ILLINOIS GENEALOGY EXPRESS

Macon County, Illinois
a part of  US Genealogy Express

 

 

Pages 158 thru 165  

HISTORY OF MACON COUNTY


CHAPTER XXX

EARLY HOTELS
 

NO matter how small or how large a town, its citizens and visitors must eat and sleep, and boarding houses and hotels become necessary establishments.

From the days of "Uncle Jimmy" Renshaw's log cabin tavern to the modern hotels of Decatur today, the city has been provided with a good class of hostelries.  In the beginning they were crude, just as the town was crude, but they kept pace with the city, and today are on a par with the hotels of the largest cities.

Renshaw's tavern, as stated elsewehre, was Decatur's first place of business, started in 1829.   The tavern was a log cabin, standing on the present site of the Lincoln theater entrance.  In connection with the tavern was conducted a store.  Mr. Renshaw was in business there a number of years and was quite successful.

THE HARRELLS

For many years during the early history of Decatur the name of Harrell was associated with the boarding house and hotel business.

"Landlady" Harrell had a wide reputation and was popular with the traveling public.  She had come to Decatur in 1829.  For a long time she had a tavern on the north side of the old square.  Later she and her sons ran what is known as Social hall south of the square.  Her sons, John and Land Harrell purchased that hall in 1853 and refurnished it.  In 1854 they built the hotel which later was replaced by the St. Nicholas.  Mrs. Harrell remained there in charge for some time, and later conducted a boarding house on Wood street, which she continued up until the time of her death in September 1868.

The hotel built by the Harrells was a three story building.  That hotel had many different names and different proprietors before it finally came into possession of the Laux Brothers and was named the St. Nicholas, the name it had since kept.  It was known as the Harrell House, the Cassell House, the Shoaff house, the Tremont house, the Oglesby house.  Varney's hotel and the Cloudas House.


When it was the Oglesby house it was run by Willis Oglesby, son of the Willis Oglesby who brought the orphan lad, Richard J. Oglesby, to Decatur.  This Willis Oglesby came here in 1855.  His little daughter was killed by falling through the banisters in the hotel, and the father then gave up the business.  Mr. Oglesby was killed later in the battle of Shiloh during the Civil war.

The Laux brothers, Nicholas, Peter and Charles, in 1861 bought the hotel from L. B. Wing of Urbana, who had come into possession of it through having loaned money on it.  It had been known then as the Cloudas.  The Laux brothers changed the name to the St. Nicholas.  The original building was torn down in 1865, and replaced by a three story brick structure.  In 1892 that building was demolished to make room for a new five story building, which is a part of the building in use today.  The ten story addition to the hotel was erected in 1914.

The Laux brothers introduced some innovations.  Three kerosene lamps were bought, the first of the kind in Decatur.  One was placed at the head of each stairway.  What a wonderful effect!  Patrons were delighted.  The landlords arranged also for the porter to fill pitchers with hot water, in the mornings, if the guests would leave the pitchers outside their room doors.  How up to date this hotel was.

(SHARON WICK'S NOTE:  My grandmother, Madge Love Montgomery, wrote a notation in pencil below this picture.  It read "Mother worked here for a while when she was a girl."  My grandmother was referring to her mother Sarah Elizabeth Grindle whose mother was Milly Ann Earp and her father was Charles Grinnel.)

To serve as a guide for the bus drivers a lantern was hung in the window of the hotel at night.  It could be seen almost all the way to the railroad station.  The candles which were used in the rooms were made at the hotel.

Judging from the number of landlords at the hotel before the Laux brothers took charge, one would be likely to think that it was hard sledding for the hotel.  This was probably true.  After the railroads came, a depot was built which included the a hotel, known as Central house.

Practically all the transient business went to the Central hotel because of its convenience to the station.  It was some years before hotel business in the downtown district became profitable.  A hotel on East Eldorado street, known as the Thorpe hotel, was practically put out of business by the opening of the Central hotel.  This building was sold, and later became St. Teresa's academy.  It had been built by John Humphrey at the time the Great Western railroad had its first station at Broadway street.

