The Stanley Hotel, known for its architecture, magnificent setting and famous visitors, may possibly be best known today for its inspirational role in Stephen King’s novel, ‘The Shining’. The hotel has been featured as one of America’s most haunted hotels and with the numerous stories from visitors and staff, The Stanley Hotel continues to “shine” today, as it did in 1909 when first opened.
Forced by poor health to move West, F.O. Stanley and his famous Steamer arrived in Estes Park in 1903. Finding the town lacking in amenities, F.O. set out to change the local economy. On the 160 acres he purchased from Lord Dunraven, Stanley first built the main building of the hotel, one of 11 buildings in the original complex. Many of those original buildings remain in use today on the remaining 55 acres. Where the ice pond, water reservoir and 9-hole golf course once stood, you may now see a lone coyote or a grazing herd of elk.
Construction of the Main Building began in 1907 and took two years to complete. It was built with steel support beams and timber cut from land now known as Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of the timber came from the Bear Lake burn in 1900, which may account for the faint smell of wood smoke that can be detected on a warm, summer day.
F.O. Stanley also helped to shape the future of tourism in Estes Park. He built the road from Lyons, over which he brought visitors, riding in a Stanley Steamer to Estes Park and The Stanley Hotel. This makes the first time in history that an automobile, instead of a train, was used to transport people to a resort area.
By his dying year in 1940, Stanley had not only built his grand hotel, but also developed a sewer, power and water company, as well as Estes Park’s first bank. F.O. was also instrumental in helping to restore wildlife to the area, promoting the establishment of Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park’s fairgrounds, Stanley Park.
Having recently celebrated 100th year in operation, The Stanley Hotel continues as the most prominent fixture in Estes Park, contributing to the economic wealth and beauty of this once rustic, mountain town.
The story of the Stanley Hotel extends back through pre-history when the Estes Valley was a wild and lonely parkland, visited from time to time by wandering tribes of Ute and Arapaho. When early settlers arrived, they stayed because, here on the frontier, they could be truly free.The Earl of Dunraven came in 1872 and jealously coveted this “sportsman’s paradise” of rushing streams and peaceful meadows alive with fish and game. Dunraven sought to possess the valley and create a private hunting preserve. However, his claims were disputed and, as more and more Americans were drawn by the natural beauty of Estes Park, he began to realize that this dream could never be. In 1903, the Yankee inventor Freelan Oscar Stanley arrived, weak and underweight from the symptoms of consumption.
One season spent in the refreshing climate of the wild valley was enough to restore his health to a formidable vigor, and he vowed to return each summer for the rest of his life. However, he and his wife Flora were used to the sophistication of East Coast society and the little community of Estes Park offered little to stimulate and challenge this multi-talented genius. They resolved to build a beautiful grand hotel, the likes of which might only be found in the resorts of the wealthy. Management of such an establishment, they thought, would provide all the diversion they desired. When the Stanley Hotel opened in 1909, the first guests, who pulled up in stylish Stanley-designed steam cars, were astonished. Here in this mountain wilderness, surrounded by the rustic haunts of the hunter and homesteader, was an edifice that withstood comparison with the posh-est hotels “back east.” Electric lights, telephones, en suite bathrooms, a staff of uniformed servants and a fleet of automobiles were at their disposal. Naturally, Stanley had also done much to develop the burgeoning town. By 1917, it was an official municipality with water-works, a power plant, and civic organizations that were all, in some way, thanks to Stanley.
His friendship with naturalist Enos Mills was forged by his tireless efforts towards the creation of the Rocky Mountain National Park, perhaps his most lasting legacy. Flora Stanley played no small part. Everything Freelan did was because of his devotion to Flora. Despite her failing eyesight, she worked among the local ladies’ organizations to help her husband accomplish his projects. By the 1970s the hotel’s splendor had faded and it had gained a reputation for being haunted. It might have continued to fade and eventually have succumbed to the wrecking ball, if not for a fortuitous visit by author Stephen King. A stay of one night was enough to inspire his third major work and first hard-cover bestseller – The Shining – which remains a landmark masterpiece in a long and well-known list of novels. More recently, the Stanley’s paranormal past has been fully embraced. After a century of collecting spirits, the hotel has become renowned by specialists and experts in the field of paranormal investigation as one of the nation’s most active sites. Chief amongst the hotel’s eternal guests are F.O. and Flora Stanley who continue to go about the business of running their beloved establishment as though they were still alive; Flora’s antique Steinway can be heard playing in the dead of night and Mr. Stanley has been captured in photographs surveying the goings-on in the Billiards Room, once his favorite place.
The hotel stands today as a beautifully-restored testament to its glory days, when it served as a holiday retreat for wealthy urbanites. A range of tours highlights the history and haunting of this magnificent historical structure while a tempting menu of amenities, culinary experiences and lavish spa treatments provides all the comfort and glamour required by even the most discerning of modern visitors. We invite you partake in all the Stanley has to offer and hope that, when you visit, you will be able to feel the mantle of time slip away and see the hotel as it once was.