You May Not Know His Name, But You Definitely Know His Work
The year was 1903. Despite the blistering cold temperatures in Yellowstone National Park, coating after coating of ice chattering snow, and no insulation, forty-five artisans plucked up the will to craft log, stone, and iron into the magnificent Old Faithful Inn.
This beautiful construction was the brainchild of 29-year old Ohio native Robert Reamer.
The First of its Kind
By the late spring of 1904, the inn, which was masterfully designed to allow visitors an unobscured view of Old Faithful, began to welcome its first guests. As they stepped through the giant red doors that flanked the entrance, they found a welcoming inn, the likes of which were equal to that of any fine hotel on the eastern coast. The interior proved to be a comfortable, homey place for visitors to relax after long journeys or a day of hiking.
The park’s reputation and the new accommodations led Yellowstone to receive nearly 14,000 visitors during the inn’s first year. Within the decade, average yearly visits jumped to around 21,500 visitors.
As railroads transferred more and more tourists to the park, Reamer was once again commissioned to expand the inn’s design to include two new additions – an east and west wing. Less ostentatious than the original Old House, both wings have flat roofs and allow for the attention of guests to remain on the grandeur of the original building.
The Old Faithfull Inn is one of the first large-scale examples of parkitecture within the National Park System. Its use of shingles is one of the most original examples of the “shingle-style” today. Eighty-three years after the inn first opened its doors to guests, it officially earned its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1987. It remains a comforting stop for travelers in the park.
Rustic Structures in Iconic Settings
The Old Faithful Inn wasn’t Reamer’s only contribution to Yellowstone National Park. He expanded his vision of rustic architecture through his design of the Mammoth Hotel Cottages (1938) using a bungalow style that played off this same “back-to-nature” look. He was also responsible for the park’s Lake Hotel and the Mammoth Hot Spring Hotel.
Reamer’s work and reputation earned him the opportunity to design the Grand Canyon Hotel, also found within Yellowstone. Unfortunately, it was closed due to foundational issues in 1958, and then caught fire in 1960, pre-empting its demolition.
Meanwhile, the Executive House he created in 1908 is considered the only remaining example of Prairie Style architecture in the Rockies and seems to be inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Today, it serves as the home of the general manager of the hotel company, as it was originally built for Harry Child, former president of the Yellowstone Park Association.
Despite the wide variety of projects that he worked on, architectural historians are unable to pinpoint Reamer’s influences. The Old Faithful Inn shows signs of Scandinavian influences, with its Shingle style on the veneer and a French tone used to create the roof of the West Wing.
Other structures, such as Harry Child’s house, appear to mirror aspects of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings and the Arts and Crafts movement played heavily into many of his designs. Still other projects have touches of rustic or Prairie style.
His architectural versatility sets Reamer apart as a “master of all styles,” having successfully drawn on a variety of influences to meet the demands of his clients. The one feature that does tie his work together is his creative use of windows and lighting, using different type of window configurations to create beautiful and well-lit spaces throughout his portfolio.
An Architect’s Enduring Legacy
Robert Reamer’s name was often mistyped. He was given credit for work he was not responsible for, and not recognized for many projects he did manage. Any accounts of Reamer from his daughter, friends, and associates describe him as a solitary man with a serious disposition and no tendency towards the flamboyant.
So, who was this talented architect, capable of mastering so many styles and creating one of the National Park System’s greatest buildings at such a young age?
In 1873, Robert C. Reamer was born in Oberlin, Ohio. By the age of 12, he dropped out of school, studied art from home for one year, then moved in with relatives in Detroit at the age of 13. He started working at an architectural firm there until 1891, when he moved to Chicago to design furniture. In 1895, he began working in San Diego, California with another architect and ultimately received his first invitation to Yellowstone by Harry Child.
Reamer was not the only architect to influence the structures in Yellowstone National Park, but his work in the park for 34 years and his involvement in almost every architectural project between 1903 and 1937 make him an indelible piece of history in one of the park system’s most iconic parks.
After 1920, Reamer worked from his office in Seattle, though he continued to design for Yellowstone and visited the park each year. The amputation of his leg in 1936 did not prevent him from pursuing the work that he held so dear to his heart. He continued until just two months before his death in 1938. He was 64 years old.
Although his name is not always remembered, the Old Faithful Inn and other recognizable structures throughout Yellowstone National Park continue the legacy of Robert Reamer. His buildings continue to welcome visitors to the parks, allowing them to continue their park experience, even as they come indoors. Next time you #FindYourPark, be sure to learn more about the buildings within, crafted thoughtfully by such architects as Mary Colter, Herbert Maier, and Robert Reamer.