The Original Rockford Nostalgic Website
Before the railroad had arrived here stage lines reached out from Chicago in all directions and one of these came to Rockford and with it came mail, light freight and travelers to the city. The first hotel in Rockford was the Rockford House built by Daniel S. Haight and Charles Oliver and was located at the northwest corner of East State and Madison Streets. The early hotels were more generally called taverns. The wing of this first hotel was finished in 1837, and the third story which was divided into two rooms was reached by a wooden ladder nailed to the studding in the first story of the building. John, the son of Henry Thurston the manager of the Rockford House, was a very important person for it was he who made the beds and escorted the people up the ladder to the rooms on the third floor. He was told by his father not to drop melted tallow on the guests. The Rockford House was destroyed by fire March 7, 1869.
The second hotel was named the Washington House which fronted 60 feet on State Street, with large additions in the rear. It had a basement, kitchen, dining room, with sleeping rooms above the dining room. Part of the building was located where the former State and Madison Recreation building now stands. After much remodeling it was renamed the Rock River House.
Doctor George Haskell opened the Winnebago House in 1838 at the northwest corner of State and Main Streets and he received many of the visitors from Chicago, it was a popular hotel for many years. Then there was a log cabin in 1840 located in the Five Points - Log Cabin Arbor area on the stagecoach trial appropriately named The Stage House. Brown’s Cottage was opened in 1850 and was changed to the American house in 1852 or 53. There were other places among which were the Waverly, which was near the site of the former Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Depot on South Main Street. The Inn was located where the Chick House was later built.
The City Hotel which opened in 1852 was built at the southeast corner of State and Church Streets.
In 1855 a stock company was formed and began the erection of the Holland House, an extensive hotel for those days. It was not successful and passed into private hands, then sold to a Mr. Robertson and Mr. Starr. Mr. Starr would soon buy out his partner and sell the hotel to his son, H. N. Starr. It would become successful and later owners would be W. B. Sink and C. W. Brown.
The Holland House at the corner of South Main and Elm Street was named after John A. Holland, a highly respected local attorney. Built in 1854-56 and formally opened to the public on April 28, 1856 with a gala inauguration festival. It was the most elaborate and elegantly appointed hotel of its day, it even included elevators. At the opening over three hundred guests enjoyed supper and heard beautiful music and many speeches. Some of Rockford's greatest parties were held at the Holland House and four to five hundred people would attend these affairs. It was here in 1857 that Col. E. E. Ellsworth, handsome young military leader, was entertained. He was a social lion among the young people of the city. He came to Rockford to be a drill master for the Rockford City Greys. He was destined to be the first commanding officer to be killed in the Civil War. Former President Grant was also a guest at the Holland House and a great banquet was held in his honor. The Post Office was located here for many years inside the hotel as was Brown & Stewart Department Store, the predecessor to D. J. Stewart & Company. The Holland House was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve 1896, which ended a span of forty ears as the hub of Rockford's social life.
Holland House advertisement from 1869
The Commercial Hotel was located at 429 South Court at the corner with Cedar. It was built in 1859 out of "Milwaukee" bricks, and timbers held in place with square cut nails and wooden pegs. It featured steam heat, hot and cold water and baths. It was located near the city's west side train depot's making it a convenient place for travelers and railroad men to stay. The proprietor was E. W. Billick who operated the hotel through 1921. The Hotel's name changed in 1915 to the Rexton Hotel. In 1921 it became the Cedar Court Hotel and E. G. Plummer was the proprietor. In that year an annex with more rooms was finished behind the main building which fronted on Court Street. Mrs. Laura James became manager in 1927 and E. R. Collins in 1933 and John R. Fairley in 1935. It would close briefly in the mid 1930's. A major transformation took place in 1938 when John Briggs acquired the hotel. Briggs renovated the hotel and the hotel became the center for the black community as Mr. Briggs, a World War I vet himself was black. The Blue Moon Bar, a billiard hall and barber shop was located in the hotel. Edward E. Winslow would become the manager in 1959 replacing Briggs who went on to open a resort at Lake Koshkonong in Wisconsin. The hotel was renamed to the Dolwin Hotel, a contraction of Dolores, the first name of a relative of Briggs and Winslow. Archie Hawks and his family acquired the building in 1971 with plans to renovate it and name it Landmark Hotel. The plans fell through and the hotel was closed for good in May 1975. It was purchased by the Colonial Bakery and demolished in 1976.
