1840’s-1890’s – Iowa City’s Classic Hotels.

In an earlier post, we introduced you to the first four hotel/taverns that sprung up around town during Iowa City’s first four years of existence (1839-1842). Click here to read more.

Now, it’s the 1840’s and Iowa City is on the move…

As Iowa City was entering into its first full decade – establishing itself as Iowa’s new capital city – our community is abuzz with excitement. As you can see from an article – December 17, 1842 – in the Iowa Capitol Reporter, despite the rumor that Iowa City accommodations are “wretched,” there are now three solid choices for travelers as they come into our fair community…

Swan’s Hotel – located on Jefferson Street and The National Road – directly north of Capitol Square, began as The National Hotel, but now is under the ownership of Chauncey & Dolly Swan (above). In May 1842, Chauncey Swan – the founding father of Iowa City – and his wife, Dolly, bought out the declining National and transformed it into an eloquent inn and tavern with a commanding view of the Iowa River. Swan’s Hotel – as it became known – went on to play a major role in day-to-day life during the early days of Iowa City. Read more about Swan’s here.

The City Hotel – located on Clinton Street – near the corner of Washington Street – directly east of Capitol Square, is now under the ownership of Joseph Rickey. Walter Butler opened The City in 1840, and within one year had added a large meeting hall on the city lot directly south of the hotel. This hall became known as Butler’s Capitol since it was used to host the first Iowa Territorial Legislative session held in Iowa City – December 1841. Read more here.

A new two-story wood-frame structure with a 60-foot front facing south toward Washington Street beginning some 32 feet east of Clinton Street. It was 30 feet deep and divided into separate meeting rooms for the 26-member House and 13-member Council upstairs, plus smaller committee rooms and several little offices at ground level. Built entirely of wood, it lacked plumbing, electricity, rest rooms and central heating as was typical of the era. Just months before the wood had been live timber which had been laboriously cut by hand into dimension lumber since no local saw mill was available.

The Globe Hotel – located on West Washington Street – directly south of Capitol Square, is under the ownership of Thomas Parker, working with Mrs. A.W. Scharitt as the host. Opening in November 1842, The Globe was the third major hotel to be available to those looking for accommodations in Iowa’s new capital city.

Looking to the south on Clinton Street – here’s the intersection of Clinton & Washington Streets.

Much like the bed-and-breakfast scene of today, beginning in the mid-1840’s, other boarding opportunities began to surface in Iowa City. As you can see from some of the ads from The Iowa Capitol Reporter (below), Mrs. A.W. Scharitt – who was first co-working with Thomas Parker at the nearby Globe Hotel – decided to branch out on her own – right down Washington Street – with The Washington House. An ad, running later that same year (1843), shows that H.H. Winchester bought out Scharitt and The Washington changed states – becaming The Vermont! Over on, what appears to be Jefferson Street – near Swan’s – The American Hotel – run by Leonard Jewet – is opening up as well.

Speaking of Swan’s, sadly Dolly Swan – Chauncey’s wife and host at the hotel, suddenly died in 1847. Chauncey, soon after, turned much of the hotel management over to his son Charles, and by the 1850’s, the Swan became The Sanders Hotel. Read more here.

In 1854, the Banking House of Cook, Sargent & Downey produced a promotional map of Iowa City, and on it we find several new hotel listings.

Cook, Sargent & Downey invested in a beautiful promotional piece – a city map drawn up by map-maker J.H. Millar, including twelve illustrations by the budding Iowa City artist – George H. Yewell. Read more here.

On Jefferson Street (see map below) we see that Swan’s Hotel – which became The Sanders in the early 1850’s – has changed hands once more, and is now The Parsel House. Just east of The Parsel on Jefferson are The Ohio House and The Park House. The Crummey House is on Washington Street – just east of Dubuque Street, while The Globe is now called The City Hotel, and The Pennsylvania House is on College Street – just west of Clinton Street.

In the mid-1850’s, Iowa City was growing rapidly, and by 1856, the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad became the first railroad to make its way into Iowa. So, between 1856 and 1860, Iowa City became the ever-expanding West’s jumping off point – making the need for adequate hotel accommodations all the more necessary.

Railroad Arrives – 1856 an oil painting by Iowa City artist Mildred Pelzer (1934). Click here to read more about Mildred Pelzer’s amazing mural.

Which brings us now to…

As you can see from the ad on the front page of the July 1, 1856 edition of The Iowa City Republican (below), there are three hotels listed near the top of the page (column 2)…

(JP-030a) This rare postal cover comes from The Clinton House, and was postmarked circa 1857. The Clinton House was located on the southeast corner of Clinton & College Streets and remained a classic hotel in Iowa City into the early 1870’s. More about The Clinton later.

