Historic Howdy Hotel at 8th and Main in Forsyth changes hands

Christy Suits
Yellowstone Newspapers

The Howdy Hotel at the corner of 8th and Main has been a familiar landmark to Forsyth residents since its construction began in 1903.

It’s now in the hands of new owners —  Tony Grause and Christine Smith, formerly of Iowa.

Designed by Montana architects Link and Haire, the building mirrors traditional Renaissance Revival design, which organized large buildings into horizontal layers, with each floor becoming increasingly more refined. Rusticated stone was often used in this style of architecture, making the first floor seem rougher than the upper levels, an effect achieved here through brickwork. 

Decorative brickwork marks this impressive hotel with a diamond pattern of light and dark brick, providing a decorative band below the cornice, while raised brickwork divides the building vertically, and a smooth belt line separates the street facade from the upper levels. 

Construction began in 1903, and the first two stories were opened in 1904. The project continued through 1906 when the third floor was completed, making it the largest building in Forsyth. Owner and pioneer entrepreneur Hiram Marcyes christened it the Commercial Hotel.

Marcyes, who owned a brickyard south of town, wanted a building that would last through time. He built the foundation and building out of his own bricks, making the walls three feet thick. A 1905 newspaper article gave him credit for constructing the largest building in the city.

Marcyes’ two daughters, Ida Clarke and Grace Dean, took over management in 1918. Since its construction, the hotel has been owned and operated by four generations of Marcyes family. 

By 1923, the hotel was saddled with debt, both as a result of the Depression and the sisters having to buy out their brother’s share of the hotel. The Commercial made it through the Great Depression of the 1930s, but just barely. Some years the hotel only showed $1,400 in profit, and that had to be split between the two sisters.

By the time Grace died in 1935, the debt was paid off. Her son, Walter Dean, took over managing the hotel with Ida. As a 10-year-old child in Forsyth during the flu pandemic of 1919, Walter was assigned the task of knocking on doors  in the hotel every morning. If his knock went unanswered, an adult was sent to check on the occupant. Many were found dead. 

Walter and Ida ran the place until 1950 when a local businessman, John “Butch” Snedker, bought Ida’s share. Soon after, as a result of a local contest amid a wave of Old West nostalgia in the early 1950s, the Commercial Hotel became the Howdy Hotel. 

To match the new Western theme, Walter Dean added knotty-pine paneling to the Howdy, and during a major renovation, he enclosed the front porch, remodeled the lobby into a bar, and the bar into a lobby.

In 1975, Dean’s daughter Jan and her husband Max Bauer bought out Butch Snedker, and relocated to Forsyth from San Francisco. Earlier this month, after 42 years of ownershihp, Max and Jan sold the Howdy Hotel to Grause and Smith. 

Grause and Smith came to Forsyth about a month ago, to “get a feel for it,” says Jan. The couple officially took over on Oct. 4.

What prompted the sale of the property that had been in her family for 112 years? “Age,” Jan said. “We needed to have a little time to so some things that we want to do. There just comes a time when you need to get out. We were getting tired.”

The decision to sell was a difficult one to make, Jan said. “It was extremely hard. When we first talked about it, I cried. It takes me a long time to get used to things.”

She continued, “I asked Max one day how he felt about not going down there every day; if it felt weird. He said, ‘Not at all.’ He was ready to be done.”

Although looking forward to finally being retired, the change in routine is taking some getting used to for the Bauers. “You’re just on the go all the time; every day, there at 7 a.m., seven days a week for 42 years,” Jan commented. “Max is wandering around the house wondering what he’s supposed to be doing now. It’s hard to get out of a habit like that.”

When it was built, the hotel was used primarily for railroad passengers and crews. In the early days, a hotel clerk met each Northern Pacific train and cried out, “Commercial, Commercial Hotel!” to advertise the hotel to people getting off the train. Railroaders have continued to be loyal customers, and Jan says she’s going to miss them. 

“I really enjoyed the people,” Jan said. “I did mostly housekeeping; Max took care of the bar and cafe. There were a lot of railroaders who were really nice people, and I’m going to miss that contact.”

Jan continued, “We’ve had some really great people to work with. Becky Anderson and Jim Blaisdell have been wonderful; Diane Johnson - we couldn’t have done without her in the bar.”

Jan continued, “It’s hard to go in there and realize it’s not my place any more, to realize I’m not the owner. We’d just like to thank everyone for their business over the years; we really appreciate it. It’s going to be hard to let go.”