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The Historic Noble Hotel:
Where Rails End and Trails Begin

By Ethan Meers
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2002, Vol. 18, No. 1

  Noble Lobby
  The bustling Noble, where students gather to call home, play the guitar, and swap stories and legends about their time in the mountains.
© Brad Christensen
Early travelers to the Noble Hotel must have also seen it as a passageway to adventure and new experiences. With the arrival of the railroad, Lander was perfectly positioned to serve as a jumping-off place and begin harvesting the early profits of Wyoming’s fledgling tourist industry.

As the most popular destination in the state, Yellowstone National Park was then a measuring stick for the tide of tourists visiting Wyoming. In 1895, though it had existed for 23 years, Yellowstone saw only 5,438 visitors. By 1906, 17,102 people came to the park and by 1922 visitors numbered 98,225. As the park became more accessible through the development of automobiles and the construction of roads, the money to be made off visitors grew. It’s no coincidence that initial construction on the Noble coincided almost exactly with the completion of the road over Togwotee Pass, connecting Dubois to Moran Junction, which ultimately connected Lander to Yellowstone.

The man who first conceived of the Noble was an early entrepreneur named H. O. Barber. There is little documentation on Barber but it seems he came to Wyoming sometime around 1905 and made some money through the acquisition of coal mines.

Barber recognized the economic potential of Wyoming’s growing tourist industry and in 1917 began work on a new luxury hotel in Lander. Named the Noble, many have speculated that Barber bestowed the name to attract the capital of Fred Noble, who owned the lot that the building was built on and the lumber company that supplied the hotel’s wood.

Built to draw Eastern tourists accustomed to a level of luxury relatively unavailable in the West, Barber meant the Noble to be “the swellest hotel west of the Mississippi.” Accordingly he furnished the building with Italian tile, mahogany walls and lavish furniture. A 1918 article in The Wind River Mountaineer advertised the hotel by claiming, “the main dining hall, which with the grill has a seating capacity of 100 persons, is a gem of artistic beauty, with ivory beams, cream finish, ceiling mahogany and marble, and floral mural decorations.” A special room in the basement enabled the hotel to serve fresh ice cream year round. Other rooms in the building included a smoking lounge, supplied by the Smokery shop in the lobby, and a sun parlor. The hotel was “noted for its fine silver, cut glass, and fancy linens.”

Incorporating a main street storefront complete with a bank and jewelry store, Barber’s building was also one of the first to have electricity in the state. Of the 61 rooms, 50 had private baths; all had hot and cold running water and telephone service.

Though luxury was a necessity, Barber’s main attraction was Wyoming’s wilderness. It was the awe-inspiring natural beauty of the state, particularly associated with Yellowstone at that time, that would sell rooms at the Noble.

In March of 1922 the Lander Evening Post ran a headline reading “The Lander-Yellowstone Bus Line Between Here and Park Established.” The article summarized a deal between the Chicago Northwestern Railroad and the Lander-Yellowstone Transpor-tation Co. in which the railroad agreed to promote travel to Yellowstone through Lander and consequently the Noble via the Yellowstone Transportation Company’s bus route through Dubois and over Togwotee pass. Barber was one of the major investors in the Yellowstone Transportation Comp-any. Through his networking and capital, he was able to establish a virtual monopoly on tourist travel into Yellow-stone National Park via the southern route. In the seven years from 1922 to 1929 Yellowstone’s annual visitors jumped from 98,225 to 260,697 and Barber’s businesses surely profited from this increase.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


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