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Hotel Nelson

The Nelson hotel will rise in grandeur to the skies. This is a sure thing now, due to  the grit and perseverance of half a dozen of our most indefatigable city boomers, who just simply hung on and would not let go. A first class metropolitan hotel. On June 25, 1891 the name Hotel Nelson was officially adopted by the board of  directors and Officers. The name was given to it by the Register-Gazette while the  hotel was still in it's planning stages. The board was also opposed to an architects  proposal to place the dining room and kitchen on the top floor of the hotel as was  talked of, claiming it was just a fad and has not fared well at other hotels. In 1893, the Nelson Hotel, was opened at 306 South Main at the corner of South Main and Chestnut Streets. It was built mainly by William Nelson and named to honor his father, John Nelson, who revolutionized the knitting industry. The impressive 165 room six story large and elegant hotel was built for $250,000 with modern amenities, restaurants, and mezzanine level Crystal Room. When travelers arrived in John Nelson's city he wanted them to be housed in decent fashion. In the above photograph you can see the awnings for the Nelson Pharmacy, Nelson Barber Shop and Nelson Cafe.

Like their father the younger Nelsons are known for a spirit of philanthropy and of immense modesty. When asked about their own contributions to their family invention they will invariably dismiss the matter as of small moment. But they honored their father's memory by building a large and elegant hotel as a monument to him at a time when Rockford was as yet a small town. Pictured above is Hotel Nelson before the advent of automobiles, notice the horse and carriages. Later the hotel would construct an auto parking garage as part of its 1917 annex building.

Nelson House Barber Shop 1899

View of the lobby - 1908. With the skylight raining down abundant sunshine on the lobby, stairways are on the right.

Another view of the Nelson Hotel lobby. Notice the main entrance under the staircase and the fireplace with the chairs wrapped around it.

The Nelson Hotel also owned its own thirty foot boat and boat house and would take guests on excursions up the Rock River to view the beautiful scenery. The boat entertained and delighted guests and was good advertising for not only the hotel but for the city as well. Picture shown taken in 1915 at the water front at Charles S. Brantingham’s residence at the entrance of National Avenue.

The lobby of the Nelson was updated after the addition of the annex in 1917 as shown in this postcard.

As Rockford's showplace hotel, the Nelson hosted numerous notables including  popular orator William Jennings Bryan, U. S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and  William Howard Taft, famed World War I general John Joseph "Black Jack"  Pershing, and federal judge turned major league baseball commissioner Kenesaw  Mountain Landis. One of Rockford's oldest and leading hotels, the popular Nelson was one of Rockford's premiere gathering and lodging spots, famed for its warm spirit of hospitality and the excellence of its food and service.

In 1920 the Hotel Nelson became the first hotel in the world to install a complete electric kitchen. The view here is showing the electric roll warmer, a steam operated automatic coffee urn and an all steel steam heated cup warmer and pantry counter. The roll warmer is constructed with a foot operated mechanism which opens the doors, leaving the hands free to handle a tray and take rolls from the warmer.

The Nelson featured a three section electric range consisting of three four foot sections; one section of thirty inch electric hotel broiler and all steel combination cook’s table and plate warmer.

This photograph shows a small portion of the cafeteria counter. The cafeteria was a feature that made the hotel one of the best known and popular eating place in Illinois. All foods in the cafeteria as well as the main dining room are electrically prepared in order to minimize the time between the customer’s order and time delivered. Many other time and labor saving electrical appliances were installed at the hotel.  The hotel also had all stainless steel counters installed for sanitation reasons. The hotel was equipped with its own electric generating plant as well as an its own artesian well that reached 1,000 feet deep with a strong flow suited for all purposes. They also had their own water softening system.

The cafeteria in the Nelson Hotel was claimed to be one of the most attractive rooms of its kind in America

An early postcard of the Nelson Hotel cafeteria - Be sure to eat here when you are in Rockford. It is a beautiful restaurant, the prices are reasonable, and the food cannot be beaten. Just one of the many eating establishments in the hotel.

