Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Hotel Menasha

For over thirty years the finest accommodation to be found in Menasha were those of the National Hotel on the corner of Main and Mill Streets.  The National Hotel burned in 1901, leaving the business district with only three hostelries for travelers.  By late 1902 the Menasha Hotel Association was formed to insure a new hotel was built.  Two of the groups prime movers were brothers, Charles and Henry Smith and they wanted a first class establishment for the city.   The association met in February of 1903 and of all the proposals before them, accepted the plans submitted by William Waters.  There was a notice the next month for contractors to submit sealed bids and it looked as if things were off to a good start, however in May, Miss Elizabeth Smith the aunt of Charles and Henry, passed away.  This seemed to bring progress to a halt as no action was taken until 1905 when a long last the bids were to be opened.  The headline in the paper spoke of merchants and mill men pushing for the projects completion. The city council even promised five years of tax relief.  The bids were opened by Chris Walter the brewer and William Waters the architect.  Mr. Walter was the largest investor in the enterprise and would own the land and the building, leasing the hotel to a suitable operator. 
The building was to occupy the site of the old National Hotel, measuring 60' x 105', three stories high and built of pressed brick with limestone foundation and trim.  On the first floor there was a kitchen, dining room, parlor, office and a bar room.  Thirty eight sleeping rooms occupied the floors above.  With the turn of the twentieth century architect Waters used more classical elements in his designs.  The hotel sat upon a high limestone foundation and the first floor alternated bands of limestone with brick.  The fenestration was regular with the window on the first and second floors capped with segmented jack arch lintel of limestone with oversize keystones. The front entrance was on Main Street and covered by stone porch and balcony above.  Next to the front door was another entry perhaps to the bar room. On the east side of the building at street level was the Ladies entrance which was covered by a canopy supported by chains anchored to the wall.  Separating the first floor from the others was a band of limestone and quoins extended from that band to cornice near the top of the structure. The hotel was very successful and by the summer of 1911 an addition was erected, doubling the size the hotel.  The building has changed over the years: gone are the porch and front entrance as well as the entry to the bar, gone too is the canopy at the side door.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Roberts Resort

The cities around Lake Winnebago emerged as centers of commerce and population because of good water transportation, add to that the introduction of the railroads and the area flourished.  By the late 1800's the communities near the lake began to exploit the lake as an attraction for summer tourists.  Fishing and sailing lured many to the lake.  In May of 1877 John Roberts was about to open his new resort hotel on Neenahs' Doty Island, so stated a feature in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of the 21st of that month.  The reporter paid a visit to the hotel and gave it a glowing review "The hotel is a building of the latest architectural design, and does great credit to the architect, Wm. Waters of Oshkosh."  The resort occupied the former farm of Governor Doty, on the island near the mouth of the Fox River; and commanded a view of the lake, Riverside Park and Neenah harbor.  The hotel was a two story wooden structure, 43' x 68' of 35 rooms, with a veranda across the front and one side and a balcony above the front entry.  On the first floor was an office, parlor, dinning room and several bedrooms.  Upstairs were suites and bedrooms with hot and cold baths and modern sanitary arrangements.  The interior was said to be well finished and elegantly furnished.  The hotel was erected adjacent to Governor Doty's log cabin which was to be used as servants quarters or a rainy day place, billiard hall and gentleman's smoking room. 
Mr. Roberts was born in 1833 in Oneida county New York.  He stared in the hotel business with a lodging in Schenectady and 1858 went to New York City until 1862 and then on to Newark, Ohio.  In 1866 he and his wife Martha moved to Columbus Wisconsin; and from there to Menasha to run the National Hotel; and in dew time he built his resort.  The business did very well in attracting pleasure seeker, so well in fact that three guest cottages were built on the grounds in 1881.  For what ever reason the property was sold in 1905 to John Strange who remodeled the hotel as his home.  He donated Doty Cabin to the city in 1923 and had it moved to the park just west of his property.  John Strange was the president of the several companies and was elected Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, serving from 1909 to 1911, all the time residing in the former hotel.  The property remain with the Strange family until 1965 when it was sold, subdivided and the old resort was razed.