You might think an institution as posh and highfalutin as a grand hotel surely had its origins in Europe, serving the gentlefolk on their travels.
You might think so, but you’d be wrong.
Sure, the old country had inns and taverns and public houses aplenty, but hotels in general, and the “Grand Hotel” in particular, are uniquely American inventions, states A.K. Sandoval-Strausz, a professor of history at the University of New Mexico.
“In the first decade of the republic, Americans began to design and build a new generation of public houses,” Sandoval-Strausz wrote in his 2007 monograph, Hotel: An American History. By the third quarter of the 19th century, he claims, travelers around the world agreed that American hotels were setting the standard for hotels everywhere.
English journalist George Augustus Sala even wrote in 1861 that the “American hotel is to an English hotel what an elephant is to a periwinkle.”
Hotels sprang up in frontier boomtowns, of course, providing ostentatious accommodations for the nouveau riche. As Americans embraced tourism in the decades after the Civil War, some hotels—such as the Old Faithful Inn—became destinations in and of themselves.
Here’s a sampling of some of the grandest of the Grand Hotels of the American West. Some offer rooms for about $50 a night; in others, you can spend $1,000 or more for a suite. For our coverage, we share the summer 2013 rates ranging from the most affordable room to the most expensive suite.