The St. Elmo Hotel was built by Mrs. Kittie Heit who owned and operated the already existing Bon Ton Restaurant. The Bon Ton apparently dates from the 1880’s, as evidence by an article appearing in an 1886 edition of the Solid Muldoon, which praised:
“The Bon Ton Restaurant combines excellent fare and courteous treatment to a degree that renders living kind of homelike. It is by far the best establishment of the kind in Ouray.”
It is believed that Kittie became the owner of the Bon Ton around 1890.
Construction started on the St. Elmo, which was built next door to the restaurant, in the spring of 1897 and was completed the following spring. When finished, the restaurant was moved into the new hotel. The first newspaper ad for the hotel appeared in the “Ouray Herald” on April 21, 1898 stating:
THE ST. ELMO HOTEL
Regular boarders $1.00 per day
New and modern in all it’s appointments.
The hotel was the miner’s hotel. Aunt Kittie, as the miners called her, was a favorite of the men. She often took care of a down and out miner with a free room and/or meal. She was sympathetic to the miner’ union movement and the hotel soon became very popular for the Miners’ Union social events. The Western Federation of Labor who were self proclaimed socialists and controversial leaders of the union movement in the Western U.S. at the turn of the century, took up space in the hotel during the height of the volatile union labor activities in the San Juan region.
Kittie Heit died in May 1915 and the “Ouray Herald” paid tribute to the lady:
“Her many acts of kindness and charity are legion and she was recognized as the miners’ friend. They were always welcome at her home whether flush with money or down and out. Her hotel came about as near being a real home for the lonesome and homeless as possible and everything was done for the comfort and pleasure of “her boys.” During her residence in Ouray she had been a regular “mother” to hundreds and no one could possibly be missed more than she.”
The hotel passed from her family’s hands about 1923. It has had many owners throughout the years. Some, during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, tried hard to modernize it by changes in appearance, modern furnishings, enlarging rooms and adding baths. In the mid 1970’s efforts were made to revert the decor back to its original era. The current owners have extensively renovated the facilities and it is now attractively furnished to reflect its Victorian heritage.
The original Bon Ton building subsequently became a Chinese laundry as well as other businesses before being removed. The site is now the patio area of the hotel.
The St. Elmo Hotel is one of the few hotels in the region that has enjoyed almost continuous operation, and today operates as a small finely maintained nine room bed and breakfast inn. The hotel is furnished with fine antiques, many of which are thought to be original furnishings. The Bon Ton Restaurant, now located in the basement level of the hotel, is one of the finest restaurants on the Western slope with an award winning wine list. The hotel is listed in the National Registry of Historical buildings and is part of Ouray’s National Historic District.