Nineteenth Century Hotels In The United States – Pt. 4

In the West, Middle West and Southwest in the United States the inns, taverns and hotels may be said to have “followed the flag,” because the great part of these sections became part of the Union during the nineteenth century and before their territories were added to the area of this country they were populated only by isolated bands of Red Men and generally were in a primitive state.

Naturally, a country in the hands of pioneer builders, probably the most daring and successful adventurers the world has ever beheld, had a goodly number of wayside houses, taverns and other resorts for travellers that were historic. It would be useless to attempt to include all of these, because many of them have no claim to the attention of the world outside their own environment. On the other hand, some of them have histories that are well worth listening to, a few of which have been related in previous chapters.

One of the interesting ancient hostelries in Indiana still stands, much the worse for its years—the McKinley Tavern, about three and a quarter miles east of Brazil, on the National Old Trails Highway. The present dilapidated shell of a building is the second building erected on the same spot by Greene McKinley. The first McKinley Tavern was both a general store and tavern, and was of log construction. It was built in 1838, just before the opening of the Cumberland Road.

The tavern became a regular stopping place for changing horses on the stage line which passed through this way, and some men who later became national figures became transient guests at McKinley’s log cabin. Among them were Presidents Van Buren and Buchanan. Later Abraham Lincoln, who was to become better remembered as President than either of his predecessors, was a guest of the humble tavern.

Not many years after it was erected this house was burned by the overturning of a lighted candle which ignited some goods just received for the general store. McKinley immediately erected another house on the site, this time of brick, and this old structure, abandoned a dozen years ago, is the one the motorist sees on the highway as he passes to-day.

In Metamora, Illinois, stood, until about a quarter century ago, the Metamora House, which is said to have been built in 1843 by Samuel S. Parke. It is claimed that the house was much patronized during the court term by lawyers and others, and that on one occasion Lincoln, then a rising attorney, was a guest.

The Halliday Hotel, Cairo, Illinois, was built in 1859, when it was opened as the St. Charles Hotel. During the Civil War it was, at different times, the headquarters of General McClellan and of General Grant, and its register was filled with the names of men prominent in the country’s affairs.

In the first Chicago Directory, that issued for 1844, there is an historic sketch of the city which was written with benevolent pride, especially when the writer describes the hotels of the young municipality.

“In facilities for the accommodation of the travelling public,” it runs, “Chicago has made great progress. In early times our inns were miserable in the extreme. Now we have eighteen hotels and houses of public entertainment, some of them large and splendid establishments, not inferior to any in the West.”

One of these hotels was the Sherman—not the Sherman the present-day traveller enters, but still a hotel of which the city was then proud. For a century, or close to it, it is said a hotel has stood at Clark and Randolph Streets, and there has been a Sherman Hotel there for eighty years.

Originally the corner was occupied by Elijah Went-worth’s tavern. Those were the days when it was difficult to separate Chicago from the prairies which almost surrounded it. In 1836 Francis Cornwell Sherman, a brick manufacturer, began the erection of a brick hotel on the site of the old tavern. This house was at first named the City Hotel, evidently in recognition of the fact that in the year 1837 Chicago was incorporated as a city.

The Sherman Hotel was among the first hostelries in the West to have a passenger elevator, but this convenience was so new that Chicagoans taxed their ingenuity to name it. When the house was rebuilt in larger size in 1861, one of the Chicago newspapers described its elevator as “the steam car that runs from floor to floor.” Added to once or twice, the house was one of the foremost hotels in Chicago, having had as guests some of the country’s most famous persons, when the great fire of 1871 reduced it to ashes. But a new Hotel Sherman was built, and the flow of distinguished patrons continued until 1909, when the old structure was taken down and the present twenty-four-story hotel was erected.

Among the early guests were Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Admiral Farragut, Generals Scott, Sherman and Grant, among those of the Civil War period. Daniel Webster and Emerson were also of the number who registered at the Sherman in its early days. Later politicians, governors, congressmen, actors who went to Chicago were usually to be found at the Sherman. Among its later guests were President Coolidge, General Pershing, William Jennings Bryan, and Commander Byrd, who flew over the North Pole in an aeroplane and more recently flew from New York to France.

