When I then turned to the first page and found the opening scene set in 1857 St. Louis and at The Planters' House, I decided it was a good time to pull out the research notes and share what I had compiled on this hotel which had once been such a popular gathering place among the most noted and influential persons.
In 1836 the population of St. Louis had reached about fourteen thousand and its prominent citizens met to select a site for a "large and commodious hotel." They proposed to locate the hotel on the block just north of the courthouse bounded by Chestnut and Vine streets and fronting on North Street. At a cost of about two hundred thousand dollars, the hotel was constructed on the "square next north of the Court House, on Fourth-street, extending from Chestnut to Pine, 230 feet." Five stories high (including the basement) and containing 230 it boasted as being "one of the best hotels in the Western country."
The proprietors at this time were experienced hotel keepers Benjamin Stickney of Boston and J. McKnight. In 1841 the hotel was known as "The Planters' House" and throughout the 1840's and 1850's it was the social center of the city. The north and especially the southern planters from places such as New Orleans routinely brought their families to "taste the joys of the hotel hospitality" often staying for months at a time. Refined women gathered in its parlors where they quilted and embroidered, and spent their evenings dancing the Minuet and the Virginia Reel. English noblemen, eastern speculators, steamboat captains, Indian chiefs, and southern agriculturists all gathered at its saloon. Mark Twain included the hotel in his book, "Life on the Mississippi" and Charles Dickens, who stayed there during his American tour, noted that "There were many fine boarders in it and ... the proprietors have the most bountiful notions of providing the creature with comforts. Dining alone with my wife in the room one day I counted fourteen dishes on the table at once."
McKnight sold his interest to Leonard Scollay and when the latter died in Baltimore in 1860, Benjamin Stickney operated the hotel on his own until he retired in 1864. At that time he sold his interest to Samuel Hatch & Wells Felt but the two men abandoned the hotel and took the furnishings to the Lindell Hotel. The Planters' House was then leased by Joseph Fogg, formerly of the Barnum's Hotel. After he spent $13,000 in renovations, he re-opened it in August of 1865.
Fifteen years later in 1880 the hotel lease was purchased by Joseph Gerardi who also did some major remodeling to the hotel only to have it catch fire on the 14th of January, 1883. The article in the New York Times the following day estimated the damage to be between $15,000 and $40,000. Unless some historians have it wrong, the hotel caught fire again in 1887 not long after a ball had been held in honor of President Grover Cleveland.
The building was then demolished in 1891 clearing way for what was to be an even grander Planters' House Hotel. According to the 1894 Annual Statement of Trade and Commerce it was constructed at a cost of one million, three hundred thousand dollars with an additional two hundred thousand spent on its furnishings. Managed then by Henry Weaver, the elegant hotel was twelve stories high with marble lined walls and twenty-foot ceilings. A magnificent front portico was "built in an inverted E shape to allow natural light to pour into every room" of which there were four hundred.
Despite its grandeur and long history, the Planters' House Hotel ceased to be. In 1922 when it was converted into offices buildings The Topeka Daily newspaper summed it up most eloquently: "Typewriters will click in rooms where presidents slept, office boys will hustle across floors once strode by stately banqueters, and business men will plan battles of dollars in rooms in which political battles have been won and lost, and in which the capture of Jackson was planned."
It's end was nearing. In 1930 the Planters' Building became known as the Cotton Belt Building and then was demolished when the Bank of America tower was constructed in 1976. Few may ever know of its history but now that I've researched the back story on this historical hotel, I plan to sit down and let George R.R. Martin take me back in time as Cap'n Marsh realizes the secret mission of his partner Joshua York while they steam up and down the powerful Mississippi and Ohio rivers aboard the fastest and prettiest steamer, the Fevre Dream.
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