by the Huntley, Child, and Nichols families, who were all related. By 1936, the company was called the Yellowstone Park Company, and it operated until 1979 when the government purchased all the hotel facilities in the park. Today’s Amfac Parks and Resorts, Inc., leases the hotel facilities from the government and carries on the tradition of providing fine accommodations and transportation to the traveling public.

Hotels alone cannot cater to all the public’s needs, and there have been general stores in Yellowstone since the earliest days. The Klamer store at Old Faithful was a successful business in the early years of this century when Mrs. Klamer decided to sell the store and retire in the spring of 1915. She offered to sell the store to the Child family (owners of the park’s hotels), and, although they declined, they informed one of their trusted employees, Charles Ashworth Hamilton, that he would have their financial backing if he wished to purchase the Klamer store. After discussing the purchase with Mrs. Klamer at Old
Faithful, Hamilton wrote her a check for $5,000 as a down payment. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Klamer, Hamilton had less than $300 in his checking account. Upon conclusion of the deal, he rode as fast as his horse could take him to Mammoth Hot Springs, secured his backing from the Child family, changed horses, and rode all night to the bank in Livingston, Montana, in order to deposit the funds necessary to cover his check. Thus began one of Yellowstone’s most successful business ventures, Hamilton Stores, Inc. Possessing sound business acumen and a knowledge of how to serve the public well, C.A.
Hamilton prospered and bought or built all other general stores in Yellowstone during the ensuing decades, including the purchase (by his heirs) of the Haynes Photo Shops in 1967.

In addition to Amfac Parks and Resorts and Hamilton Stores, many other concessioners serve the public’s needs in Yellowstone today. Yellowstone Park Service Stations have provided motor vehicle fuel and repairs since 1947. Yellowstone Park Medical Services operates a hospital at Lake Village and clinics at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. Many smaller concessioners operate as well, from outfitters offering luxury horsepacking excursions into the park’s backcountry to companies offering snowmobile rentals and snowcoach tours in winter.

The park’s concessioners work hand-in-hand with the National Park Service. While different goals require some discussion on occasion, the ultimate goal of maintaining quality service at reasonable prices to the visitor is shared by all concerned.

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