Distilled History

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Archive for the ‘Lost St. Louis’ Category

June 30th, 2016 by Cameron Collins

The Magnificent Southern Hotel

The Southern Hotel on Plates 4 & 24

As much as I love the rich history of St. Louis, I must admit that a vivid imagination is often necessary to enjoy much of it. This city has always had an inclination for knocking down old stuff, and that fact makes it tough for many in St. Louis to recall what the streets, buildings, and people who moved among them looked like years ago.

Fortunately, I believe I’ve always had a pretty good ability to think things up. As much as I wish I could still gaze upon long-lost treasures such as the Planter’s House Hotel or Chouteau’s Mansion, I’ve never had a difficult time staring at a parking garage and imagining a vivid St. Louis street scene that occurred there 150 years ago.

And that’s what I did just a few weeks ago. I hopped on my bike, rode downtown, and worked my way to the corner of 4th and Walnut. That’s where the Stadium East Parking Garage stands today. It’s an active garage, often filled with cars and surrounded by ticket scalpers on Cardinal game days. But as I sat there and stared, I saw something completely different. I was looking at the majestic Southern Hotel, and I envisioned it dominating a bustling corner filled with people, horse-drawn carriages, street vendors, and noise.

4th & Walnut Today

Before I go into detail about that vivid scene, I should mention that one could spend days thinking about what’s happened on that corner. First of all, it’s where Fort San Carlos once stood, the centerpiece of the only battle fought west of the Mississippi River during the American Revolution (an event I wrote about in this blog back in 2013).

It’s also where many believe the famous Odowan Indian Chief Pontiac is buried. Historically significant for the military campaign he personally launched against the British in 1763 (the appropriately titled “Pontiac’s War”), Chief Pontiac was murdered near the village of Cahokia by a Peoria warrior in 1769. It’s believed his remains were brought over the river to St. Louis and interred in the ground near that intersection.

The Southern Hotel in 1869

Those are pretty good reasons to stare at a corner and wonder what once happened there, but I think the magnificent Southern Hotel, which stood on that corner from 1865 until 1934, provides many more. I should also admit I’ve been boasting about the Southern Hotel for years. The guy who owned it from 1865 until 1877 is someone I’m a huge fan of. That man is Robert Campbell, and it his house (now known as the Campbell House Museum) that is the base of operations for this blog and where I spend time as a volunteer.

The Southern Hotel in 1868

The idea behind the Southern Hotel’s construction, a project of several prominent city leaders in the 1850’s, was based in the belief that St. Louis required a world-class hotel as it rushed to become a world-class city. Profit was surely a motivation, but civic pride was the driving force behind this particular hotel. And when it opened in December 1865, the city celebrated. Marching bands played, governors visited, and glowing reports of the opening night’s gala were printed in newspapers across the nation. The Missouri Republican proclaimed it the “finest hotel in the world” and it was “the theme of many celebrated pens and tongues, both native and foreign”. It even became the subject of song: “The Southern Hotel Waltz”, which was published in 1865 by composer Albert Mahler.

The Southern Hotel Waltz

The Southern Hotel occupied the entire block bounded by Walnut, 4th, 5th (now Broadway) and Elm Streets (of which Elm no longer exists in that part of the city). The principal front and entrance of the hotel faced Walnut Street, stretching 270 feet from one end to the other. The Southern was six stories tall, with an exterior made of “Chicago stone”, which the St. Louis Republican at the time described as “magnesian stone of excellent properties”. It contained over 350 guest rooms and apartments, and employed nearly the same number of people to keep it running. It was designed in the Italianate style by the famous St. Louis architect George Barnett, who’s other notable works included the Old Courthouse, Henry Shaw’s Tower Grove House, and the Grand Water Tower.