THE REVERE

Decatur's first real hotel, and the leading establishment of the sort for many years, was the Macon house, later known as The Revere.  From the time of its erection in 1839 until the day it was destroyed by fire in 1871, it was the best known and most important realized until after the hotel was burned.

The original building of the Macon house consisted of two stories and basement, containing twelve bedrooms and a large attic.  The building had 50 foot frontage on Franklin street and 30 fee on Prairie.

The hotel was erected for Captain David L. Allen and Dr. Thomas H. Read by Edward O. Smith.  It was run first by Mrs. Elizabeth Nesbitt and two sons, James and Washington.  They had charge of the place until 1841, when it was taken over by John Eckel.  He continued it for about a year.  In 1842 David Krone became she proprietor and he conducted the hotel until 1850.1

Many stories have been told of the regime of the hotel under the Krone management.  Those were the days when it was visited by Abraham Lincoln, Judge David Davis, Leonard Swett and other notable members of the bar.  It was said that often the lawyers, who was riding the circuit in those days, prolonged court sessions in Decatur because of the splendid hotel service.  It was something they didn't get in many of the cities of that time.  Mother Krone's cooking became famous.

"Have rented the tavern stand together with the stable and appurtenances thereunto belonging, commonly known as the Macon house in Decatur.

The lessors agreed to furnish the necessary bedding, beds and furniture, also all necessary feed for stable, and the said Krone "has the privilege of feeding two cows from the same without charge"  They agreed also to furnish Krone with firewood he might need in the tavern.  The wood was to come from any timber belonging to Allen and Read, but Krone was to cut and haul the wood at his own expense.

The rent for the hotel was to be half the total receipts.  It did not matter whether it was paid in produce, money or trade.

The hotel was prosperous during the Krone regime.  The next proprietor was Jesse H. Elliott, and he stayed only about a year.  George W. Baker was another of the proprietors in the interval of time from the Krones to Hugh Taylor, who bought the hotel in 1856.  Mr. Taylor made extensive additions to the hotel.  He built both on the east and on the south, and also added another story.  These improvements made it a sixty room hotel.  It was then called the Taylor house.  Taylor sold out in two years to Colonel Samuel Clark of Springfield.  Clark's son-in-law W. L. Barnum, because the proprietor and the hotel then has known as the Barnum house.

Darlington Turnbolt took charge of the place about 1859 and remained until 1865.  From 1861 to 1865 L. R. Cain was associated with him, and part of the time they ran to St. Nicholas hotel also.  Turnbolt sold out to E. G. Egbert who came from Keokuk in 1865.  Egbert died in about a year, but his family continued the hotel for a time.

The next landlord, Dr. Ross, didn't last very long, but while he was at the hotel, it is said, he taught people what real food was.  He engaged in chef at a handsome salary, and his meals became famous over the state.  A banquet menu in those days puts a modern day one to shame.  At one such event for newspaper editors in 1866 more than ninety varieties of food were served.  Newspaper editors can eat when they have the chance!

DESTROYED BY FIRE

Other landlords that followed were A. F. Cochran, Willis Brothers and M. C. Hicks.  Mr. Hicks bought the property from Colonel Clark in 1871.  He had been conducting the hotel only about two months, when fire broke out and laid it in ruins.  That fire occurred April 7, 1871.  It was thought that a guest left a gas jet burning, and that curtains or wallpaper caught fire from the flame.

Some of the traveling public in those days were not accustomed to gas lights.2

If Decatur had had a fire department of the kind it has today, the Revere house would never had burned, but all it had was a volunteer bucket brigade.  The fire burned slowly for hours.

The blaze had started early in the morning, and as fast and as long as possible guests and hotel employes cast out or carried out household effects, personal belongings and anything they could get their hands on.  Some of the guests, it was told, had to pick their clothes out from a heap thrown into Central park before they could dress.

