Gillen Hotel opened doors in 1903

By: Nancy Hagman, Colfax Record Correspondent
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Dan Gillen had been a conductor out of Sacramento for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. He knew the need for a good hotel at the junction of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge and the main transcontinental line in Colfax was ripe.

Gillen purchased a plot of land from Dan A. Russell, located near both tracks at the corner of Grass Valley and Auburn streets. In the spring of 1903, he opened the doors to the newly constructed Gillen Hotel. Two years later, the old passenger depot on Depot Street burnt to the ground. A new passenger depot facility was constructed at its present location,  just a short distance south of the hotel.

Gillen added a pavilion for dances and other events. He electrified the whole facility and parts of downtown with his own power plant, thus making a grand central destination for travelers and locals alike. The hall was used for various town meetings, like the organizing group for the 4th of July and grammar school graduation exercises.

Gillen was a genial host and a responsible public citizen. During the summer, he would organize excursion rides on the NCNG to Olympia Park – a swimming pool between Grass Valley and Nevada City. An accomplished swimmer himself, he was dedicated to seeing that all the children learned to swim.

On April 14, 1910, a special meeting was called by the board of trustees of the newly incorporated City of Colfax. Present were mayor J. M. Newman, H. Thomas, W.J. McCleary and N.T. Collins. Applications and bonds for saloon licenses following were approved and granted. Among the seven was D.C. Gillen.

The hostelry had been incorporated from the beginning as the Colfax Hotel Company, which adds confusion to the story. C.E. and Margaret Skidmore bought the property in an after-tax sale in 1919. It was perhaps at this time that Fred Marvin leased the building and renamed it the Marvin Hotel and called his own hotel, located across Grass Valley Street, the Marvin Annex.

Marvin had come to Colfax in 1892 and ran the restaurant in the original depot. When that burned in 1905, he built a hotel and restaurant opposite the Gillen on Grass Valley Street.

After Fred Marvin’s death in 1923, his wife, Mary Belle, sold the lease to Fred C. Dill and A.A. McKee. After some renovations, they opened as the Colfax Hotel. Mary Belle retained the Marvin name on her hotel – she called it the Marvin Inn – until it burned down in 1939.

In 1925, the Colfax Hotel Company sold the property to George E. West – purportedly for $10, according to West’s great-grandson and Colfax native, Mike Maynard. Upon West’s death in 1933, ownership was retained by his wife Frances E. (Emma) West and his son Francis West. 

The hotel continued in successful operation until the advent of Interstate 80 and the shut down of passenger service at the train depot in the early 1970s.