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STEVENSVILLE – The large brick building at 107 E. Third St. has gone through many transformations since its construction in 1910 as a hospital – the first in the Bitterroot Valley.

Since then, it’s housed a day care center, nursing home, boardinghouse and now a hotel.

By the turn of 21st century, the building’s historic appeal had decayed. It was nothing more than an old,  rundown brick building with fluorescent light fixtures hanging in hallways and big, heavy metal doors for fire exits.

“I think (the Stevensville residents) just expected us to paint everything white and change the bedsheets,” said Robbie Springs, who purchased the building with her husband Gene Mim Mack in 2004.

Misfortune brought them to Stevensville, a place they couldn’t even find on a map back then. The couple – an adventurous, dynamic duo – had spent the previous nine years sailing the South Pacific Ocean, and only after their investments took a dive while they were away did they decide to return to the United States and pay heed to life on land.

Fate is the only explanation for how the couple came across the Stevensville Hotel.

Now, two and a half years after fate intervened, after hours of labor and many coats of paint, any community doubts that they could preserve  and restore the old building have been overwhelmingly overcome.

And through reincarnation of the building, the couple have, in a small way, reincarnated themselves.

Today, the Stevensville Hotel offers the only place for visitors and tourists to stay in the small community, and serves as one of few hotels in the Bitterroot Valley still housed in a historic building, as many of the valley’s first hotels burned or have been destroyed in the last century.

“When Robbie and Gene came, what they saw in that old building was not just oldness, but they saw an opportunity to restore it to the grandeur it had in its earlier day,” said publisher and writer Dale Burk, a Stevensville resident. “I think they came with a gift of vision. They did not just do maintenance. They put back the elegance it had before.”

The Stevensville Hotel, located just off Main Street, is hard to miss with its salmon-colored exterior – a shade it’s displayed for decades.

Dr. William Thornton built the 9,000-square-foot, two-story building in 1910 as a hospital with 17 patient rooms. The doctor’s office and residential quarters occupied the first floor. Surgical procedures were performed on the second floor.

Under the layers of first-floor carpet, Mim Mack and Springs found a wood floor that is part maple, part fir. They believe that Thornton splurged in his living quarters, laying maple flooring, and placed the less-expensive fir in the rest of the house.

But Thornton left Stevensville in 1917 and moved to Missoula to practice medicine there. Dr. P.S. Rennick bought the building and remodeled in 1928, enlarging the sun porch and altering the west dormers. The building operated as a hospital until Rennick’s death in 1939.

When remodeling the downstairs bathroom, Mim Mack and Springs found – under an old cast iron tub that needed replacing – torn 1927 newspapers from Helena and Butte stamped with Rennick’s name. That was the only evidence they’ve found linking the house to its historic inhabitants.

After Rennick’s death, the building served as a nursing home for many years, possibly until the mid-1980s, when it was left vacant. In 1999, it reopened as a boarding house.

For nine years, beginning in 1994, Mim Mack and Springs lived on a boat, sailing the South Pacific aboard a 35-foot sailboat, from the west coast of the United States to New Zealand. Upon arrival, Springs learned she was pregnant with Alison, who is now 12. So, the couple upgraded to a 60-foot sailboat and continued sailing to Fiji, Australia and other islands in the western South Pacific for the next six years, eventually arriving at an island in the Republic of Vanuatu. The island and its village of 200 indigenous people captured the family’s hearts.

Their first stay lasted six weeks, and Mim Mack began slowly helping the islanders develop their economy by building small infrastructure projects. It turned into a three-year commitment. The family helped the islanders fix their water system, as well as build a sleeping quarters and a women’s craft center.

Meanwhile, back home, financial investments in a business that went bankrupt forced the family to sell the sailboat and return to the United States. They had no home and no money. They wanted to stay in the West, but relocate somewhere affordable, and after having spent so much time in a small village, didn’t want to return to a busy, bustling city.

“In the 10 years we were gone, the country really changed,” Springs said.

“It sped up,” Mim Mack added.

Searching commercial property on eBay, the couple came across an antiques store for sale in Stevensville, a place they’d never visited. So, on a trip from San Francisco to Seattle, Wash., the couple detoured through Montana.

Wanting to stay in Stevensville to get a feel for the community, they reserved a room at the boardinghouse for five days. The couple hadn’t visited Stevensville to look at the historic hospital-turned-living quarters, but the owner of the boardinghouse learned they were in search of commercial property and asked if they’d be interested in buying the building.

“It had a historical presence that was pretty significant to Stevensville and it always served people,” said Mim Mack. “We spent three years doing just that: Serving people.”

Six months later they made an offer. Their next adventure began.

Of the seven rooms in the Stevensville Hotel, the ones on the first floor are named after doctors who occupied the building. The ones on the second floor are named after hospital functions, such as the recovery and surgery room. Mim Mack, Springs and their 12-year-old daughter live on the third floor.

No TVs occupy the building. That way visitors can enjoy the hotel’s peaceful, quiet energy, Springs said.

The focus of the renovation was to “honor the history of the building, but also give it a new, functional life as a hotel,” she said.

The couple had no historical photos of the building to consult, just a postcard of the outside.

Yet, walking into the Stevensville Hotel transports visitors to a time that is long past.

“They’ve put in that place a degree of an earlier elegance that people have come to appreciate,” Burk said. “We had no idea what they wanted to do (with the building), so we couldn’t expect much. So, we’ve been surprised and overwhelmed.

“Now it’s a focal point of many of the people in the community. When they have guest and visitors, we now recommend that place to them.”

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy@missoulian.com.

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