Originally constructed in 1912 by Charles and Dora Charbonneau (architects - P.J. Young and Charles Charbonneau) of wood beams and stucco fascia over metal lath, the Hotel Charbonneau was one of the most popular hotels in all of the Northwestern United States from almost the moment it opened. This is primarily due to the Hotel's close proximity to the train depot and the town of Priest River's geographical location as the gateway to and from most of Northern Idaho and Washington. In the first half of the 20th century, if your destination was Priest Lake, Sandpoint, Couer D' Alene, Spokane, or any other nearby town, you came through Priest River on a train, and usually stopped for the night at the less-than-one-block-away Hotel Charbonneau.
The boom was so large that in the early 1920's the brick addition that you now see present on the hotel was added to the south side to accommodate more guests. While there were several hotels in Priest River and the surrounding area, The Hotel Charbonneau was the favorite to regular travelers and celebrities alike for its location, size, facilities, and charm. At three stories tall (which was and still is the tallest building in Priest River), the bottom floor with a restaurant, bar, and lobby, and the top two floors consisting of approximately half of the rooms having their own restrooms (a luxury for 1920), and all with considerably decent views (some premiere of the river) there is no question why the Hotel Charbonneau was favored above the rest. There are 14 rooms on the second floor, and 13 rooms on the third, a total of 27, and 31 counting the rooms on the first floor.
One noted celebrity writes about her encounter with the hotel In 1923. Nell Shipman, woman filmmaker and founder of Lionhead Lodge, a film studio at Priest Lake, was treated to a luncheon at the Hotel by the Society Ladies of Priest River (presumably in what is now the "Great Room"). This was to celebrate Nell's achievements in cinema and to thank her for purchasing the town band their uniforms. Honored, Nell gave a speech, then was serenaded by the town band in front of the Hotel. Nell was a regular at the Hotel any time she travelled to and from her studio, and so we have dubbed the premiere suite with balcony access, "The Nell Shipman Suite".
The Hotel continued its success long into the 40's, when the primary mode of transportation of most - the train - was being exchanged for more independence - the car. The Hotel's main form of business changed slightly from fully nightly rooms to a mix of nightly rentals and extended stays. In the 1940's the bar's business began to take off and as nightly rental business began to dwindle towards the end of the 1950's and early 1960's, the bar was doing most of the daily income of the Hotel. In the mid 1960's Dora Charbonneau finally sold the Hotel, and the new owners dubbed it the Hotel Lorraine (adding the small neon sign now seen on top of the Hotel, and removing the old wooden Hotel Charbonneau sign). After a quick remodel and a renaming of the bar to the "Bo-Lo Lounge", the Hotel Lorraine opened, aimed at more extended and senior stay guests. Senior guests would take delight during the warm summers of sitting out on the Balcony in their rockers and enjoying life. Initially, the new operators had grand plans for expansion. However, although this business model did sustain the daily expenses, the Hotel was in need of a complete remodel/rennovation/modernization again as it went into its eighth decade of operation, and finally in 1989, the Hotel was abandoned and sold for very little money.
Immediately, recognizing the Hotel's history and importance to local lore, the PRRRC (Priest River Restoration and Revitalization Committee) took up the daunting task of restoring the Hotel and preserving its heritage. As time went on, through the work of these tireless ladies and gentlemen, the most basic and important first steps towards restoration were taken: Addition to National Historic Registry (11/19/1991), Grant Recognition from Idaho Heritage Trust, a solid cleanup effort and two propane weathermaker furnaces were installed, among other work such as fixing holes in the North face of the building and a completely rebuilt porch on the front of the Hotel. The PRRRC finally gave up the project in the late 1990's and it passed through two hands, the first of which did a lot of electrical and drywall work to the first floor.
In September of 2004, The SeaEarth Society, a non-profit, took control of the Hotel and its carriage house (garage) and its two adjacent lots - one of which is vacant and the other which houses "Henley's 76 station" which has not been in use for some years. To read about their improvements and what the Hotel can look forward to in the next 100 years, please view the "Another 100 years" section of this website.