Early St. Louis



Recently my daughter purchased the book Fevre Dream, by George R.R. Martin, bestselling author of A Game of Thrones.  As she was reading the review from The Washington Post Book World that the book “Read more like a strongly themed historical novel than a Gothic horror …” I found my interest immediately piqued.

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."

The Planters' House had more than one location and more than a few proprietors over the years.  First known as The Planters' Hotel when it was opened in November of 1817, it was considered one of the best known hotels in the south and middle-west and was then a two-story framed trading post on the river.  It had been opened by Evarist Maury who had come from Nashville.  The establishment was located in the old Conde building on Second Street "where a few boarders could be accommodated."  It was referenced in the Missouri Gazette as a small inn located on Second Street which offered private rooms and large stables with a reputation for the fine oats and hay given the guests' horses.   It was also the location in which Gov. William Clark had held a special session of the Legislature of the Territory of Missouri on the 31st of August in 1818.

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.

  1. Bartley, Mary, St. Louis Lost - Uncovering the City's Lost Architectural Treasures, Virginia Publishing, St. Louis, MO, 1994
  2. Billon, Frederic L., Annals of St. Louis in its Territorial Days From 1804 to 1821, St. Louis, 1888.
  3. Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis, Vol 3 Part 2 ed, Hyde, William and Conrad, Howard Louis, Southern History Co., St. Louis, 1899
  4. Cox, James, St. Louis through a camera  James Cox, Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co., 1896 (Google eBook)
  5. Daily Alta California, Volume 11, Number 324, 22 Nov 1859 (Leonard Scollay Obituary)
  6. The Evening Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida, 15 Dec 1922, Old Hosterly to be Closed
  7. Glasgow Weekly Times (Glasgow, Mo.) 03 Nov 1859 (Death of Leonard Scollay)
  8. GenDisasters - St. Louis, Missouri Planters' Hotel Fire - Jan 1883
  9. Green, James, Saint Louis Directory for 1845
  10. Grove, Carol, Henry Shaw's Victorian Landscapes: The Missouri Botanical Garden and Tower Grove Park, Univ of Massachusetts Press, 2005
  11. Encyclopedia of Biography of Illinois, Volume 1, Hyland MacGrath, George Irving Reed, Century Pub. and Engraving Company, 1892 - Illinois (Google eBook)
  12. Kargau, Ernst D., The German Element in St. Louis: A Translation from German of Ernst D. Kargau's St. Louis in Former Years : a Commemorative History of the German Element, Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000
  13. Jefferson City Post-Tribune 5 Mar 1928 (Death of Joseph Gerardi)
  14. Martin, George R.R., Fevre Dream
  15. McElroy, John, The Meeting at the Planter's House online Civil War St. Louis
  16. Morgan, George H., Annual Statement of the Trade and Commerce of St. Louis for the year 1894 reported to the Merchant Exchange of St. Louis, St. Louis, Mo, R.P. Studley & Co., Printers, 1895
  17. Portrait and Biographical Record of the State of Colorado: Containing Portraits and Biographies of Many Well Known Citizens of the Past and Present, Part 2, Chapman Publishing Company, 1899, Colorado (Marriage of Fanny Stickney to Wm. F. Anderson) 
  18. Primm, James Neal, Lion of the Valley: St. Louis, Missouri, 1764-1980, Missouri History Museum, 1998
  19. Sandweiss, Lee Ann, Seeking St. Louis: Voices from a River City, Missouri History Museum, 2000
  20. Semsrott, David - St. Louis Missouri Planter's House Hotel Stamps
  21. Stickney, Matthew Adams (1805-1894), The Stickney family : a genealogical memoir of the descendants of 
  22. William and Elizabeth Stickney, from 1637 to 1869, published 1869 (p.268, 383-4)
  23. The Topeka Daily Capital, 20 Dec 1922, Closing of the Planter's Hotel 
  24. United States Military Academy, Association of Graduates Annual Report, 1922
  25. Walsh, Edward P., Story of an Old Clerk, Glimpses of the Past Vol. 1, no. 8 (July 1934)