"Hotels of Early Waterloo"

Submitted by Mary Eldridge, April 1, 1998


The first hotel on the west side of Waterloo was erected in 1853 by Adam Shigley. It was a one and a half story, 16 x 24 foot log house on Third Street near the corner of Cedar Avenue, not far from the west bank of the river. In the autumn of 1853, Seth Lake purchased the house and opened it as a tavern and boarding house.

Seth Lake called his hotel "Lake House." A story about Lake portrayed him as a very "economical" landlord who considered one pound of cotton sufficient for four pillows. Tired of using his coat for a pillow every night, one of his boarders decided to have some fun. At midnight when everyone was asleep, the boarder rang the bell provided for emergencies. Getting up quickly, Lake lit his candle and climbed the ladder to the loft to see what had happened. With a straight face, the boarder said, "Mr. Lake, I'm afraid to go to sleep for fear these pillows will work into my ears." Muttering something unintelligible, Mr. Lake climbed back down the ladder.

The first hotel (and tavern) on the east side was a log structure built in 1854 by Samuel L. May on the corner of Sycamore and Fourth Streets (later the location of Commercial National Bank.) This was a frame building, 16 x 30 feet, with a 12 x 16 foot annex. Both were one and a half stories high. After May's death in 1855, Joe Engle operated the hotel and later his son, John C. Engle, operated it. Asa Shinn was proprietor after John Engle. The hotel was then purchased by M. L. Burnham who moved the building to the rear of the lot. Later still, the house was moved up Sycamore Street to a new location. Sherman House During the autumn of 1853 the Emerson brothers from Wisconsin bought lot 3, block 8, on the west side of Commercial Street and started building a log cabin. It was sold before completion to Solomon Ayers, who completed it and lived there during the winter of 1853-1854. Ayers also kept some boarders.

In April of 1854, Ayers sold the cabin to Henry Sherman, who opened it as a tavern and called it "Sherman House". (This was the first actual "hotel" in Waterloo.) He built a one and a half story addition in the same year and installed beds in a dormitory type room. The cabin was leased in 1856 by M. T. "Dad" Williams and his partner Eichelberger. They changed the name to "Tremont House." Eichelberger sold his interest to Day, Day sold to Fuller and, at the expiration of the lease, Sherman again became the landlord and changed the name back to Sherman House. Sherman then leased it to B.F. Thomas, who named it "Franklin House." Thomas was followed by Groat, Henry, and McCormick; then when the property returned to Sherman, it was again called Sherman House.

Around 1860, the cost to board at the Sherman House was $2.00 a week. In April of 1864, Robert W. Chapman and Henry D. Williams purchased the hotel and named it "Central House." A 25 x 30 foot addition became the kitchen of the remodeled Central House hotel. The renovated Sherman House was also called the Iowa Central Hotel. The three-story, fifty room Iowa Central House held its grand opening in 1864. On July 4, 1865, Chapman and Williams, proprietors, gave a ball to celebrate the near-completion of Central House. Over 200 tickets were sold at $2.50 each. This was the largest dancing party ever held in the city. Another dance was held September 23rd to celebrate the actual completion. The new structure was an addition to the old hotel, which had been moved to the back of the lot. The entire property was valued at about $15,000. The completed hotel contained a billiard parlor, bar, barber shop, fifty bedrooms, dining room and a kitchen. (The Central House may also at one time have been called Carpenter House.) American Hotel (later Commercial House) On July 31, 1860 a contract was let for the building of a two-story, 60' square structure on the vacant corner of West Fourth and Commercial Streets. Divided into three rooms of 20' x 60' each, the upper floor of the building was used as a lodge room. A portion of the building was also occupied by the district provost marshal during the Civil War. In the 1870s, the building was sold to S. Sweet who turned it into a hotel called Commercial House. The building was later purchased by Rensselaar Russell and eventually demolished for construction of the Russell block.

Hotel Irving (Also called Irving Hotel.) Located on the corner of Commercial and W. Fourth Streets (earlier the site of Joe's Plunder Store), this hotel opened on June 17, 1884. The hotel registered 10,000 guests its first year and was nicknamed the "Waldorf of Waterloo." Landlord, A. G. Smith, charged $2.00 a day (50 cents for a room and three meals at 50 cents each). This hotel was demolished in 1937 and the Montgomery Ward building was erected on this site. What remains of the former Montgomery Ward building is occupied by the Waterloo Courier (1993). Logan House Corner of Sycamore and Fourth Streets. This hotel was torn down in 1913 when James Black built the Black's Building. Hotel Hummel Opposite the Union Depot. This hotel opened in 1902 and it's lunch counter and cafe were always open. The hotel offered 40 rooms with steam heat, electric lights, hot and cold water, telephone service and bath. L. G. Ronquest was the proprietor.

The Ellis Hotel. The Ellis Hotel opened on April 1, 1907 with 140 rooms, 70 with private bath. R. W. Johnston & Co. were the proprietors. Sans Souci Hotel Located on the southern tip of Sans Souci Island. Sans Souci (meaning "without care") Hotel was built in 1898 on the southern tip of the island of the same name, on a wooded site. The hotel was two stories high with a wide porch running the length of both stories. A broad walkway led to the river where a covered dock received passengers from two river excursion boats. The hotel was known for its fine cuisine and good accommodations. The building was located across the WCF&N tracks, and across Conger Street, from the present homes on the remaining island river front. (The section of the island which supported the hotel no longer exists. It was dredged out during John Deere's factory expansion of 1967-69.) The hotel was torn down in 1917. In 1900, twenty people organized a golf clubhouse and built a nine hole golf course on the island. Battered by frequent floods, the course had only five holes in the last year of its existence (1908). Russell-Lamson Hotel The building cost $350,000, contained 250 rooms, 150 with bath, and held its grand opening on September 1, 1914. The hotel has since been made into apartments and offices. The Brown Bottle restaurant occupies a large part of the ground floor but the picturesque lobby has been kept intact (1993).

The first circus ever to visit Waterloo performed at what later became the site of the Russell-Lamson Hotel. After the circus left town, a band of Sac and Fox Indians used the premises, including the circus ring, for tribal dances. President Hotel Corner of Sycamore Street and Park Avenue. This hotel was built in 1928 and now (1993) houses the Park Towers Senior Citizen Housing.


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