The Dolwin Hotel as it appeared shortly before being demolished. It is interesting to note how little the hotel changed over the years, excepting the addition of the annex in 1921 to the removal of chimneys
Forest City House, 123 North Main Street - East Side. Opened in 1869. East and West Rockford both had a Main Street at the time.
The Griggs House, 123 South Main Street was built in 1857 and financed by three Rockford residents, Doctor R. P. Lane, and two bankers, Thomas D. Robertson, and Charles H. Spafford. Originally housing a dry goods store and insurance company it was converted into a hotel and opened as the Griggs House in 1870.
Thomas Chick purchased the former Griggs House building in 1888 and renamed the hotel to the Chick House. In 1903 the Chick House and the Nelson House were considered the leading hotels in Rockford. The Chick House was popular with travelers and diners alike. In 1923, Thomas Chick's widow sold the Chick House which remained in operation until 1928. The building was sold and closed for a time for renovations. During its closure, an office supply store, hardware store, and shoe store occupied the east end of the building.
The Chick Hotel Advertisement - 1920
South Main Street, looking south the Chick House can be seen on the corner with Elm Street.
Chick House menu from 1909
A line of taxi's outside of the Chick House Hotel circa 1919
In 1929 the former Chick House would reopen under the name Elms Hotel. In 1948 the hotel underwent a total renovation and opened with a new name, New Elms Hotel and new address now placing itself at 309 Elm Street. The hotel would remain in business until 1951. It was home to the hotel was purchased in 2004 by the City of Rockford and the building is listed on U. S. National Register of Historic Places since 1997. The buildings future still awaits us.
Renovated throughout, the New Elms Hotel now offers lovely, airy, comfortable rooms with new decorations, floor coverings and furnishings, a far cry from the old Elms. Any person seeking hotel accommodations will find the New Elms suitable. Many rooms are equipped with baths, all rooms have lavatories. The new hotel front lobby offers an inviting entrance through which anyone can enter with certainty that the new management awaits to give only the best in service. Register Republic 1948
The Colombia Building located at 415-21 Seventh Street was purchased by Max Liebling for use as a hotel and after renovating the building for that use the Eastman Hotel opened on May 1, 1926. The hotel was operated by long time hotel managers Mr. and Mrs. Carl W. Eastman. The first floor retail tenants were not affected by the hotel as the 90 room hotel had the entrance at street level and lobby and office on the second floor. The hotel rooms were located on the second through fourth floors of the building and were served by elevators. There were three bathrooms and three showers on each floor. The hotel catered to lodgers only with no restaurant or cafe being included.
Eastman Hotel opening advertisement 1926
A. W. Peterson opened The Chicago Hotel, 310 - 314 East State Street around 1915. The Chicago Cafe was located downstairs on the street level which had been in operation since 1909.
Originally built as Rockford's first Y. M. C. A. at 104 North Madison Street, this Richardsonian Romanesque style building served the Y for seventeen years until financial hardships forced them to sell the building in 1906. It became the Merlin Block Office Building until 1913 when F. G. Shoudy purchased the building and had it renovated for hotel purposes and named it The East Side Inn. Centrally located at East State and Madison Streets he built a 60 room first class hotel and appointed Thomas Shimmin as manager. Later that same year he would sell the hotel to the Webster Brothers who operated a livery for some time at 313 Market Street. The building was sold several times and new managers appointed over the years. The hotel continued in operation until 1967 when it was closed down for various health code violations. The former hotel sat vacant and in disrepair for many years and was once a candidate for demolition. It was named a East Rockford Historic Landmark and underwent a remodeling into an office building, the East Side Centre. In 2013 the Y. M. C. A. is once again in possession of the building and used the space for offices.
The lobby of the East Side Inn at 104 North Madison Street
W. M. Jarvis opened the Jarvis Inn Hotel at 112-114 South Church Street, the home of the former Noonan House on September 15, 1898. Before opening, Jarvis put in all new furniture, carpets and decorations. It was considered to be one of the finest hotels of the era with over 100 rooms and splendid fire escapes. It was recognized as one of the very best family hotels in the state at one time. It was noted for its clean linens and beds. Later as it changed owners it also changed names, for a while it was known as the Park Hotel. The restaurant portion of the hotel, Jarvis Inn Cafe, also changed hands and names, some more memorable ones being Park Cafe, Miller's Coffee House and later the Courthouse Cafe.
