SW National Parks Trip: Grand Canyon Village

In my last post, I told you about our hike along the Grand Canyon’s Rim Trail, which ended up in the Grand Canyon Village.  The Village is a village that sprung up at the northern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railroad, which goes from Williams, AZ, to the south rim.  It was completed by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1901.  Technically the village is a census-designated place (CDP) with a population of 2,004 people.  A CDP is a community where people live that resembles a city or town, but lacks an incorporated government.

Grand Canyon Village is also a National Historic Landmark District, so designated because of the historical significance of many of the buildings that are in the core village area.  To be designated as a National Historic Landmark District, it must have historical significance on a national level.  Here are a few of the historic buildings that we visited on our trip:

El Tovar Hotel – The El Tovar Hotel was a Harvey House hotel (remember a few posts back when I told you about Harvey girls at the Painted Desert?)  Yep, the Fred Harvey Company owned this place too; it opened in January 1905.  It was built in an architectural style that became known as National Park Service Rustic, similar to the Swiss Chalet style – it was made from local limestone and Oregon pine trees.  The hotel originally had 103 rooms and 21 bathrooms, which have now been remodeled into 78 guestrooms, all with a private bath.  The hotel also has a dining room that serves lunch and dinner, and a breakfast room.  The views from the rooms must be stunning, as it sits only 20 feet from the rim.

El Tovar Hotel – Built 1903-1903 – National Park Service Rustic style.

El Tovar Hotel – Built 1903-1903 – National Park Service Rustic style.

You can stay there, but you have to book well in advance.  And it isn’t cheap, with a standard queen room setting you back $228.  But you just might rub elbows with the rich and famous – Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Zane Grey, Bill Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney have all stayed there.  I was a bit put off by the decor though, the log walls are stained a very dark brown, black really, and adorned with all variety of animal heads.  YUCK.

Dead Heads Inside the El Tovar Hotel

Dead Heads Inside the El Tovar Hotel

Kolb Studio – If 20 feet from the edge of the canyon isn’t close enough for you, you can visit the Kolb Studio, which is built hanging over the edge at the head of the Bright Angel Trail.  The Kolb Brothers, Emery and Ellsworth, built a modest cabin to serve as a home and photographic studio.  In an agreement with the owner of a mining claim who owned the property, they set up a tollbooth and charged $1 per head for livestock traveling down into the canyon.  And they made a living photographing the tourists who were riding those mules.

Kolb Studio – Built 1904 – Perched above the Bright Angel Trail

Kolb Studio – Built 1904 – Perched above the Bright Angel Trail

Over the years they grew the business, pioneered new photography techniques and became known for their stunning landscapes of the canyon.  They even made a movie of their trip down the Colorado River in the winter of 1911-1912.  This movie holds the record for the longest continually running movie in history, because after its tour around the United States, Emery Kolb showed the movie at the studio every day from 1915 to 1972.

The National Park Service acquired Kolb Studio after Emery’s death in 1976; it now operates the five story, 23 room studio as a bookstore and gallery.

Verkamp’s Curios – John George Verkamp came out from Ohio in 1898, and went to work for the Babbitt brothers, owners of a cattle ranch and mercantile store, selling curios and Native America crafts to tourists visiting the canyon.  However, he found that at the time, there weren’t enough tourists to make a living, so he closed up his tent within a couple of weeks.  He realized however, that after the railroad to the south rim and the hotel were built, there would be plenty of tourists itching to part with some cash.  And he was right.  The building that exists today was built in 1906, and Verkamp sold not only high priced Native American crafts, but also postcards and trinkets for the common man.  The building is a modified Mission architectural style.

Verkamps Curio Shop – Built 1906 – Modified Mission Style

Verkamps Curio Shop – Built 1906 – Modified Mission Style

John Verkamp died in 1944, and the concession contract was almost not renewed; the Fred Harvey Company was eying the plot of land for a hotel and casino.  John’s wife and children did manage to get a renewal of the contract, although sadly, talk of demolishing the structure continued into the 1970s.  In 2006, the curio shop celebrated its 100th anniversary.  Although the family had hired managers to run the business, they still oversaw it through a Board, making it the oldest family owned concessionaire in the park.  In 2008, they finally decided to close the business, and the Park Service, thankfully no longer wanting to demolish the building, turned it into a museum and gift shop.

I’ll tell you about a few more historic structures in the Grand Canyon Village in my next post – I enjoyed seeing them and imagining what it would have been like to be a tourist there 100 years ago!


8 thoughts on “SW National Parks Trip: Grand Canyon Village

  1. We had breakfast at El Tovar. It was a stunning view, and when we walked up, there were mule deer grazing in the yard. They used to have their own greenhouse and dairy farm. Talk about local! But it wasn’t to be trendy. It was because it took too long to bring food in by train. Thanks for bringing back happy memories!

  2. I stayed st El Tovar once, about 20 years ago. The view from the room was spectacular.

    If you ever get to Phoenix, the State Capitol museum has an exhibit on the Harvey girls. I’d never heard of them until I saw it about s year ago.

    I agree: the history of tourism is very interesting. Who knew that there were 200 year old tourist gift shops out there.

    • It has been a few years since I’ve been in Phoenix, and we opted for the Heard Museum instead on that trip. I’ll have to make a note to get there! I hadn’t heard of the Harvey Girls until this trip either!

      And it is comforting to me that my need (compulsion? 🙂 ) to have a trinket from my travels in firmly rooted in genetics and passed down by generations of ancestors!

  3. Pingback: SW National Parks Trip: Hiking into the Grand Canyon | Wine and History Visited

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