We may not have 1,000-year-old churches and palaces dotting our desert landscape like those that blanket the countrysides of Europe, but we do have a little thing called the Grand Canyon. And in the quaint town of Williams, just two blocks from the train depot that ferries visitors to our most majestic of chasms, lies our state’s oldest staycation haunt, the Grand Canyon Hotel.
“It’s the oldest hotel in Arizona,” says Amy Fredrickson, who purchased the inn with her husband Oscar in 2004. It opened in 1891 as a “European boutique hotel,” and did a brisk business for several decades, with guests including King Chulalongkorn of Siam, General John J. Pershing, various Vanderbilts and Scottish-American naturalist John Muir, who lodged there four times, according to the hotel’s centenarian ledgers Fredrickson encased for safekeeping. The hotel petered out around 1970. “Route 66 had been bypassed and the town kind of slowed down, and the people running the hotel just closed and sold it,” Fredrickson says. “It sat empty for 35 years.”
Then the Fredricksons came along and fell in love with the fixer-upper. “From the first time we walked in, you could just feel the personality,” Fredrickson says. “It always felt like a good vibe. She had great bone structure. Her floors are crooked, which I love. There’s nothing plum. She just has a lot of character.” After some historical-preservation-minded renovations, they opened for business and have seen travelers from near and far over the last 12 years, including some old regulars.
“A lot of people came [who] had worked in what was the soda fountain when they were younger,” she says. “I had a really cute couple come through one time. [Their original visit] was just after [World War II], and they stayed in the hotel on their honeymoon. And they came back [recently]. They were cute because they were trying to recapture their memory.”
While many things have changed and rates have gone up in the century the Grand Canyon Hotel has stood – in 1891 it was “about 25 cents for a room, something really extravagant like that” – it does still have some original features, including the floors in the lobby and upstairs, and brick walls and plaster in the lobby.
“No original plumbing, though,” Fredrickson says with a laugh.
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