The Palmer House, Chicago, does not have so extensive an ancestry as the hotel just mentioned, but the story of its career is a tale of Chicago for the past fifty years. The hotel known by this name is the third to be so designated. In 1871 the first Palmer was opened on September 26, and thirteen days later was a smouldering ruin, being one of the victims of the great conflagration. It had been erected by Potter Palmer as an investment and leased, for Mr. Palmer had been a pioneer in the dry-goods business in the Windy City, and had sold out his store to Marshall Field. The second Palmer House was then in course of construction some distance away, on part of the site of the present modern hotel.

This latter house, usually referred to as “The Old Palmer House,” was erected as a fire-proof structure, being composed of brick and iron, and probably the first of its type. As soon as part of the structure was ready for occupancy it was rented, and in order to hasten the construction work was carried on night and day, also a novel bit of enterprise for those times. In 1873 the hotel was opened, and it soon had many notable guests sign its register.

There was an army headquarters in Chicago, so General Philip H. Sheridan, the commandant, took up quarters for himself and family in the hotel. General Grant always stopped at the Palmer House while in Chicago, and in its rotunda speeches were made by James A. Garfield, afterwards President, Roscoe Conklin and other statesmen. Rudyard Kipling was a guest there on his return home from India by way of the United States; Richard A. Proctor, the famous English astronomer, lived there for a time; and from its balcony General Grant reviewed the great parade in his honor after his return from his round-the-world trip. There also was a banquet given for him at the hotel at which General Sherman presided and both Colonel Robert T. Ingersoll and Mark Twain spoke.

A new and greater Palmer House stands on the site of the old, every bit as advanced for its time as was its predecessor of half a century ago.

At Dixon, Illinois, is the hotel still called Nachusa Tavern, which was originally built in 1838 by a company headed by John Dixon, who went to Central Illinois a few years before and began to build. He builded so well that the place on the Rock River where he settled was first called Dixon’s Landing, and later developed into the town of Dixon. The original structure was added to in 1853 and 1865, another story and Mansard roof given to it in 1880, and in 1914 a new addition built.

It has had a long list of famous guests of which its management is proud, for on the register are such names as Abraham Lincoln, U. S. Grant, Stephen A. Douglas, Horace Greeley, Bayard Taylor, Cassius M. Clay, Adelina Patti, Ole Bull, the Marquis of Queensbury, Jefferson Davis, General George B. McClellan and Henry Ward Beecher. The tavern is referred to in Winston Churchill’s novel, “The Crisis.”

Michigan has its relics of pioneer inns that seem to have historic backgrounds. At Brooklyn is to be seen the Walker Tavern, now preserved as a kind of show place, which has its “chamber of horrors,” probably made a little more horrible by the names given these rooms—one called “murder room,” and another, “suicide room”—although it does not appear that a murder actually was committed there.

The guest vanished, that is all; although “blood stains” are still pointed out.

On the other hand, there is a more agreeable sight for the visitor who is shown also J. Fenimore Cooper’s room. The novelist with his wife, two daughters and two servants were at the Walker Tavern in June, 1847, while Cooper was making his studies for his novel, “Oak Openings; or, The Bee Hunter,” a story of woodland life, which was published that year. The novelist and his party occupied nearly one-half of the second floor of the house. Daniel Webster stopped at the tavern in 1838.

Walker Tavern is said to have been erected in 1832 by Sylvester Walker, who, in 1853, built a three-story brick building to the south of the old house to accommodate balls and other entertainments in the neighborhood. Then the older house was abandoned as an inn and became a farm house for many years. A few years ago the latter was purchased by the Rev. Frederick Hewitt, an Episcopal clergyman of Detroit, who has preserved the ancient frame structure. The newer tavern, also a show place, has as one of its features a Henry Ward Beecher room, being the apartment occupied by the distinguished preacher when he was a guest there.

On Mackinac Island, Michigan, an island in the straits which connect Lakes Huron and Michigan, stands the long, low frame building which has been known as the John Jacob Astor Hotel for many years. This island was early a trading centre for the fur companies of the neighborhood of the lakes mentioned, and becoming an important trading post, it was fortified. After the termination of the Revolutionary War, Michilimakinac, as the island was known in those times, was fortified by the United States as an out-post of its North West Territory. It was a rendezvous for Indian traders who brought in their winter fur trappings and exchanged them with the agents of the fur companies.

