Hotels of Milwaukee – December 14, 1890

Here is an abridged portion of an article from 1890 talking about some of the hotels in Milwaukee.

December 14, 1890 – Milwaukee Sentinel

HOTELS OF MILWAUKEE

Inns Which Have Been Famous In Their Time.

TRADITIONS CONNECTED WITH SOME OF THEM.

An Indian’s Life Saved By His Sweetheart on the Site of the Pfister Hotel-Abner Kirby’s Arrival In Milwaukee and His First ventures-The Cottage Inn and the Milwaukee House-The More Modern Hotels.

The northwest corner of Jefferson and Wisconsin streets, from which a year from now the Pfister will rise up in all its grandeur, presented a curious appearance one day in 1841. It was a small clearing, surrounded by a thick growth of underbrush. In the midst of the clearing a young and stalwart Indian lay, motionless and with his eyes closed. On top of his body lay prostrate a squaw, moaning and lamenting. Near them stood a number of Indian braves, patiently waiting for the squaw to abandon the body beneath her. It was that of a young chief who, the night before, had killed and scalped two Indians, belonging to the Pottawatomie tribe. He had been pursued by friends of his victims and was about to be dispatched by them when his sweetheart , the fair Unacanana, leaped between him and his pursuers and threw her arms upon him. That saved him for the time being, for the squaw knew full well that no one would harm him as long as her body was in the way. The brave girl kept up her lamentations through the night and all day following. She and her lover were destined to be saved. After sunset an unusually heavy fog began to envelop everything with its misty and impenetrable shroud, and under cover of it the loving couple managed to make their escape, the close watch of the bucks notwithstanding. The Pfister corner is also associated with other historical occurrences. According to Indian traditions two bloody battles between red men were terminated on that spot, and it is possible that evidence therof will be found while the work of excavation is progressing. It was there on Oct. 13, 1844, that the last Indian dance was held, witnessed by many of the settlers, some of whom doubtless remembered it.

Milwaukee has always been blessed-if you please-with inns and hostelries. In 1844 one could find board at almost any of the houses, not to speak of the several regularly established hotels, and the rates at the latter were not so different from those of today as one would suppose. Of course, there was no clerk with the proverbial diamond pin; nor were there a host of colored boys who responded quickly to the call of “front;” there were no electric bells in the rooms, nor bath tubs; the beds were not supplied with spring mattresses, but had a good straw tick resting on a few stout and elastic ropes stretched out underneath them; Brussels carpets would have been scoffed at by the landlord and boarders alike, rough pine floorings being good enough for those days. But there was plenty to eat at all times; a numberless army of bed bugs had to be fought with then just as to-day, and, last but not least, the landlords knew how to charge for their accommodations, the same as their successors are in the habit of doing. “Es ist alles schon dagewesen” applies here. When Abner Kirby first came to Milwaukee in 1843 the vessel which brought him from Buffalo anchored at the foot of Huron street, and he and the other passengers were transferred to the “Trowbridge,” a little steamer which conveyed them up the river to Chestnut street. “I jumped ashore, “Mr. Kirby relates, “and requested one of the Indian loafers that stood around there to call a carriage for me. He looked at me with utter contempt, and walked away. I finally flung my trunk over my shoulders and started to find a boarding house. Of course, runners were already in existence, and I was presuaded to try the Cottage Inn. the first night while there I slept on a table in the dining hall, wrapped up in a buckskin blanket. The next morning I kicked up a row, but as it didn’t do me any good I left and transferred my patronage to the Bellevue house.”

“The Cottage inn” had before that been called the “Triangle,” because of the triangle which served for a bell. It was built by Jacques Vieau, in 1835, at the corner of East Water and Huron streets. In 1836 John and Luther Childs enlarged it and called it the Cottage inn. It was more noisy, if possible, than ever before. The “hotel” was always crowded, although a miserable structure in every respect. While under the management of Spurr & Taft, it burned to the ground, on April 6, 1845. The entire district was built up with frame houses and barns, and everything melted away before the flames. James B. Cross soon afterwards erected the United States hotel on the old site. A large business was done within its walls, until the railroads caused the newcomers to patronize the west side more and more. At the second “great fire,” on Aug. 24, 1854, the United States hotel was destroyed, and it was never rebuilt. The first real hotel on the east side was the Bellevue house, later on called the Milwaukee house, on the corner of Broadway and Wisconsin street, the present site of the old library building. It was erected by Solomon Juneau and Morgan L. Martin. Elisha Starr and Sidney A. Hosmer occupied it for hotel purposes in 1836. The last landlord was Peter Jones.

Mr. A.C. Wheeler furnishes the following sketch concerning the Milwaukee house:
“In 1841 it fell into good hands. Caleb Wall (the father of E.C. Wall) came from springfield, Ill., with the determination of starting a temperance hotel. After considerable dickering he bought the hotel from Hurley and Ream and commenced his operations for the establishment of a hotel on ‘moral principles.’ The place was refitted and replenished. Before opening the doors a code of laws for the government of the establishment and its happy inmates was made out. This code, among other excellent things, stated that ‘all guests of this hotel shall be in at 10 o’clock every night,’ it being a maxim with the host that those who could not comply with so simple and judicious a condition, were unworthy the hospitality of the institution. the starting of a hotel on such a plan attracted considerable attention. The proprieter, undeterred by insinuations that his plan was folly and that the venture would not pay, pushed forward his project, posted his code conspicuously and swung open his doors. He was firm in his resolve, and punctually at the appointed hour locked and barred the doors. But the guests, while they admired the system, were unable to comply with its demands. Unable to enter by the doors they had recourse to ladders and ropes at night, by which they got in at the back windows. one night, while looking out of his window, the worthy Caleb was so astonished to see half his boarders at work raising a heavy ladder against the piazza, that he modified the code and agve them another hour. This one modification in regard to the hour led to others, and by insensible degrees the house underwent a transit from one extreme of temperance to the other extreme of intemperance, until it became the most notoriously jolly and reckless institution in town-the boarders doing just as they pleased-and the old building itself reeling night after night with the mad revelry of gay parties and gushing music. The temperance hotel at last rejoiced in a regular bar with decanters, and then it was discovered that a majority of the guests had suddenly reformed in one particular, and evinced a decided reluctance to being out late, and some of them were opposed to being out at all.

“In 1849 the structure was moved down into the Third ward, and a small portion of it is still standing in a fair state of preservation.”