This beautiful brick building was built in 1910 as a hotel to serve the travelers, ranchers, and early railroad business clientele. After a few decades, the building was not used as a hotel but rather as a number of other businesses. In August 2005, Donna Merrill, current owner, and life partner Greg Wolf–along with Greg’s cousin Mark Fritsch and wife Sharon (McPherren)–purchased the building. The four friends / relatives had four goals in mind:
- bring the building back to its original purpose as a hotel;
- protect a cornerstone building of main street and enliven the downtown of this quaint, wonderful town;
- provide jobs for local citizens and support area businesses; and,
- expose and provide access for a unique Eastern Oregon experience for our guests.
After proving the old adage “it always costs much more than you think and takes twice as long as anticipated” true, the Double Duos of Donna/Greg and Sharon/Mark opened the doors in July 2008. This followed a huge learning curve of complete reconstruction details. Thankfully, Rod Hendriksen of Prairie City served as our contractor; we literally could not have managed producing such a fabulous place without him. The building was in its 1980s configuration of doctor examination rooms downstairs and living quarters upstairs. The issue of private baths versus shared was discussed, and–with privacy winning out–the architectural drawings were completed. As Rod performed his magic, the four of us waded through many design decisions. Special credit goes to Sharon, our local connection and only ‘PCite’ among us, for her artistic handiwork in producing the beautiful framed quilt pieces and for securing all the local history and photos from local families seen throughout the Hotel.
In 2011, Mark and Sharon opted to sell their half to Greg and Donna in order to concentrate time and financial resources to their beautiful twins, Grace and Kate (who actually helped pull old carpet and haul debris out of the hotel during the construction phase at the age of 7). Although out of the official and legal side of the Hotel, the Fritschs all hold pride in the accomplishment of what has been created. In fact, Mark still conducts the “white glove test” to make sure everything is being taken care of(!), and Kate has worked at the Hotel the last two summers. It’s still a wonderful family affair!
Donna and Greg continued the Hotel upgrade with a redo of the suite’s bathroom and added an additional guest room. The biggest project was taking the former leased out space with connecting door to the hotel and creating a meeting room/beer-wine lounge. This special room turned out beautifully: tin ceiling, wainscoting, exposed brick wall and a beautiful bar made from old juniper wood. Not only do we have the bar out of juniper but also three tables–including a conference table for 10. Thus, I deemed the room the Juniper Lounge. The artisan of these juniper pieces is Dale Dooby who lives and works in Prairie City.
Greg sold his shares in 2014 and became my hotel adviser. As sole owner, I have maintained the group’s original goals while continuing to enhance the guest experience to one which envelopes them into a sense of place and community. I believe that guests come to understand why Prairie City is the wonderful small town it is today. Having restored Hotel Prairie which had such an important role in the history of Prairie City, I now hope to not only continually increase guest comfort but to guide the Hotel into an important role in the economic future of this wonderful rural town. — Donna