In 1804 the North West Fur Company and the X Y Fur Company, which had been competitors, united, and it was in this year that the building, now a hotel, was erected for the Michilimackinac Fur Company, the name of the reorganization. In 1808 John Jacob Astor, who had bought out several lesser fur companies, acquired the Michilimackinac, and formed the South West Fur Company. The success which followed led Astor to spread out across the continent to the Pacific, with his Pacific Fur Company and found Astoria. The second war with Great Britain—that called the War of 1812—made a partial failure of the project, but after the peace Astor formed the American Fur Company, which was successful.

The building erected at Mackinac Island was used by the fur companies which succeeded each other, as combination store, office, warehouse, and headquarters. During the War of 1812 the fort was captured by British and Indian allies, but was retaken by the American forces. Constructed of white pine logs, the Astor Hotel is still in good condition after more than a century. Many relics of the fur company’s occupancy remain in the ancient balance scales, the eleven-foot elevator wheel, office desk and quaint fireplaces. During the British occupancy part of the building was used as a barracks.

When General Grant visited Mackinac he made the Astor Hotel his headquarters. The hotel is now a summer resort, although the atmosphere of the days of the fur traders is not entirely eliminated.

Saginaw, Michigan, began its career as a fort of the old stockade type in 1822, and its first hotel was a blockhouse within the fortification. The site of this modest tavern is now covered by the Hotel Fordney.

In 1858 the Bancroft House was built, and named for the historian and President Polk’s Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft. He also was subsequently American Minister to the Court of St. James. A few years ago the Bancroft, which had entertained many noted men, gave place to a larger and more modem hostelry of the same name.

As early as 1812 Detroit had its hotel. This was known as Woodworth’s Hotel, and was owned by a brother of the poet who wrote “The Old Oaken Bucket.” In 1820 the house was enlarged. In 1818, when the first steamboat came up the lake from Buffalo, the hotel’s name was changed to Woodworth’s Steamboat Hotel. As Detroit was early the capital of Michigan, Woodworth’s house was the centre of many political activities. It was destroyed by fire in 1847, the year the state capital was moved to Lansing.

The Michigan Exchange Hotel, Detroit, was built in 1834 at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Shelby Street. It was considerably enlarged in 1860, and during the Civil War was Governor Blair’s military headquarters. While doling out commissions at this time it is said he was waited upon by George A. Custer, just fresh from West Point, who desired one but was refused. Blair was instrumental in having Philip H. Sheridan promoted to be a Brigadier General. At the Michigan Exchange Hotel General Gordon Granger, who was well known to Governor Blair, had lived before the war. He knew the young cavalry captain and desired his promotion. As Sheridan was a Democrat, this was denied him at Washington, so Granger wrote to Governor Blair to use his influence. The Governor there.

fore asked Secretary Stanton to give Sheridan his earned promotion, and he was won over. In a short time Captain Sheridan was made a Brigadier.

The Michigan Exchange Hotel stood until 1892, when it was demolished and a shoe factory erected on its site. Quartz gold was first discovered in Colorado, in what is now Central City, in 1859. News of this naturally attracted a large number of prospectors and others to the scene, and in 1872 the Teller House was erected by Henry M. Teller, who represented Colorado in the United States Senate for thirty years. The house is still used as a hotel, being owned by a son of Senator Teller. While he was President, General U. S. Grant stopped at the Teller House in the course of his trip from Denver to the mountain districts.

Denver has an even older hotel still standing at Sixteenth and Blake Streets. This is the American House, which, when built by John W. Smith in 1869, was considered a marvel of luxury. In 1872 the Grand Duke Alexis, of Russia, was a guest there during his tour, which had been arranged so the Russian Prince could enjoy a buffalo hunt. A hunt was arranged for him by “Buffalo Bill” Cody and General Custer, who had the Grand Duke in their charge.

At Colorado Springs the Antlers is a hotel which has been known to every visitor to Pike’s Peak during the last forty years. The first house of this name was destroyed by fire, and the present one erected on the site differs only slightly from it in architecture.

Arizona likes to date the ancestry of its oldest hotel back to the year 1774. In that year Padre Garces built a wall, in the Spanish manner, of course, to enclose the settlement of Tucson, and make it safe from surprise attacks by Apache Indians. In 1856 a pioneer named Phillips built a hotel in Tucson, and part of it was erected on the ancient wall used as a foundation. This hostelry was named the Phillips House. Among its early noted guests was General John C. Fremont, who stopped there on his way to become Governor of California, and the name of Colonel William F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill,” appears repeatedly on the old registers of the hotel.