TChief Pontiac Commemorative Plaqueo imagine what this special hotel looked like in its day, it’s important to note that the city of St. Louis at that time was a very crowded place. The population was almost exactly what it is today (about 320,000), but the city itself was much smaller. Before 1876, the city’s western boundary sat just a few hundred feet west of Grand Avenue, and Carondelet hadn’t been added yet. Although new neighborhoods had been developed away from the congested riverfront starting in the 1850’s, the city around the Southern Hotel remained densely populated. The neighborhood around the Southern was also a very upscale part of town. Grand homes and elegant buildings surrounded the hotel, especially to the north and west. It was a time when St. Louis was one of the biggest cities in America, and it could rival the glitz and glamour of cities like New York and Philadelphia.

The Southern was the most luxurious hotel in St. Louis, and if one wanted to be seen, the Southern was the place to be. If one stood on the corner of 4th and Walnut in the 1870’s, seeing a celebrated actress of the day, a business tycoon, or even a president walk through its doors would not have been a surprise. Inside, one could find Mark Twain playing billiards, Adolphus Busch sipping wine, or Ulysses S. Grant leaning against the Southern Hotel’s famous mahogany bar. In the hotel’s immense rotunda, Theodore Roosevelt, Oscar Wilde, or the famous actress Lily Langtry could stride by, all of whom were guests at the Southern at one time or another. And if one was fortunate to be invited, attending a lavish banquet in honor of a prominent citizen such as James Eads, Henry Blow, or Robert Campbell was a possibility.

The Southern Hotel in 1888

Famous guests aside, the Southern Hotel was also the site of some remarkable events. The most tragic of them explains why there were actually two Southern Hotels. In the early morning hours of April 11, 1877, a fire broke out in the hotel’s basement. The result was a tragedy that rocked the city of St. Louis and became front-page news across the nation. Perhaps more than twenty guests and hotel employees were killed, many more were severely injured, and the original Southern Hotel was completely destroyed. However, the story of that fire is also remarkable for the bravery and heroism shown by the St. Louis Fire Department (and that story is coming up next in this blog).

The Southern Hotel Dining Room in 1894

Another amazing story is the Preller trunk murder.  On April 12, 1885, the manager of the Southern Hotel checked room 144 after reports of a foul odor emanating from the room. Inside, he found the decomposing body of a man stuffed inside a trunk bound with rope. The victim, identified as Charles Arthur Preller, was found wearing nothing but a pair of white underwear with the name “H.M. Books” stitched into the waistband. A cross had been carved into Preller’s chest and a placard with the inscription “So perish all traitors to the great cause” was found along with the body. The subsequent trial of H.M Brooks (who had to be fetched from New Zealand) is so fantastic that I can’t do it justice here (in other words, Preller also gets his own future Distilled History post).

Bob Wilkinson, barber of the Southern Hotel

Along with fires and murders, the Southern provided the backdrop for a host of notable events. It’s at the Southern where a man named Logan Reavis argued that the capital of the United States should be moved from Washington D.C. to St. Louis. It’s where James Eads proposed building a ship railway across Mexico, and where William McKinley caused an uproar when he did something no other president had done before: he lit a cigarette in public. In a room at the Southern Hotel in 1888, Democrats decided to nominate Grover Cleveland for President. Eight years later, Republicans used the Southern to negotiate the nomination for William McKinley. The outlaw Jesse James was rumored to stay at the Southern Hotel during his visits to St. Louis under the alias “J.J. Howard”. He came often for the purpose of racing his horses at the St. Louis Jockey Club (and he was recalled as an excellent tipper). In the years prior to becoming a publishing icon, Joseph Pulitzer lived in rooms 305 and 306 at the Southern Hotel, and he was there on the night of the tragic fire. In an article written for the paper Pulitzer would own just two years later (the St. Louis Dispatch), it’s reported that Pulitzer had to flee the building “sans shirt, stockings, or anything else”.

The Southern Hotel in 1914

Sports and recreation were also no stranger to the Southern. People gambled, drank, boasted, and challenged each other daily at the Southern Hotel. The hotel’s bar is where Adolphus Busch placed $100 bets that he could name any wine he sipped, and it’s where “Gentleman Jim” Corbett challenged John L. Sullivan for the heavyweight championship in 1892. The result of that bet was one of the most famous fights in boxing history, and the first match to require that gloves be worn by the heavyweight contenders. Even baseball can point to the Southern for some of its history. Newspaper accounts of the time reported that the Southern Hotel’s lobby is where two newspaper men helped the American League’s Ban Johnson and the National League’s John Brush settle their differences. As a result, an annual event known as the “World Series” would come to be.

