Saturday, April 13, 2013

That old Charitone Corner (Part 1): Stained by sin.

This is the earliest known photograph of the Charitone corner, taken ca. 1868-69. The Opposition House hotel, still clearly identified as such, is located on the hotel corner with Warren S. Dungan's new building (on the current site of Piper's) to the left. We're looking past the northwest corner of the 1858 courthouse here.

Lucas County still was on the eastern fringe of the frontier immediately after the Civil War when the first substantial structure was built on the northeast corner of Chariton's square --- Lot 7, Block 8, original plat. This was Thomas Jefferson Musselman's Opposition House hotel, which developed, briefly, a reputation as a rip-roaring establishment offering, among other amenities, strong drink, fistfights, perhaps even wild women.

It's hard to judge the accuracy of all that after nearly 150 years, however.

But if the site were stained by sin, perhaps it was washed clean 50 years later when, in 1921, it became the site of the biggest religious revival the south of Iowa ever had seen.

It's been quite a ride.

It's not clear what had been located on this lot prior to 1867. Platted during 1849, it traded hands frequently.

When Chariton pioneer Joseph Braden arrived in town during January of 1853, the post office was located in a log cabin on this corner. Braden recalled it, as follows: "The post office was kept in a one-story log building, one room with small shed kitchen, situated on the northeast corner of the square. I well remember my first visit to it. I wanted to mail a letter in the evening at about 8 o’clock, as the mail would leave early in the morning. Finding the post office was kept in a private dwelling, I knocked at the door; a voice responded, “Come in.” I did so and found myself in the bed room, which was also the living room and post office. The postmaster was out, his family in bed. I placed my letter on the table as directed and departed." (Chariton Herald, March 27, 1902) This is the earliest known reference to a building on the lot.

During August of 1863, William H. and Mary Huyck purchased the ground from Joseph N.B. Bowen, listed in the 1860 census as a Chariton Township farmer. The Huycks held onto the property for four years --- an ownership record.

During their years of ownership, the Huycks were operating a grocery store as well as an auction and commission merantile operation on the north side of the square, so whatever buildings may have been here could have served as both their home and a part of those operations.

The Huycks sold the lot to Thomas J. Musselman on Oct. 30, 1867, and it's my guess that he began construction of his new hotel shortly thereafter.

Musselman had arrived in Lucas County single, about 19, from Indiana ca. 1852, the vanguard of a family party that arrived the following year and included his parents, Daniel and Tabitha Musselman; brothers Darius, Daniel Jr. and John; and sister and brother-in-law, Eliza (Musselman) and William Walker Baker.

Thomas married Sarah Ann Watson in Lucas County on Nov. 12, 1854, and when the 1856 state census of Lucas County was taken, they were living with his mother and brothers northwest of Chariton, near Whitebreast Creek, in what became years later the Oakley neighborhood. Thomas and his brother, John, were identified as carpenters in that census; brother Darius, as a miller. Daniel Jr. was the farmer.

By 1860, Thomas and Sarah had prospered. Still a resident of the Oakley area, his occupation was listed as farmer in the census of that year and the value of his real estate holdings totaled $4,000, not an insubstantial amount at that time.

Thomas's youngest brother, John, identified as an artist in the 1860 census, enlisted during July of 1861 as a private in Co. B, 6th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, but died in service a year later, on July 14, 1862, at LaGrange, Tennessee. Shortly thereafter, Thomas enlisted himself --- as 2nd sergeant in Co. K, 34th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, and set off for war. His term of service was brief, however. He was discharged for disability on March 30, 1863, at St. Louis, and returned home to his family in Lucas County.

Why Thomas named his hotel the Opposition House in those boom years immediately after the war ended isn't known. It may just have indicated that he was in competition with the St. John House and the Hatcher House, Chariton's other hotels of that time, both operating on the south side of the square.

Many years later, when the Hotel Charitone was opening for business in November of 1923, a Herald-Patriot article about the hotel site offered some sketchy and inaccurate information about the Opposition House, reportedly based upon the memories of older residents. Nearly everything that could have been wrong in the article was, but there's no particular reason to doubt the physical description of the building given there: "about 45x60 feet, with main entrance on the south as at Hotel Charitone, but nearer the corner. (It) was a two story frame structure .... The hotel office was in the corner room, as in the present new structure, and the dining room joined the office on the east. In the basement was the bar, well equipped and stocked to serve incoming thirsty travelers who had come perhaps ten to thirty miles on horseback or in wagons."

At about the same time Thomas was building the Opposition House, John V. Faith was launching his Chariton Democrat (issues of The Democrat from its second edition, dated Oct. 19, 1867, forward are the earliest Chariton newspapers to survive. The Patriot commenced publication in 1857, but early issues have vanished).