The room to which both of these notables were assigned is No. 1, which measures twenty by twenty feet, and its ceiling is twenty feet high. There is preserved in this apartment the furniture that was in it when General Nelson A. Miles occupied it many years ago. At the time the General, noted as an Indian fighter, made his headquarters there while a garrison was maintained at Fort Lowell. In this apartment the General was presented with a golden sword by the citizens of Tucson.

On the first floor, where the bar-room was located in the early days, the Legislature used to hold its sessions, and when there was work for the United States District Court to do, the room was turned into a court room. On the second floor the local lodge of Masons held its meetings. Some additions were made to the house by the next owner, who named it the Cosmopolitan.

The Southern Pacific Railroad reached Tucson in 1882, and in that year the house was arranged for the better reception of guests by its new proprietor, a Mrs. Orndorff, who changed its name to the Orndorff. In 1902 it passed into the hands of its present proprietor, F. J. Wharton, who maintains it as the Orndorff.

Helena, Montana, had two pioneer hotels which its citizens regarded as historic, but both were destroyed by fire many years ago. One of these was the International, at Bridge and Main Streets, which dated back to the days when all persons in the vicinity were interested in the mining in Dry Gulch. The house was enlarged twice, the last time in 1878. In 1868 the Cosmopolitan, which absorbed the St. Louis House, was opened.

These two houses were much frequented by prominent army men in the pioneer days, and later they entertained such noted persons as Generals Sherman, Sheridan and Gibbons and the Marquis of Lorne, afterwards the Duke of Argyle, who was Governor General of Canada and a son-in-law of Queen Victoria.

The Hotel Portland, the first modern hostelry built in Portland, Oregon, owes its being to the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad. As early as 1883 Henry Villard saw the necessity of a large first-class hotel; because in that year the west coast city first became directly connected by rail with the East, which meant that it would soon have more visitors than its modest caravansaries could take care of.

However, Mr. Villard’s ideas were more along the lines of a resort hotel of the period, because he intended that it should be built of wood. Steps were taken to secure a site in the centre of the city, at that time occupied by a school-house. The necessity was brought forcibly to the financier’s attention when he came with a large number of distinguished visitors in the autumn of the year mentioned to take part in the ceremonies attending the driving of the last spike in the railroad which connected the chief city of the Northwest with the East.

Before work had proceeded beyond the foundation of the new hotel Mr. Villard was caught in a financial crash and retired from the management of the Oregon companies. Five years later Portland capital was interested and the great hotel, two hundred feet square, was erected. In April, 1890, the house was opened. Since that time no distinguished visitor to Portland has failed to register at the Portland, including Presidents of the United States. It was opened under the management of Charles E. Leland, who for many years was identified with hotels in Albany, Saratoga and New York City.

Oregon’s diminutive city of Jacksonville, which lies in the southern part of the state, not far from the California border, has a little historic hotel, and its history seems to have been commenced and ended on the first day it was opened. The site, however, was more or less historic.

The United States Hotel is a small brick building erected in 1880, although there was a hotel built on the site early in the fifties. In 1856 it was managed by Austin Badger, and contained the office of the Oregon & California Stage Line, operating between Sacramento and Portland. In 1874 it was destroyed by fire, when its registers were consumed. It is said that many men of prominence in the pioneer days stopped there.

In 1880 the present building, called the United States Hotel, was opened under the management of Madame Holt, a French woman. Its first guests were President Hayes and General Sherman, who with their party were touring the Pacific Coast. The house was not ready for occupancy, but Madame Holt took great pains to accommodate her distinguished guests. They occupied quarters in the corner rooms over the main entrance. Not used as a hotel for some years, the building is now occupied by the city of Jacksonville as a public auditorium, museum and library.

It is claimed, and with probably good reason, that the Tacoma Hotel is the oldest hotel in operation in the state of Washington. Before the first transcontinental railroad was constructed across the state the Tacoma Hotel was erected in the city of Tacoma. This was in 1884. Stanford White, an architect responsible for many fine buildings in the East, not only designed the house, but selected its site. To-day it stands in the heart of a bustling city, one of the most progressive ports in the Northwest. As the chief hostelry in the city, it naturally has entertained every notable visitor to Tacoma during the last forty years.