B. O. McReynolds nearly lost his life in that fire.  He was on the second floor helping to get things out when the floor gave way.  He fell in such a way that portions of the fallen floor nearly covered him. and it was with great difficulty that he finally was extricated by George W. Kraft and Mr. Archer.  He was in agony before released, being crushed and burned.  He carried marks of the injuries until his death.  Mr. McReynolds at that time was in the dry goods business with J. F. Roach, their store being on South Park and State streets.  He was one of the first at the Revere house after the fire was discovered.

Up to that time, The Revere house had been the hub of the city.  All travel from the railroad stations up to the center of the town passed that way.  Buses made their stops there, before going farther.  The hotel had an excellent reputation and was known all over the state.

CHANGES SITUATION

When the Revere house burned and was not rebuilt, it meant that the section of the business part of the city bordering on the New Square, now Central park, had lost its main attraction.  No longer was the new square in the lead in the business rivalry between the old and the new squares.  Gradually business fell off in the neighborhood of Franklin and North and South Park streets.  Water street became heir to a number of enterprises.  Only the most undesirable, mostly saloons and gambling dens, remained on Franklin, and soon that street gained a rather notorious reputation.  The old square came into its own and Water and Main streets flourished as the businesses section.


THE REVERE HOUSE FIRE, 1871

It has been only in comparatively recent years that the streets to the north, south and east of Central Park have regained their business standing, due to the necessary expansion of the business district.  The automobile trade largely ahs brought it about.  Yet it never has returned and probably never will return to the place it once occupied as Decatur's business center.  The burning of the Revere house was the event that brought on the loss of its prestige.

PRIEST HOTEL

Hotels grew in number and in size with the passing of the years.  For a long time the Priest hotel on the northwest corner of the Old Square was one of the leading establishments.  That building was started by W. S. Crissey about 1860.  When the north and south walls were up, work stopped for lack of funds.  The property later was bought and the building finished by Franklin Priest, who ran a hotel there for many years.


PRIEST HOTEL 1969

In 1880 Riley Deming became proprietor and the name was changed to the New Deming.  Oscar Spalding followed him as manager.

In 1892 the property came into the hands of A. Wait and it was opened as the Arcade hotel.  In 1900, after being rebuilt and enlarged by Mr. Wait, it became the Decatur hotel, with F. B. Stearns as manager.  In 1904 the hotel burned, but it was rebuilt.  It passed through various changes in management until 1915 when the hotel again was destroyed by fire.  This time it was not rebuilt as a hotel, though the structure which now stands on the site still houses an eating place, the Lincoln cafe.


BRUNSWICK HOTEL

The Brunswick hotel building is probably the oldest hotel now standing in the city.  It was erected about 1860.  Its first - or one of the first - proprietor was Thomas B. Albert.  Until sometime in the 70's the place was known as the Pennsylvania house, and later it was called the American for a time.  Since about 1885 it has been known as the Brunswick.  Another old hotel in the downtown district is the St. James, which was built about 1875.


NATIONAL HOTEL, 1894

Hotels became rather numerous in the vicinity of the railroad stations.  One that stood for many years was the National at Front and Cerro Gordo streets, where the Kraft hotel now stands.  It was run by John McEvoy.  A picture shows the hotel and the saloon in connection with it, a sight familiar to the old time residents but not to the present day generation.  It was replaced by the Kraft hotel in 1907.
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1 The proprietor of the Macon house before Landlord Krone had a bar in the basement.  Krone did not have one.  When people asked him if he had anything to drink he would reply "Nothing stronger than coffee."
The Daily Republican of Decatur had the following item in its issue Sept. 9, 1869:
"A couple of Springfield youths came to the Revere house Tuesday evening and when they retired for the night, not being accustomed to the luxury of gas in the quiet village where they were born and reared, they treated the jet as they were accustomed to serve the tallow dip, and went to sleep.  Their mistake was fortunately discovered by the clerk before any serious effects had resulted and the chaps escaped with nothing more than headache and sick stomachs."

2 (Sharon Wick's Note:  There was no Number 2 footnote in the book)

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