This grandiose, three-story Italianate style hotel welcomed weary river travelers to the Gateway of the Northwest, offering guests a luxurious refuge before setting out for less civilized destinations. Its opening in 1882 came at the end of the steamboat era, when Fort Benton was still an unchallenged commercial hub. The very next year, however, the Northern Pacific transcontinental line was completed across Montana, diminishing the town's position as a commercial center. Constructed of soft local brick with intricate corbelling and distinctive windows, the "Waldorf of the West" featured a saloon, dining room, a saddle room for cowboys to store their gear in winter, and a secret lookout room where guards could supervise gold shipments. A separate ladies' stairway led to elegant parlors since women never entered rooms adjoining saloons. Each room had handsome black walnut, marble-topped furnishings and, originally, its own woodstove and fancy chimney. From its vantage point near the docks, the Grand Union presided over the arrival of everything from stamp mills to grand pianos, brought by steamboat and transferred to ox-team freight wagons. The fine design by architect Thomas Tweedy reflects a prosperous and optimistic town, unaware of the imminent coming of the railroad and its disastrous effects on the town's economy.