Maxwell House Hotel
The Maxwell House Hotel was a major hotel in downtown Nashville at which seven US Presidents and other prominent guests stayed. It was built by Colonel John Overton Jr. and named for his wife, Harriet Maxwell Overton. The architect was Isaiah Rogers.
Construction began in 1859 using slave labor. During the Civil War, the unfinished building was used as a barracks, prison, and hospital. In September 1863, several Confederate prisoners were killed when a staircase collapsed. The hotel was also said to be haunted by a Southern belle and two brothers who had been assigned as guards during the war, one of whom had killed the other and the girl in a jealous rage and was then killed by the collapse of the staircase while transporting the bodies. The first national meeting of the Ku Klux Klan took place at the hotel in April 1867.
What local citizens called "Overton's Folly" finally opened in fall 1869; total costs were $500,000. The Maxwell House was Nashville's largest hotel, with five stories and 240 rooms. It advertised steam heat, gas lighting, and a bath on every floor. Rooms cost $4 a day, including meals. Located on the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue North and Church Street, the hotel had its front entrance, flanked by eight Corinthian columns, on Fourth Avenue in the "Men's Quarter" and a separate entrance for women on Church Street. The main lobby featured mahogany cabinetry, brass fixtures, gilded mirrors, and chandeliers. There were ladies' and men's parlors, billiard rooms, barrooms, shaving "saloons," and a grand staircase to the large ball or dining room.
The hotel was at its height from the 1890s to the early twentieth century. Its Christmas dinner featuring calf's head, black bear, opossum, and other unusual delicacies became famous. Hotel guests included Jane Addams, Sarah Bernhardt, William Jennings Bryan, Enrico Caruso, "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Annie Oakley, William Sydney Porter (O. Henry), General Tom Thumb, Cornelius Vanderbilt, George Westinghouse, and Presidents Andrew Johnson, Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt's comment that a cup of coffee he drank was "good to the last drop" was used as the advertising slogan for Maxwell House coffee, which was served at and named after the hotel.
- Ophelia Paine, "Maxwell House Hotel," The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, online edition 2002, accessed November 12, 2011.
- Kathy Walker, "Maxwell House Hotel," Historical Marker Database, November 6, 2009, accessed January 14, 2010.
- Jackie Sheckler Finch, The Insiders' Guide to Nashville, 7th ed. 2009, p. 28.
- Ken Traylor and Delas M. House, Jr., Nashville Ghosts and Legends, Charleston, South Carolina: Haunted America/The History Press, 2007, ISBN 987.1.59629.324.3, pp. 45-46.
- Mark V. Wetherington, "Ku Klux Klan," The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, updated January 1, 2010, accessed February 11, 2013.
- Historical Fact Sheet, Study Circles Resource Center, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (pdf).
- Traylor and House, p. 45.
- The Tennessee Encyclopedia implies he drank it at the hotel, but other versions of the story hold that it was at Andrew Jackson's home, The Hermitage: "'Good to the Last Drop' ... or was it? Teddy Roosevelt's 1907 visit to The Hermitage," Tennessee History for Kids, accessed January 14, 2010. Based on Bill Carey, Fortunes, Fiddles and Fried Chicken: A Nashville Business History, 2000.
- "Hotel in Nashville Destroyed by Fire," New York Times, December 26, 1961, p. 31.