First mention of Musselman enterprises in The Democrat came in its edition of Jan. 25, 1868, when a town council resolution was published ordering Thomas to build sidewalks around the west and south fronts of his hotel or face the consequences --- city-built sidewalks and a bill (or lien against his property). Several other property owners were named in the resolution, too, including my recently widowed aunt, Anna Margaret (Redlingshafer) Rosa, then living in a log building just north of the hotel that also had housed the business of her late husband, John, dead of typhoid.

By December of that year, the Opposition House apparently had acquired something of a reputation. Editor Faith reported in his edition of Dec. 3, with the headline "Another Row" --- "The Opposition House is becoming somewhat noted for its opposition to everything like good order and peace in the community, but we are not prepared to say whether the institution is or is not justly entitled to this notoriety. Be that as it may, Mr. Thomas Musselman, the proprietor, and Francis Rockhold, of Jackson township, locked horns on Tuesday, but as Rockhold had already taken several horns too many, he acquitted himself in a rather disgraceful manner. In short, Thomas licked him. They were both arrested, and, as the fight seemed to have been rather of a mutual character, Justice Woodward fined each of them five dollars and costs. We learn that Rockhold was again arrested for striking a woman but have learned nothing further. Mr. Musselman has fully retrieved the honor he lost in his set-to with Thomas Mason, Esq., a few weeks ago, and now we hope peace will reign in the Opposition."

The hotel was in the news again on Aug. 3, 1869, when The Democrat reported, "Just as we expected, last Thursday night, as usual, there was a dance at the Opposition House, and naturally enough a row was on the programme. Sugar bowls, plates and other ware flew promiscously and some fellow got his head cut with a knife."

In that same edition, it was reported that Thomas had decided to change the name of his business --- most likely anticipating its sale --- to City Hotel (The south-side St. John House was by this time known as the Chariton House, so that name was unavailable).

"The Opposition House is no more," the Democrat reported, "Mr. Musselman having discarded that belligerant ticket for the more euphonious title of the City Hotel, and the establishment is now decket with signs and letters accordingly. Mr. Musselman possesses the one faculty of making hotel-keeping pay, and if there were but one thing for which he deserves credit, it would be for his ability to meet all opposition in a friendly spirit, ignoring the less manly disposition that impels one to result with brute force whatever he conceives to be an indignity. Tom has shrewdness in more respects than one."

It's not clear what John Faith was up to with his characterization of Thomas here, but it most likely was not a friendly gesture.

On Aug. 31, 1869, The Democrat reported the hotel's sale: "This property changed hands last week, Mr. Gallagher, whom we have mentioned, having finally succeeded in making a trade with Mr. Musselman. He gives eleven thousand dollars for it. Mr. Gallagner has long been a resident of Rome, Henry county, and comes amongst us with the best reputation as a man. He will overhaul, renovate and clean out the hotel, and introduce such changes as, it is hoped, will make the house a credit to the place."

Part of the transition proceeded as expected. Thomas and his family moved to Rome to take over Gallagher's dry good store (and other property that was part of the deal) while the Gallaghers moved to Chariton. Very soon, however, Thomas was accusing James Gallagher of looting his Rome business before turning over the keys --- an accusation that ended up in court, launching a legal battle that continued until 1874.

John Faith was outraged, writing in The Democrat of Oct. 26, 1869, "And now for a man of Tom Musselman's standing character and reputation in this community, where his bad conduct and criminal course of life has been the subject of so much remark, to come here and attempt to bring shame and disgrace upon such a man as Mr. Gallagher, and upon such a family as his family, is simply an outrage upon decency.... We await the result, fully confident that Mr. Gallagher and his family will come out of the difficulty with their reputation unsullied by the mean disposition of an unprincipled, bad man."

Several months later, not long before leaving Chariton himself, Faith had a few parting words for Thomas as his case against Gallagher continued to drag on through the courts: "Musselman --- How much there is in that name that brings up visions of bad men, loose women, drunkenness, crime and hell!"

Faith's opinion to the contrary, the Musselmans seem to have settled down comfortably in Rome. Tom's occupation was given in the Henry County census of 1870 as retired merchant and, during 1880, as butcher. By 1900, following the death of his wife, he had moved with his youngest daughter, May, to Agency, where at age 67 he was operating another store. By 1910, he had returned to Rome --- and died there on Aug. 6, 1918, aged about 85.

For 10 years, his grave in Rome's Grant Cemetery remained unmarked. Then, during 1928, a Frank Dold, then living at Rome, applied for a veteran's tombstone to mark Tom's final resting place. Some disagreement arose about how the last name had been spelled, however, and "Mussleman" was decided upon. The stone was shipped to Rome and duly installed, but for better or worse, Tom Musselman is now proceeding through eternity under the wrong name, Thos. J. Mussleman. John Faith probably would have enjoyed that.


Brenda said...

That's quite the titillating title and story! Well done.

jan pederson said...

Dancing and fighting! Insufficient details about the loose women, though.