Thursday, August 21, 2014

A little Charitone history: Junkin & McCollough

I've had my nose to the grindstone --- sort of --- this week, trying to finish the text for a commemorative book about the Hotel Charitone that will be issued this fall by the Lucas County Preservation Alliance, non-profit partner of Hotel Charitone LLC.

That's involved a good deal of editing and considerable writing, bridging the gaps left by earlier pieces about the grand --- and now fully restored --- old hotel.

I'm not going to publish here, too, but thought it might be interesting to post one of the new chapters dealing with conditions that led to the Charitone's construction in 1923 and the men, William D. Junkin and Henry F. McCollough, who built it.


William D. Junkin
To understand why the Chariton square was a prime location for a hotel of the Charitone’s scale in 1922-23, it is necessary to know a little about conditions in Lucas County at the time.

The county continued to flourish agriculturally as it had since the first settlers arrived in 1846, combining livestock, grain and hay production in a traditional manner that continued to make it one of Iowa’s top producers.

In addition, the coal industry --- first developed near Lucas during the 1880s --- was booming.

Chariton’s population, which stood at 3,794 in 1910, had by 1920 increased 36 percent --- to 5,175. There was no reason to believe the upward trend would not continue, and it did just that until reaching its peak of 5,754 in 1940.

Henry F. McCollough
The north-south Rock Island Railroad line, completed during the summer of 1913, had turned Chariton into a major transportation hub. It provided both a direct route from the Twin Cities to Kansas City, thus giving the Rock an advantage over the Great Western, then dominant, and also allowed the vast coal fields of northeast Lucas County and southern Marion County to open.

The east-west C.B.&Q. line continued to link Burlington and Omaha, as it had since the late 1860s, and C.B.&Q. spur lines linked Chariton to St. Joseph, Missouri, and Indianola.

The Chariton square was located midway between the C.B.&Q. Depot just northwest of downtown; and the new Rock Island Depot, two blocks east. Much of the nation continued to travel by train. Those who didn’t drove and State Highway 14 and U.S. Highway 34 intersected at the southeast corner of the square.

The legendary Central Iowa Fuel Co. mines beginning just north of Chariton and continuing northeast to Williamson, Tipperary and Olmitz developed after the Rock Island and its spur lines to the mines were completed. In Marion County, Melcher-Dallas also developed into a coal mining center when the Rock Island was complete.

There was a housing boom in Chariton as dozens of compact, white, one-story homes for mining families were constructed --- some, such as those in the area of southeast Chariton known as White City, built by the mining company; many others built by private entrepreneurs.

There were no empty storefronts downtown, businesses flourished and the square was packed on Saturday afternoons and evenings.

As these developments occurred, Chariton’s two principal hotels --- the Depot House, built in 1872 on the second floor of the big C.B.&Q. depot, and the tree-story brick Bates House, a half block west of the square on Braden Avenue, built during 1873, were beginning to show their ages and decline.

It was into this setting that Junkin & McCollough stepped with sufficient backbone and funding  to commission the Charitone.

William D. Junkin, born April 19, 1864, in Fairfield, was a son of William W. Junkin, pioneer editor and publisher of The Fairfield Ledger. He married Vermont Petty during 1893 in Fairfield and they became the parents of two daughters, Kathryn, who died young, and Louise.

After the turn of the 20th Century, William D. and his brothers through various corporate arrangements acquired additional newspapers in Albia, Creston and Corning and added a share of The Chariton Herald to their holdings in 1908.

In 1912, William D. --- then editor and publisher of The Albia Republican --- purchased controlling interest in the merged Herald-Patriot and moved to Chariton to take charge.

The Junkins’ daughter, Louise, met the dashing Henry F. McCollough in Chariton and married him here on July 20, 1918. He was a son of Anna (Gibbon) McCollough/Copeland and her first husband, Ralph McCollough  --- a young man related both by blood and his mother’s second marriage to Josiah C. Copeland to some of Chariton’s most affluent and prominent families. Their marriage was a social highlight of the summer.

After 10 years at the helm of The Herald-Patriot, Junkin became interested in the financial potential of building and operating a modern hotel in Chariton. His interest in the Chariton newspapers became the basis for financing the new enterprise, first in 1922 when some shares were sold and again in 1925, when William D. and his brother, Paul, sold out of the newspaper corporation entirely. It seems likely that Henry McCullough’s family also backed the project, which required an investment in excess of $100,000, although that never was acknowledged publicly.

If contemporary newspaper reports are to be believed, Junkin and McCollough paid G.W. Larimer $24,000 for the hotel lot (including the White Front building), including as part payment another building on the square valued at $16,000.

The men selected as their architect William Lee Perkins, who had practiced in Chariton since 1917.

Perkins, a native of Ridgeway, Missouri, would go on to become one of southern Iowa’s most prominent architects, designing some of Chariton’s most familiar buildings in that process --- City Hall, the American Legion Hall and the Masonic Temple among others.

Junkins knew Perkins well since he had offered the young architect one of his first commissions, the then-innovative Chariton Newspapers building just east of the Charitone along Braden Avenue, constructed during 1917.

It isn’t known when Junkin and McCollough selected the name “Hotel Charitone” or exactly why. The most familiar explanation is that “Charitone” was believed in the 1920s to be the French version of “Chariton.” According to lore, none of which can be documented, a French trader named Chariton or Charitone established a trading post in the late 18th  Century along the Missouri River deep in Missouri, at the mouth of a river named Chariton (minus the “e”) in his honor. That river, of course, rises in southern Iowa, passes through Lucas County and is the source of the city of Chariton’s name.

Excavation for the Charitone’s basement began during late January, 1923, with the intention that the walls of the basement would be completed to ground level before spring rains began.

Some decisions apparently had not yet been made, however, including whether the hotel was to be three or four stories high. It was soon decided to build four stories, but not finish the interior of the fourth floor. An elevator shaft was installed as planned, but an elevator car would not be added until the fourth floor was finished.

As the building began to rise, Henry McCollough enrolled in a hotel management course so that he would prepared when the doors opened.

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