In the 1890s a Loveland businessman named Frank Bartholf acquired land located at the confluence of the Big Thompson River and the North Fork of the Big Thompson, and built a homestead cabin with the intention of using it as a base operation for his ranch. Locals referred to the property as “The Forks”. The stepson of Mariano Medina, Louis Papa, was employed to manage the cattle Bartholf kept on the property.
Although the cattle operation was successful there were other opportunities for Mr. Bartholf. In 1903 bids were posted for a road to be constructed through the Big Thompson Canyon because the only viable road at the time went from Loveland to Pinewood Park to Bald Mountain, and on to Estes Park, and access to the lower portion of the Big Thompson Canyon was limited to a dangerous, steep, single-lane wagon road that descended Dickson Gulch and continued through the canyon by way of Cedar Cove. The ascent and descent were more than five hundred in less than two miles.
After the new road was completed The Narrows provide a level route with a constant grade and one that allowed for automobile traffic from Loveland to Estes Park.
Anticipating business Mr. Bartholf built the Forks Hotel around the existing cabin on his property, and named the locale “Drake” for Colorado State Senator William A. Drake of Larimer County, who helped Mr. Bartholf secure a post office for the locale. The post office was located inside of the Forks Hotel.
With the establishing of the community Mr. Bartholf also requested and secured a post office, which was located inside his hotel. The first postmistress for Drake was Mr. Bartholf’s daughter, Ella Van Bramer.
The hotel proved a success because horse-drawn stages and carriages often stopped for meals at the restaurant and the livery provided fresh horses.
Despite his accomplishment Mr. Bartholf did not remain in the hotel business. In 1906 Frank Alderdyce bought the hotel and became the postmaster for Drake.
In 1912 Enoch J. (Joe) Mills, the brother of well-known naturalist Enos Mills, managed the Forks Hotel for Mr. Alderdyce, and found inspiration for his own business. In time Mr. Mills and his wife built The Crags, which is located on the north side of Prospect Mountain above Estes Park, CO.
Over the years the Forks Hotel was sold again and again, and in 1973 the post office was moved to its own building.
In 1973 the Big Thompson flood destroyed many homes and motels in the Drake, including most of the cabins belonging to the Forks Hotel. The hotel was unscathed.
The Forks Hotel remains in business today, under the name of “The River Forks Inn”, and has been added to twice.