The Southern Hotel in 1934

After the fire in 1877, the Southern Hotel was rebuilt (eventually) and it opened again to great fanfare in 1881. The new version was bigger, fancier, and advertised as “completely fireproof”. This newer version of the Southern continued as the city’s premier hotel, and it thrived during exciting times such when the world came to St. Louis in 1904. But cultures change, cities change, and the glimmer of the Southern began to fade in the early 20th Century. Citing declining patronage, the Southern Hotel was closed for good on August 1, 1912. Despite immediate rumors that it would soon reopen as a hotel, be converted into an office building, or even turned into a beer garden, none of them came to fruition. The former Southern Hotel spent its final two decades mostly empty or sporadically utilized as an exhibition hall for automobile shows. Burdened by taxes they no longer wanted to pay, the owners announced in 1933 the building was to be demolished.

And just two years later, a shiny new Mobil gas station opened on a pretty remarkable corner in downtown St. Louis.

The Drink
Tony Faust's Restaurant and Oyster Bar

For someone like me (someone who spends way too much time thinking about how and what people were drinking 150 years ago), places like the Southern Hotel are special. Today, great bars can still be found at hotels, but it’s not quite the same. Hotels were social centers back then, and hotels were places where 19th Century drinkers went if they wanted something other than a shot of whiskey (see: saloon) or a stein of beer (see: beer garden). Specifically, it was hotel bars that helped usher in an increasingly popular form of drink in the late 19th Century: the cocktail. St. Louis’s most famous example of this is the Planter’s House Hotel, which stood on the other side of the Old Courthouse. That’s where Jerry Thomas, a man known as the “father of American mixology”, plied his trade in the mid-19th Century.

Today, good cocktail bars are ubiquitous, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of passing one of them up in order to get a drink for this post. For one thing, parking is no fun for hotel drinking, especially at the many downtown St. Louis options. However, it’s only fitting that I make my way to a hotel bar and toast the Southern, so I chose the St. Louis Union Station’s Hilton Hotel. Thinking it’s probably closest I can get to the spaciousness and grandeur of the Southern Hotel in its prime, I can report that I wasn’t disappointed at all. Union Station’s Grand Hall, with all its tourists, light shows, and lack of cocktail snobbery (that I can provide), is a fun place to have a drink.

Union Station's Grand Hall

I ordered the New York Central Manhattan off the cocktail menu (of course), and I’ll admit I wasn’t disappointed with that, either. The price is ridiculous ($11 for Four Roses?), but I’m pleased to report it was stirred and served up without me asking for it that way.

Cheers to you, majestic Southern!

Southern Hotel Timeline

 Key sources:

  • The Campbell House Museum archives gave me enough material about the Southern Hotel to write a book about the Southern and everything that happened there. I’m considering it.
  • “St. Louis’ Southern Hotel Fire of 1877” – Gateway Heritage, Fall 1985, pages 38-48
  • Many of the anecdotes about stuff like Busch’s wine bets, Corbett’s challenge, and the presidential nominations came from newspaper articles “remembering” the Southern Hotel when it was demolished in the 1930’s. Someday, I’d like to go back and nail them down with primary sources, but I think that will have to wait for a bigger project (book) to do that. In the meantime, the September 8, 1933 and the August 15, 1934 editions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch were a big help
  • In researching this post, I probably dug through over one hundred newspaper articles from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the Missouri Republican, the New York Times, and many others. I’m not going to list them all here, but if anyone would like a list, please contact me.
  • More attention to sources will be given in my next post about the 1877 fire that destroyed the Southern Hotel
September 23rd, 2015 by Cameron Collins

Compton & Dry in Color

No Color in Plate 42

Well, that map is still driving me crazy.

Compton and Dry’s 1875 Pictorial St. Louis, the same map that led me on an exhaustive brewery hunt earlier this summer, has completely derailed my summer plans once again. I can’t say that’s actually a bad thing, but it does mean that a dozen or more potential Distilled History ideas have to take a back seat once again.

