By Stacy Bronec, Photos by Colette Longin
The road to Fort Benton can easily be missed, with travelers staying on Highway 87, headed east or west, not realizing what lies out of sight. But once you make the short drive down the hill, you’ll find a hidden gem nestled along the banks of the Missouri River.
“She stands tall and proud,” Colette Longin says of her new business, the Grand Union—Montana’s oldest operating hotel.
On June 1, 2022, Colette and her husband, Tony, took ownership of the historic hotel and restaurant. The Grand Union was built in 1882—seven years before Montana was even a state—and has gone through many ups and downs, from being a luxurious hotel in the late 1800s to being run- down and eventually closed for many years.
Previous owners, Jim and Cheryl Gagnon, purchased the boarded-up hotel in 1995, then after a multi-year and multi-million dollar restoration, they re-opened on November 2, 1997. The Gagnons successfully operated the hotel and restaurant for the next 27 years before turning over the keys last summer to the Longins.
“We were looking for something new to do in this next phase of our lives,” Colette says. “We’re entrepreneurs at heart.”
The Longins have been business owners in downtown Great Falls for the past two decades, one business specializing in appliances and furniture. After seeing a decline in retail businesses during COVID-19, they were looking for their next adventure.
The couple frequently visited the Grand Union over the years for special occasions and loved the potential they saw with it.
“I’ve always loved the hospitality industry, and Fort Benton is such a cool place,” Colette says. “Getting a piece of Montana history was the icing on the cake.”
“The love for the Grand Union endures because it’s such a big part of Montana history. People love history,” Colette says of the visitors they receive from all over the world and country.
During the off-season, they mostly see locals and businesspeople traveling through. But during the summer, Fort Benton and the Grand Union are a destination hotspot.
And this summer, guests and locals alike will experience a more comfortable but still elevated feeling at the Grand Union.
This winter, the Longins purchased the Banque Club, a historic bar across the street from the Grand Union. The Union Grille, the restaurant inside the hotel, currently only has a wine and beer license, but with the purchase of the Banque Club, the Grand Union will now have a full liquor license. Starting this spring, guests can sip on spirits in addition to beer and wine while feasting on their farm-to-table menu. Additionally, the Longins plan to expand the patio and add lounge seating.
“People will be able to have a glass of wine, sit along the river, and just be,” says Colette. “Right now, the Grand Union is really just a place where you can eat and sleep, and we want to take advantage of our outdoor space and be a place where people can gather with friends.”
They plan to paint the Banque Club’s outside to match the Grand Union’s exterior. Eventually, they will remodel the first floor of the Banque Club to be used as additional event space. More renovations will also occur inside the Grand Union, with changes to the Lewis & Clark room and a small bar remodel to accommodate their new spirits.
“We’re looking forward to an exciting summer!” Colette says about their plans for live music and farm-to-table events.
According to Colette, other local business owners have expressed that the Grand Union is an anchor for the town. Business overflows from the historic hotel into the community—
their success means success for the community as a whole.
“Visitors come to float the river, then stay the night with us, then they walk downtown shopping at the other businesses,” she says.
“The Grand Union is an icon for this community. Our wish is to bring that to more people.” Colette adds, “Fort Benton is a special place.”
The Grand Union is located at 1 Grand Union Square in Fort Benton. For more information, follow them on Facebook and Instagram or visit grandunionhotel.com.