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Stevensville Hotel, Bitterroot Valley, Montana

Stevensville Hotel

Stevensville Hotel

In June 2004, Gene Mim Mack and Robbie Springs purchased a piece of property in Stevensville with a profoundly rich history—more worthy of safeguarding, and of greater historical distinction, than just about any other structure in town.The building’s commanding historical presence and the community’s fondness and respect for its history convinced the couple that it was ideal or renovating into a fully functioning hotel. Since that time, they’ve added elegant décor, improved its operational capacity and usefulness, and revived its function.

“Knowing [that] this place meant so much to so many people is what put us over the top,” says Gene, whose past experiences in construction circles involved home and commercial building projects in Alaska. “The intensity of the experiences that people had here really made us say ‘yes,’” he adds. “This building is irreplaceable to many people.”

History of Stevensville Hotel

For more than 100 years, the building now operating as the Stevensville Hotel, located at 107 E. Third Street, has played a decidedly important and influential role in Stevensville life. Originally constructed in 1910 by Dr. William Thornton, it served the entire Bitterroot Valley as the area’s first hospital. Modeled in the Classic Revival style with contorted windows, dormers, and white Tuscan columns buttressing the two-story balcony with spindled railings, the medical center was complete with the most modern of equipment.

After Dr. Thornton moved to Missoula in 1917, a new owner, Dr. P.S. Rennick, reshaped the hospital in the late 1920s, enlarging the sun porch and altering the west dormers. The health facility continued under Dr. Rennick’s administration until his death in 1939. Years later, the building was reopened as a rest home and a boarding house. The former Thornton Hospital then sat vacant for many years before being utilized briefly, albeit unsuccessfully, as an athletic club, as a childcare facility, and then as an investment property. In 1999, the building opened as the Stevensville Hotel. Five years later, Gene and Robbie purchased the unadorned superstructure, bringing with them the decorative tact and taste it was previously lacking.

“This building has been a part of Stevensville for so long that people are really attached to it,” says Robbie. “So, it’s not hard to understand how we were able to see past 60 years of neglect and find the beauty in [it].”

Stevensville Hotel Restorations

For the past five years, Gene and Robbie have imparted new aesthetic vigor into the old edifice through various repairing and remodeling projects. The act of improving the substandard structure and renewing it to its former esteemed condition, required obvious amounts of energy, exertion, and passion. Creative enterprises began with lots of stripping, sanding, and painting work, followed by considerable electrical and paneling endeavors. “It’s a compliment when people think that the furniture and the lighting are original,” says Robbie.

The pair spent ample time mulling over their new hotel’s layout, design, and decorative color schemes. They mutually decided on its furniture. The couple’s goal from the beginning has been to restore the hotel without making it look brand-new. “There was nothing in the hotel when we bought it,” says Robbie. “We’ve preserved some items during the restoration, like the picture rails, the molding, the doors, and the baseboards.”

The noteworthy property is furnished with items, antiques, and local art acquired from both near and far, including fashionable tables and heirlooms bought in Hamilton, eBay purchases hauled back from Utah, and ornate dressers shipped from California.

A bold, rich palette in pleasant and eclectic colors certainly aids and enhances a strong sense of the hotel’s aura and storied past; in an effort to preserve the certain historical ambience and age, there are no TVs in the rooms. Both Gene and Robbie encourage an atmosphere at the hotel in which people communicate freely and frequently. “There are no phones or televisions in the rooms so as not to have any such distractions,” says Robbie. “That makes it easier to step back in time.”

A full kitchen and additional bedroom were recently added on the main floor, and since all of the necessary inside improvements have now been completed, the couple will set their refashioning sights on a few minor exterior upgrades.

Stevensville Hotel Owners

One other thing compelled Gene and Robbie to embark upon this renovation project: a mutual, mighty love of adventure. Both Gene and Robbie grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but did not meet until years later in Alaska. They enjoy traveling and speak tenderly of the brilliant landscapes they’ve visited, studied, and lived in. In fact, Gene proposed in Tonga and the couple married in 1997 in New Zealand. Two years earlier, the couple purchased a 35-foot cutter rigged sailboat in Seattle and steered down the coast to San Francisco before sailing across the Pacific.

They then visited some of the world’s most picturesque and isolated islands: Tahiti and French Polynesia, Cook Islands, American and Western Samoa, Tonga, and, finally, New Zealand. In September 1997, their daughter, Alison, was born in Takapuna, New Zealand.

In northern Vanuatu, north of Tasmania, they discovered a small, unruffled, protected bay community called Asanvari. Gene and Robbie formed the volunteer Asanvari Peace Corp, writing grants for Asanvari residents and submitting them to foreign aid agencies. Following six months of continuously working to build structures from locally harvested materials in Vanuatu, the family spent another summer in Australia before realizing it was time for further change.

After leaving the boat Down Under and returning to the United States, this time to Montana, they soon found a new experience and fresh focal point: to restore and rediscover the fundamental physical beauty and the intrinsic purpose of one of Stevensville’s most beloved places.

Today, Gene and Robbie are quite content to be contributing to Stevensville’s extraordinarily contagious community spirit. Both are actively involved in the town’s seemingly endless civic sharing, participation, and fellowship.

“Part of this hotel’s energy is its community spirit,” says Robbie. “We try to make it available for art showings and small meetings, letting the public know that they are welcome. We enjoy keeping the personal connection that people have to this place as strong as we can.”

Dirty Shame Saloon: Brian D’Ambrosio Visits Legendary Montana Saloon

The remote Yaak River Valley, occupying the northwest tip of Montana, is home to the quiet settlement of Yaak, a tiny oasis of ruggedness set amid a dense brush of timber. An astonishing 175,000 acres remain roadless in the sequestered area near the Canadian border. Driving within its boundaries is an awesome escapade, as amazing splendor abounds: mountains, forests, the little village of Yaak, the roaring falls, and the relatively undisturbed wildlife. Rough and isolated can truly describe the region. In fact, powerful Kootenai Falls was the filming locale for the movie “The River Wild”.

dirty saloon

dirty saloon

The town is situated along Highway 508, 30 miles northeast of US 2 (starting 3 ½ miles southeast of the point where US 2 crisscrosses the Montana-Idaho state line). Road trippers who enjoy checking out places seen or frequented by relatively few travelers should not miss venturing into the Yaak River country. Not many places remain in the contiguous forty-eight states can claim to be more off the untrodden path than this remote valley in the extreme northwest corner of the Big Sky State. The Yaak is primarily owned by the Forest Service with only a minute fraction of land owned by home and business owners.

Yaak River drains a large segment of the Purcell Mountains, a range overflowing with ancient coniferous forests and modern clear-cuts. “The Yaak”, as locals refer to it, is quintessential rural Montana backwater, a private community which has attracted a diverse mix of hippies, artists and writers, ardent Second Amendment advocates, tree huggers, loggers, and wallflowers. So, don’t be surprised at the eclecticism of the patrons you will be rubbing elbows with.

The Dirty Shame has all the required national domestics on tap and a decent selection of Montana beers in the cooler. The bar can also oblige those with even Montana-sized appetites, offering a bistro-style breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. Food specialties at the Dirty Shame include chicken teriyaki, grilled albacore tuna, pastrami Reuben, and the famous Dirty Shame Burger, which comes with potato salad, coleslaw or chips and salsa. Other house lunch favorites: tomato bisque with garlic bread and grilled cheese.

The Yaak offers an excellent and exciting respite from the smoke and soot of city environs. Luddites rejoice: cell phones don’t work in the Yaak and internet access is still primarily dial-up. The Dirty Shame Saloon’s phone number is (406) 295-5439.