(Note: If you aren’t familiar with Compton & Dry’s epic map, click here. Or, get to the Missouri History Museum as soon as you can.)

For a history nerd who dreamed of being a cartographer as a kid (seriously), this map infatuation of mine explains why Compton and Dry’s opus is easily my favorite item or “thing” in St. Louis history. I think about it every single day, a result of its use as my iPhone wallpaper and its prominent placement on my living room wall. It is also the most referenced source material in just about every history-related project I undertake. And what gets me in trouble is that each time I look at it, I can’t help but think up new ideas in which to have fun with it.

Like this one, which drifted into my head several weeks ago:

"Hmmm. I wonder how long it would take to color that map?"

Looking back on that moment now, I probably should have taken a moment to think about what I had in mind. Hand coloring the Compton and Dry map, all 110 plates of it, is a monumental task for a throng of artists, let alone an individual non-artist. But before I had an idea of what I had taken on, a cocktail was poured, Photoshop was open, and a gigantic map beckoned.

Anthony & Kuhn's Brewery on Plate 27That’s when the real delusions of grandeur began. In only fifteen minutes,I had the finishing touches applied to a single building, a brick brewery drawn on Compton & Dry’s Plate 27. A post on social media followed, and the horde of “likes” that flooded in had me instantly convinced that I was about to strike St. Louis history gold. I even convinced myself that I could finish the project in a year, maybe two.  So I dove in further, determined to soon have the 110 plates of Compton & Dry’s map in full-color glory for all to see.

Before I get to the what happened next, I want to mention that I’m well aware that I’m not the first person to “colorize” Compton and Dry’s map. I’ve seen other attempts, most notably an unknown artist who took a crack at Plate 42 with watercolors many years ago. I think it looks fantastic, but many of the buildings, homes, and roofs are painted with just a few different shades of brown and gray. I’ve also never seen examples of the technique applied to any of the other plates. I wanted to try adding color to the map (in intricate detail) using a full spectrum of color.

Fast-forward about eight weeks and here I am. After countless hours of zooming, coloring, erasing, shading, and tweaking, is my plan to color the Compton and Dry’s map in two years possible?  The answer is simple: Absolutely not.

Watercolor Colorization of Plate 42

However, I’m happy to say that I have completely finished one of the 110 plates to my satisfaction. And I am really happy with how it looks. I’m sure I missed a pixel or two, but I really did my best to make sure every single building, house, tree, sidewalk, fencepost, and blade of grass had color. I added stained glass to church windows, added sunlight to trees, and used at least thirty different shades of brick. When possible, I even tried to accurately match a few structures to the colors they wore in 1875.

Vignettes from Plate 42

But at times, it became an overwhelmingly daunting task. The first plate I chose to color contained so many trees, so many chimneys, and so many roofs. Looking back, it was the roofs the stopped me after one plate. Roofs are boring to color. But in the end, I do think it was a fun project to work on. It gave me something to (mindlessly) do as I watched a ballgame, filled in crossword puzzles, and sipped cocktails. I’ll also say that coloring is very relaxing. It’s made me realize that I few cranky people I know could use a box of crayons.

Christ Church Cathedral on Plate 42

Like my watercolor friend of the past, I chose to begin with Plate 42. It’s where my beloved Campbell House is drawn, and my office (the “real job” office) sits in a building at the northwest corner of 18th and Washington in a building constructed after the map was drawn. But Plate 42 is also crammed with tons of great history. I can’t even begin to do it justice here, but plate 42 shows us Washington University at its original location (southwest corner of 18th and Washington), the future site of City Hall (Washington Park), and the future site of the magnificent Central Library (Missouri Park). Just behind the Campbell House, the city’s first public high school (known simply as “High School” in 1875) can be seen at the corner of Olive and 15th. Finally, two long structures known as the Lucas Market can be seen running right down the middle of Twelfth Street. That market is gone today, but it serves as a reminder why Twelfth Street (now called Tucker Boulevard in that part of the city) is one of the widest streets in downtown St. Louis.

