Sunday, July 14, 2024

From poor farm to mountain manor

Staff Writer | February 9, 2024 1:05 AM

SILVERTON — Elizabeth Allison took a pandemic trip to Idaho which wound up changing her family’s whole business trajectory. A looming building off the highway in Silverton compelled her to take the nearest exit and see who owned the structure.

As she drew closer, she saw the parking lot was barricaded and trash was everywhere. The large building was boarded up and barbecues were chained to the front porch. After knocking on doors, she was eventually able to determine who the owner was and express her interest in the property.

When she let her husband, Gerald Allison, know of her new passion, he was markedly less certain about the venture.

“Come home,” he pleaded.

When her interest remained steady, he decided to check out the property and assess it for himself. He came around to her passion for the structure and within two weeks, they owned the property.

“This was our COVID project,” Elizabeth recalled. “I fell in love with it, but it was 40,000 square feet and full of trash.”

While the couple had run businesses together before, neither had experience with running a hotel or a restaurant, but nonetheless, that’s what the Silverton property became.

"Kids had gotten in and there was graffiti everywhere. They had broken everything, all the lights, and there was glass everywhere. The trash in the east wing didn’t allow you to open the bedrooms there, the trash was just so tall, but we started down the path of restoration for the building,” Elizabeth said.

The roof was repaired, several dumpsters of garbage disposed of, water lines reinstated, and then the intricate work began for the Allisons.

“She’s been a pastry chef and in the event business for most of her life, and I’ve been a contractor most of my life. It’s a good combination, and it goes hand in hand with this building in particular,” Gerald said.

Poor farm to mountain manor

As they have learned about the history of the building, the Allisons have become entrenched in the process of placing the property on the National Historic Registry.

“It’s a unique part of history and we wanted to share it. We were just going to use it as a secondary home, but then we decided through a series of events to actually make this our home,” Elizabeth said.

The photo they’ve been able to find for the building dates back to 1910 through the University of Idaho’s records, although patents from 1891 have been recovered in the basement for specialized handles and other tools.

“It was originally built as a poor farm and infirmary. They were built as a way to take care of people that couldn’t take care of themselves. It was essentially our welfare system in the 1800s, early 1900s,” Elizabeth said.

Counties like Shoshone County had poor farms and larger cities had poor houses.

“I know the Silver Valley poor farm had eggs and milk, meat and different things for people to eat. The whole front part was a cut flower garden and they had orchards here,” Elizabeth said.

Having met a descendent of one of the neighboring homesteaders for the poor farm, they’re trying to locate photographic evidence to better ascertain the timeline for the building.

“The water line exists in Silverton because of this building, and it was the first thing down here. There were two family farmers, one at the top of the hill and one at the bottom,” Gerald said.

After its time as a poor farm, the building was used by the U.S. Forest Service from 1974 to 2007. 

“This was their headquarters for the whole Panhandle,” Gerald said.

After they talked to more residents who remembered this particular era from the building’s history, Gerald said he now can almost picture the fights over tree removal which used to take place in the main area now used as an event space.

Most of the architecture making up the structure is Georgian architecture and the building still uses steam radiators.

The Forest Service kept up with maintaining the bones of the property while they used it as their headquarters, but after they left, the building fell into disrepair and trespassers broke glass throughout the structure.

“We fixed the windows for two months. There’s 167 pieces of glass we’ve done so far and still about 30 to go here and there,” Gerald said.

In June, the Allisons opened the first room to rent and added a room every month or so until November when they opened The Spruce restaurant. Elizabeth said they pride themselves on sticking to old-school cuisine without frying any foods.

Murder mysteries and a seven-course dinner both take place once a month at the Manor and the Kellogg High School winter formal recently took place at Silverton Mountain Manor.

The Allisons are hoping to eventually restore the second-floor spaces, including an Irish pub, theater and conference room.

“For me, it was trying to keep the building looking like it usually did, but keeping modern amenities within, and she’s done a fantastic job,” Gerald said.

Elizabeth said her goal is mainly to try and bring some old-fashioned cultural niceties back to create quiet moments to connect with other people.

“Our slogan is 'our place is your place,' which I think fits. We want them to walk away feeling like they made friends and have a connection to this place,” Elizabeth said.

    A restored bathroom at Silverton Mountain Manor.
    Elizabeth and Gerald Allison stand in front of the digital fireplace at Silverton Mountain Manor. The two began opening hotel rooms one by one in mid-2023 and opened the restaurant in November.
    Elizabeth Allison hand-painted flowers on this four-poster bedframe at Silverton Mountain Manor.
    The Snowy Owl room at Silverton Mountain Manor.
    The Sparrow Springs room at Silverton Mountain Manor hosts a running bird theme.