Jefferson County

The Great Hotels of Mt. Vernon
By Aaron Saxe

Mt. Vernon Township High School

Railroads were important to Mt. Vernon's growth; this view
of the square shows a thriving downtown. 


The railroads increased Mt. Vernon's importance as a travel and
business hub. A strategic location between Evansville, St. Louis, Chicago,
and many other large cities enabled Mt. Vernon to grow into an important
transportation center. As the city grew in importance in southern Illinois,
a number of large and elegant hotels rose around the downtown. These early
hotels established the city as a center for conventions in southern Illinois
and provided its residents with a community meeting place including dining
and entertainment.

The Dodson House, located on the southwest corner of Eleventh and
Main streets, was Mt. Vernon's first hotel. It was a three-story brick
structure with a sweeping front porch atop the dirt streets. Opening in
1858 as the Johnson House, it was later renamed the Commercial House before
finally being named the Dodson House, its last remembered name. The J.H.
Grant grocery store occupied the east side of the first floor while the
lobby took up the remainder of the floor on the west side of the building.
The rooms were rented for only one dollar a day and served railroad passengers
on their way to other destinations. In 1914 the Dodson House was demolished
to make way for the post office, which occupied that site until 1963.

For many years the Grand Hotel was one of the leading hostelries
of southern Illinois. Since its opening in 1900 the Grand was synonymous
with comfortable elegance and fine cuisine. The three-story brick structure
was able to accommodate up to thirty people. Mrs. M. Krieckhause was the
proprietor whose skill and experience made her extremely popular with the
traveling and business public. The hotel was located on the east side of
North Tenth Street on the present site of Expressions and was demolished
between 1910 and 1930.

The Illinois Hotel was converted from earlier use and was one of
Mt. Vernon's many small but comfortable hotels. The two-story red brick
building was completed in 1910 as the Egyptian Hospital. Located at 106-108
North Eleventh Street, the hospital functioned until about 1915 when the
hospital outgrew the facility. Then the Illinois Hotel occupied the building
and remained open until it was torn down and replaced by a parking lot.

Perhaps the most famous and elegant of any of Mt. Vernon's old hotels
was the Hotel Emmerson. Opened in 1926 as the New Mt. Vernon Hotel, the
building quickly became a Mt. Vernon Landmark. The hotel was five stories
high and had 150 rooms; rates started at $1.75. Many Mt. Vernon residents
can remember the "human fly" who climbed the northwest corner of the hotel
soon after its opening. The hotel was considered fire-proof because there
were no wooden floors or walls in its construction. The Emmerson, famous
for its fine dining and meeting facilities, was used frequently by community
clubs such as the Car Shop Women. Between 1929 and 1933 the hotel changed
its name to Emmerson in honor of the Illinois governor of that time, Louis Emmerson. 
In 1983 the hotel was demolished after remaining vacant for a short time and was 
replaced by a parking lot.

As Mt. Vernon's railroad traffic declined, the old hotels of Mt.
Vernon started on their long but steady decline. The retail industry shifted
away from the downtown area to Times Square Mall on the west side of Mt.
Vernon. During the 1950s and 1960s, and before the completion of 1-57,
a number of small motels were completed outside the downtown area along
busy routes through town. These hotels include Motel Mt. Vernon and the
Economy Inn located on Route 37.

After 1-57 was completed almost all of the downtown hotels closed
because Mt. Vernon's downtown area declined. Heavy traffic shifted to the
outskirts of the city as did the office and retail market. The first to
be constructed was the Ramada Inn, now the Best Western, which offered
dining and recreation. Other larger hotels were soon to follow. The Holiday
Inn and new Ramada offer recreation, meeting facilities, dining, and entertainment
options. All of these hotels are geared to the busy interstate travelers
and conventions drawn by Mt. Vernon's central location between large cities.

The hotels provide a vital economic link for Mt. Vernon. With hundreds
of employees, the economic impact of the hotels is tremendous. Without
the interstate or hotels Mt. Vernon could not have grown into the convention
center that contributes millions of dollars annually to the local economy.
Today there are many more rooms than the older more intimate hotels of
the earlier part of this century. The rates are much higher, fifty dollars
and up at one motel, but the hotels also provide many more services than
the older hotels. The newest addition to Mt. Vernon's collection of hotels
is the Comfort Inn, which is conveniently located near many dining facilities
and the Ramada Convention Center.

Mt. Vernon's urban development resulted in several elegant hotels
being built around the downtown center. Most of these hotels catered to
railroad travelers and businessmen visiting the downtown business district.
After the railroad declined the hotels saw their business slowly fail before
finally closing in recent decades. The interstate roadside proved to be
the most convenient location for the new hotels that depend on interstate
travelers. As the downtown hotels were demolished, newer larger hotels
were completed on the other side of town. The purpose and location of Mt.
Vernon's many hotels has changed drastically. Still, the hotels continue
to have a vital economic role in Mt. Vernon. The interstate has replaced
the railroad as the preferred mode of transportation, and the new hotels
are somewhat less polished, less genteel, and are no longer clustered around
the downtown area, but Mt. Vernon hotels continue to thrive.—
(From Mt. Vernon Historical Society, Facts & Folks; History of Jefferson County,
Illinois 1810-1962; Tom Puckette, Mt. Vernon: A Pictorial History; 
John A. Wall, History of Jefferson County.

Illinois History A Magazine for Young People 1995

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