(C-0036) Postmarked in Iowa City on August 3, 1857, this rare postal cover from The Clark House is addressed to Samuel McFarland, Esq. in Mt. Pleasant (Henry County), Iowa. Located on Jefferson Street – directly north of Capitol Square – this location was perfect for a state legislator such as McFarland.

(JP-030b) This rare postal cover comes from The Park House, was postmarked in December 1857, and features a beautiful engraving of the hotel on the back side of the cover. The Park House was one of the city’s favorite gathering places for statesmen and legislators alike. The building, located near City Park, was only a short two blocks away from Capitol Square. Read more here.

When the state capital moved out of Iowa City – heading to Des Moines – in 1857, the Iowa City economy took a huge hit. Add in the National Economic Panic of 1857, and then, the Civil War (1861-1865), and in all honesty, Iowa City was hurting big time. One of the only bright spots during this difficult season was the 1860 Iowa State Fair – which came to our community for its annual celebration in October. Read more here.

Iowa City historian, Clarence Ray Aurner, tells us about the Iowa City hotels that advertised in preparation for the big event. Notice, at this point in time, only The Clinton House remained in business, with both The Clark House and The Park House now long gone due to the economic downturn that began in 1857.

During the 60’s, it was common for owners of larger homes in the area to provide accommodations for visitors or longer-term boarders in Iowa City. The Crummey House and The Ohio House are two examples (below).

As we said, the 1860’s were difficult years for Iowa City with the Civil War raging, the state capital moving to Des Moines, and the State University of Iowa struggling to get its feet on the ground. But, as the war ended, the economy began to take yet another upswing, and by the mid-to-late 1860’s, Iowa City commerce was back on track. Sadly, The Clinton House had fallen into dis-repair in the early 1860’s, but in 1868, the Iowa City National Bank purchased the hotel and began remodeling it.

By 1865, The Pinney House (see above) opened for business on South Clinton Street – just one block south of The Clinton House. That is, until 1872…

On March 19, 1872, an early morning fire broke out in the kitchen of The Clinton House, destroying the entire building. As you can see from the newspaper articles above, the loss of The Clinton – Iowa City’s “leading hotel” – caused much concern across the city. While the owners re-located the hotel into another smaller building – The Summit – it was obvious that a new, updated hotel was needed in downtown Iowa City.

With perfect timing, in 1872, only months after The Clinton House fire, investors brought the best of the best to the streets of Iowa City. On the southeast corner of Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue – today, the site of Iowa Book & Supply – The St. James Hotel opened with a grand celebration. A state-of-the-art four-story hotel, The St. James featured shops on the first floor – including the U.S. Post Office, and a number of other successful businesses. Read more here.

So, there you have it – right up to the turn-of-the-century, The St. James led the way into the future. Commerce across Iowa City was on the upswing and the new century looked bright and clear. Soon, other large hotels will join in – making downtown Iowa City into a hub for businesses of all kind. Read more here.

(C-0066) St. James Hotel Promotional Postcard.The St. James was the long-time centerpiece of Clinton Street. Located directly across from University Square – the hotel was the place to stay in downtown Iowa City. Finks was one of the retail businesses operating out of this 4-story hotel.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this big salute to The St. James, The Clinton House, The Park House, The Globe, Swan’s, and all the other classic 19th century hotels of Iowa City. Gone – but never forgotten!


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Hotels In Iowa City, Iowa Capitol Reporter, November 26, 1842, p 2

Butler’s Old Stand, Iowa Capitol Reporter, December 10, 1842, p 3

Swan’s Hotel, Globe Hotel, Iowa Capitol Reporter, December 17, 1842, p 3

American Hotel, Washington House, Iowa City Capitol Reporter, January 14, 1843, p 3

Old Things Have Passed Away, Iowa City Capitol Reporter, September 23, 1843, p 4

Iowa City hotels 1842, Clarence Ray Aurner, Leading events in Johnson County, Iowa History, 1912, p 132-133, 434-435

Mississippi & Missouri Railroad, The Daily Evening Reporter, August 12, 1856, p 3

Clark House, Daily Evening Reporter, August 21, 1856, p 4

Clinton House, Clark House, Park House, The Iowa City Republican, July 1, 1856, p 1

Fire In Iowa City, Daily Davenport Democrat, March 19, 1872, p 1, 4

Clinton House Fire, Iowa State Press, March 27, 1872, p 3

Pinney House, Finials – A View of Downtown Iowa City, Marybeth Slonneger, Hand Press, 2015, p 106


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