Time-lapse Video (with background music)

Most significantly, plate 42 is where the Lucas Place neighborhood appears on Compton and Dry’s map. The height of residential luxury in 1875 St. Louis, Lucas Place can rightly be called St. Louis’s first suburb, an inescapable aspect of the city today. Planned and developed by a man named John H. Lucas in the 1840’s, it was the first neighborhood to be deliberately built at a distance from  the city’s congested riverfront.

Lucas Place was at its apex when Compton and Dry drew it on their map in 1875. Along with the Campbell family, Lucas Place was home to many wealthy and prominent figures in 19th Century St. Louis. The list includes William S. Harney, one of the longest-serving Generals in American history, Henry Hitchcock, a co-founder of the American Bar Association and the first dean of the Washington University’s Law School, and Trusten Polk, a former Governor of Missouri and former United States Senator. Lucas Place on Plate 42

What’s depressing about plate 42 today is how much of it has been erased. Of the hundreds of homes, schools, churches, and buildings drawn on plate 42, only four structures remain today. Along with the Campbell House, only three churches drawn on Plate 42 still stand today: Christ Church Cathedral, Centenary Methodist Church, and St. John the Apostle Catholic Church. It’s a blunt reminder that St. Louis has literally wiped much of its history right off the map.

Finally, I wanted to mention something I couldn’t stop (humorously) thinking about the more I stared at the map. After spending countless hours looking at it, it became impossible not to notice how absurdly neat and tidy St. Louis looks in Compton and Dry’s version of it. I didn’t find myself coloring in piles of animal manure, drunken men stumbling out of saloons, or puddles of fetid water, all of which St. Louis had plenty of in 1875. I also looks nearly void of people, with only a few loitering on random corners. I know Compton and Dry drew their map to make St. Louis look pretty, but it would have been fun to color in a bank robbery or maybe some roaming livestock.

Vignettes of Plate 42

Despite my determination to get Plate 42 fully colored, I’m done with Compton and Dry for a while. My dreams of having a full-color version of the map by 2017 have been laughed off long ago. However, I’m sure I’ll pick up the pen again before too long. think I’ve kicked off a fun hobby I’ll have for years to come, and I’m sure I’ll use a bit of color here and there to support future blog posts.

But enough with all that. Let’s get to the color.

Full Image

Plate 42 in Color

Before/After Image Slider – Move (hover) the mouse left and right to view before and after versions. (Update: This plugin doesn’t seem to play nicely when viewing on mobile devices.)

Image Loupe – Drag the mouse pointer to zoom in parts of the final image.

The Drink

Saloons on Plate 42

Follow this blog, and you’ll know that each post ends with a drink that relates directly to the subject matter of the post. But Plate 42 doesn’t offer many drink options since the dozens of saloons that once dotted it are all long gone.

But the Campbell House, one of four still standing tall from Plate 42, has given me an opportunity to not only get a drink, but to give a few away.

On Friday, September 25 (tomorrow), Distilled History is teaming up with the Campbell House Museum for our annual #DrinkupTweetupSTL event. I blogged about last year’s event, and we have even more fun lined up for this year. Typhoon Jackson will be back to provide live music, free beer will be provided by Schlafly and Urban Chestnut, and free food will be provided by Caruso’s Deli. The house will be open to take a look at, and I’ll have a bunch of fun Victoria-era drinking history on hand. We’ll also be raffling off a bunch of great prizes, including a brewing history tour (led by me) and our annual grand prize, a chance to do a shot of whiskey out of a silver cup once owned by President Ulysses S. Grant.

I’ve even got a few additional perks. First of all, I’ll have a 4×5 foot enlargement of Plate 42 in full color on display for everyone to take a closer look at. I’ll also be passing out samples of my “Campbell Beer Series” and my own version of bathtub gin. This year also marks the debut of “Gus and Mary’s Answer the Bell Ale”, a new addition to the Campbell beer family honoring the many servants that worked and lived in the home during its eighty-four year run. Please consider joining us!

Campbell Family Beers
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