The National Hotel and Restaurant located at 308 West State Street opened in 1901 was operated by John Beath. The hotel forty five room hotel was three stories in height and had a sixty five by seventy feet footprint and was modern in every way during its era. The restaurant was known as a first class establishment as well.
O. R. Poole opened the Hotel Poole, 730 West State Street to the public on November 3, 1912. The building was a three-story structure of vitrified brick with a handsome spacious portico extending across the entire front. Hotel Poole was modern in every respect, conveniently situated on the streetcar line. There were 37 large and airy rooms furnished with steam heat, hot and cold water in every room and ice water available on every floor. Last information we could locate on Hotel Poole was in 1972. The area the hotel was located on is now part of the parking lot for the Winnebago County Justice Center.
The building constructed by Henry Chandler at South Main and Green Streets was leased by John Shay and Edward Voigt where they opened the 67 room Leland Hotel in 1911. Entrance to the hotel was on the corner giving the hotel the address of 329 South Main Street. The hotel included thirteen private baths with hot and cold running water provided in every room. A restaurant was operated in conjunction with the hotel appropriately named Hotel Leland Cafe.
Courtesy of Dave Blake
Edward Voigt took full control of the assets of the Leland Hotel In 1917 and renamed it to Hotel Edward.
Advertisement - 1920
In 1927 the former Hotel Leland again was renamed to Hotel Chandler. The Hotel in its later years would eventually become a hotel catering to the poor. In 1990 the hotel was demolished to make room for a city owned parking lot.
Two years after the Hotel Leland on South Main Street closed, a Leland Hotel would open in 1919 on the east side at 123 North Madison Street. We could find no connection between the two hotels.
The Rosalind Hotel located at 304 East State Street was opened to the public on May 21, 1929. The owner of the building was Israel Rubin who leased the hotel out to Mrs. A. M. West and her husband. The hotel had thirty four rooms modern for its day in every respect, attractively decorated and centrally located for the convenience of travelers. It too would also decline over the years due to changing tastes, modern motels and altered traffic patterns. Today it operates under the Columbia Hotel banner.
The luxurious Hotel Broadway located on the second and third floors of the Blomquist Building, 1102 - 1112 Broadway, just east of the Security National Bank was opened on January 10, 1927 by Frank E. and Gust E. Blomquist. One of the features of the hotel was the Wilton weave velvet carpet. The twenty two rooms on the second floor and the twenty five rooms on the third floor were adorned with the latest furniture and bedding, dressers, chairs, rocking chair, writing table and floor lamp. There also was a switchboard in the hotel offices on the second floor which provided a telephone in each room. Gust Blomquist also operated Blomquist Furniture Store on Broadway for many years.
The Blomquist Grill was under the management of Frank E. Blomquist and his son Howard. Miss Rockford Diner would replace the Blomquist Diner in 1930.
The Broadway Store was a 5¢ to $1 variety store operated under the supervision of H. A. Hageberg. There was also a barber shop located inside the hotel building. The Security National Bank next door to the hotel would later home to City National, National City and First of America Bank.
In 1969 City National Bank purchased the adjoining Broadway Hotel but continued its use as a hotel until the mid-1970's when the bank would close the hotel and combine the two spaces together for bank purposes. In 1995 the First of America Bank would donate the entire building to Crusader Clinic, a local health care provider still in operation at the site.
The three story Whitehead Liebling Building, 1146 Broadway at the intersection with Eighth Street was home to the eighty five room Grand Hotel which opened September 25, 1926. The hotel was located on the second and third floors of the building and was operated by Emmanuel Nilson. The hotel featured fireproof rooms, carpeting and soundproof floors. The furniture in each room was made of Mahogany and included dresser, bed, table, smoking stand, clothes closet, and lavatory containing both hot and cold running water and steam heat. There were also shower rooms on each floor. Chester E. Wolfey was the buildings architect. The Grand Hotel sign was 19 feet tall and illuminated by 380 lights.
