By Nikki Buchanan | Photo by Tim Fuller
Molly Butler Lodge, which officially opened in 1910, two years before statehood, is the oldest continually operating lodge in Arizona. And get this: John Wayne slept here. Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Zane Grey also bunked with Molly and family, alongside legions of frontiersmen who came to the White Mountains to hunt, trap and fish in the early 1900s.
Back in the day, the tiny Mormon settlement (later known as Greer) in which the Butlers lived offered pristine woodlands, verdant meadows and the Little Colorado River, which teemed with trout. But the town offered little in the way of creature comforts, so visitors agreed to do chores around John and Molly Butler's homestead in exchange for a hot meal and a roof over their heads. In 1910, Molly's enterprising daughter, Hannah, suggested the family start charging visitors 25 cents per meal. The Butler Lodge was born.
Molly passed away in the 1960s, and Hannah built an updated but still rustic structure on the site of the original family home a decade later, creating two dining rooms, a bar, a cozy fireplace-furnished anteroom and four small guestrooms. She renamed the business Molly Butler Lodge.
When Allan Johnson bought the property five years ago, he soon learned that the lodge remained the heart and soul of this small community (population 147), which explodes to between 2,500 and 3,000 heat-crazed people come summer. These days, locals still drop in for beer, pool, gossip, Wednesday-night poker and hearty, comfort-food dinners (including exceptional prime rib chili, culled from the White House cookbook Hoover left to the Butlers as a gift).
Visitors are more likely to be lured by the shaded front deck, which boasts a massive stone fireplace and spectacular views; the game room, featuring competition shuffleboard and a 64-inch TV with Nintendo Wii; and a never-ending roster of events, including live music every weekend. For folks who relish being in the thick of it, the cowboy-chic guestrooms attached to the lodge are irresistible ($75-$125). Decorated with reclaimed wood, cowboy artifacts, pressed-tin ceilings, trendy lamps and plush retro pillows, they're snug, hip and dangerously convenient to the bar. For lovers of peace, quiet and privacy, the lodge also offers 50 anything-but-cookie-cutter rental cabins — some small and rustic, others commodious and luxurious ($95-$595). By the end of 2012, renovation of The Longhouse (one of the original buildings) will be complete, offering four luxury suites decorated in period style. Wouldn't Molly be proud?
Molly Butler Lodge is located at 109 E. Main Street in Greer. The Lodge Chop House, open every day but Thanksgiving and Christmas, serves dinner only, starting at 5 p.m. For more information, call 928-735-7617 or visit www.mollybutlerlodge.com.