A view of the Hotel Nelson Dining Room around 1920

From its inception Rockford has been a manufacturing center of greatly diversified industries. The list of made in Rockford products number over 6000 items. Its growth and traffic has necessitated sufficient hotels, of which Hotel Nelson is among the finest. The city is well equipped to handle its many visitors. South Main Street looking north from Nelson Hotel. On the right is the Hotel Nelson with The Brown Building and Empire Building in the distance. On the left is the Mead's Furniture building.

In 1917-19 the 165 room seven story "Annex" was built adding 200 rooms. Beyond its sheer size and modern amenities, the Nelson's reputation was further enhanced by its popular restaurants and excellent service. The hallways of the hotel were six feet wide, carpeted with Templeton and heavily padded. Mail chutes were located in the hallways.

A View of the Nelson Hotel Sandwich Shop and Lunch Counter around 1930

The Nelson Hotel was a favorite place of many clubs and businesses for meetings and gala events alike. On February 22, 1921, in honor of Washington’s Birthday, the Rotary Club held one of the most elaborate parties in Rockford history. Held in the Nelson Hotel dining room, the menu music and program were in keeping with Colonial times.

After the Art Deco Faust Hotel opened in 1929, the new hotel soon surpassed the Nelson in popularity. The Nelson kept up to changing times however, switching to the popular European plan, remodeling the hotel, updating furnishings and adding its famed Jade Ballroom.

The Hotel Nelson has long been famed for its warm spirit of hospitality and for the excellence of its food and service. There are 300 outside rooms - 200 with baths. Rates are from $1.75. The popular Coffee Shop, Dyke Room and Sapphire Room are completely air conditioned. Sold to Fort Wayne based Van Orman Hotels in 1934

The Hotel Nelson Drake Room Interior 1935

Major downtown "red carpet" hotels nationwide often offered the most exciting dining and entertainment options for visitors and residents alike such as The Nelson's Kit Kat Room, shown in this 1948 postcard which offered dining and dancing in an international Bohemian motif.

Hotel Nelson is the largest hotel in downtown Rockford and is immediately adjacent to the retail and theater district as well as the large manufacturing section on the west side of Rockford. Modern in every aspect including; dining rooms and an unusually attractive cocktail lounge. In above view of the Hotel Nelson the 1917 annex is visible in the center of the postcard. The annex underwent extensive remodeling in 1944 and again in1953.  Also visible on the right side of the postcard is the Ziock Building later commonly called the Amerock Building.

Click above for a view of the Hotel Nelson Dyke Room Wine List 1930's

The Van Orman Hotels included the Hotel McCurdy, Evansville, Indiana; Hotel Shawnee, Springfield, Ohio; Hotel Nelson, Rockford, Illinois; Hotel Orlando, Decatur, Illinois; Hotel Orlando, Decatur, Illinois and the Terre Haute House, Terre Haute, Indiana. Van Orman Hotels sold the Nelson in 1943 to a Chicago hotel management firm who sold it to National Chain Hotels in 1949.

Postcard view of the Nelson looking north

The Nelson Garage offered 24 hour a day garage service and you could store your car for thirty five cents per day.

An early drawing that was proposed for the Hotel Nelson by Architect D. S. Shurman. The design was not used.

Had things gone differently, the grand dame red carpet Nelson Hotel might still be anchoring the southeast corner of South Main and Chestnut Streets. Ranked among Rockford's finest hotels, the Nelson's 1958 plans called for demolition of its 1892 hotel building for the construction of state of the art 100 room additions to its 1919 Annex which was extensively remodeled recently. Ultimately the City of Rockford purchased the Nelson, razing the hotel in 1960-61 as one of downtown's inaugural urban renewal projects. First replaced with a surface parking lot, a 284 car parking deck was built in 1968 on the site. The parking deck was demolished around 2004 and returned to a surface parking lot. This Rockford Fire Department Photo shows the Nelson Hotel shortly before it was demolished, you are looking southwest toward the Nelson from Chestnut Street.  Notice the Greyhound Bus station and Caster Motors on the left.

Another picture of the Nelson in May 1960 shortly before its demise.

This Rockford Fire Department Photo shows the Hotel Nelson sign being removed before demolition begins.

End is near proclaims this Rockford Morning Star article published on February 26, 1961.

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