The first floor of the building was set aside for store fronts and the first tenants included Broadway Garden Confectionery, Gulbranses - Brunswick Music Store, Gullin & Bois Dyers & Cleaners, Broadway Jewelers and Grand Recreation.
Broadway Garden was located on the ground floor of the Grand Hotel building with a seating capacity of 75 persons. The Garden was equipped with a new and modern soda fountain and served light luncheons, hot and cold drinks and an assortment of delicious candy.
Broadway Recreation was located in the basement of the Grand Hotel. It had ten bowling alleys, six pool tables, two billiard tables and a soda fountain. The recreation facility was incorporated by George M. Krischell, Frank Schrom, John H. Zanzinger and Bruce Johnson. Martin Johnson was the manager.
As times changed so did the Broadway area and the Grand Hotel which became a hot spot for crime such as drug trafficking and prostitution. In 1997 the City of Rockford and Zion Development Corp. agreed to buy the hotel and transform the building into low income housing in a re-named Grand Apartments.
The Blackhawk Hotel was located 528-530 West State Street was a sixty room hotel that opened on October 27, 1917. G. Will Fish was the manager at the time. On August 1, 1927 the Blackhawk Hotel was razed to make room for a new four story building at the southeast corner of West State and Winnebago Streets named the Blackhwawk Building. That building still stands today.
Skandia Hotel at the corner of State and First Streets claimed to be absolutely fireproof. The hotel featured a Roof Garden on the second floor from the top floor. I find it amusing that they only had two waitresses but five bouncers. Must have been a rowdy place. Ad is from 1899.
There was another Skandia Hotel located at 618 Seventh Street that appears to have been in business between 1915 and 1949.
The forty room Hotel Mayer located at the southwest corner of North Wyman and Mulberry streets opened its doors on November 10, 1917 after Sigmund Mayer the proprietor, remodeled the Henry building at the southwest corner of North Wyman and Mulberry streets. The hotel offered heavy velvet carpeting throughout, hot and cold running water in every room with a "shaving glass" or mirror, above the washstand, furnished with all mahogany furniture including bed, dresser, writing table, rocker chair, and dresser. It is interesting to note that one of the amenities offered was the electric lighting was operated by flush wall switches instead of the inconvenient bulb switches. The Atlas Taxi Company was also located in the office of the hotel. Mayer also owned the Ulrici Building directly across the street from the hotel where he planned on opening a restaurant and adding an annex containing ten more hotel rooms. Previous to Mayer opening this hotel he successfully conducted a Mayer Hotel in Belvidere for a number of years and also ran the Mayer Restaurant in the 100 block of North Main Street. Later he would be connected with the Lafayette Hotel.
In February 1909 the Blaisdell brothers decided to buy the Central Hotel in the building they owned at 209 -211 South Main Street and changed the name to Illinois Hotel. Renovations were made and the office was moved to the ground floor at this time. Lee J. Pinkney was one of Rockford's best known and most successful restaurant men, he entered the restaurant business in 1900 when he opened the White Front restaurant on East State Street, and for 11 years operated the Eastside Café, would take over Olson's Cafe and open the New Illinois Cafe and Pinkney's Marble Grill in the basement of the Illinois Hotel.
The hotel would once again change hands in 1935 and became part of the Milner Hotel system which was operating about sixty hotels in the east and Middle West. At the time the chain was in the process of extending its hotels from coast to coast. Rockford was selected as a desirable location for another link in the system because of its importance as a manufacturing and selling center. The hotel would be known as the Milner Hotel, and was completely renovated and consisted of approximately 70 rooms.
On January 31, 1936 Rockford city firemen battled a spectacular blaze that at one time threatened the whole block. Firemen rescued 18 guests who were trapped by the flames and smoke on the upper floors, however not a single firemen or occupant of the burning structure was seriously injured, although frozen ears, feet and hands were reported by several fire fighters. The firemen were hampered when ammunition from the Burr Sporting Goods store on the ground floor of the building detonated like missiles. They fought the fire for four hours and the fire damage was estimated to be $60,000. The firemen kept the fire from spreading to the adjoining buildings which however suffered smoke and water damage. The hotel was repaired and continued in business until 1965. The BMO Harris Bank Center now sits on the land once occupied by the Milner Hotel, a victim of urban renewal.
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