It's hard to envision a time in Chariton when four hotels, as well as several smaller establishments best described as boarding houses, flourished --- but that's how it was during the late fall of 1874, just after Benjamin Franklin Bates' new Bates House hotel (above) opened its doors.
The Bates, located a half block west of the northwest corner of the square on the east half of the lot now occupied by Midwest Heritage Bank, was by far the largest --- some 50 rooms on three floors plus restaurant, lobby and service rooms.
It's principal competitor was the Depot House Hotel, which had opened its doors in the new brick C.B.&Q. Depot building about three blocks to the northwest two years earlier, during 1872. The Depot House offered 28 rooms to travelers who preferred to step off their trains and go to bed immediately (like the Bates House, the Depot House contained a big restaurant that catered both to travelers and to townfolk).
Although the Bates was located near the railroad tracks, too, its management had to compensate for the fact it was some distance from the depot by meeting each passenger train with a four-wheeled, horse-drawn trap. But it had the advantage of being just a few steps from the square and proved to be more popular with the traveling salesmen who passed through Chariton by the hundreds in the 1870s, lawyers and judges who had business at the courthouse and many others.
The two other big hotels operating at the time were the Hatcher House, dating from the 1850s and located on the southwest corner of the square; and the 1860s hotel on the current site of the Hotel Charitone, which operated under several names over the years. Bates had been operating the Hatcher House when he hatched the idea of building the Bates House. Both older hotels on the square declined rapidly after the new hotels siphoned off their potential customers.
Construction of the Bates House began during the spring of 1874 and by late summer had advanced to the point that The Patriot could report in its edition of Aug. 22 that, "The fine brick hotel that Mr. B.F. Bates has been building during the summer is rapidly approaching completion. The roof has just been put on, and the carpenters are busy with the woodwork. The house will be an ornament to the city. It will be ready for guests before winter sets in."
By October, all was in readiness and Bates decided to inaugurate his new business with a special dinner, followed by dancing. "Mr. Bates's social hop will come off on the evening of the 20th inst.," The Patriot reported on Oct. 17. "Tickets to supper and dance $2.50; for the supper alone, $2.00 per couple."
Shortly thereafter, the hotel opened its doors to paying guests and during early November, the editor of the Patriot stopped in for a tour, then offered his readers this report on Nov. 11:
HOTEL BATES --- Having a little leisure a few days since, we called at the Bates House, and took a look through this new hotel, with a view of giving our readers a brief description of the same, which we will now proceed to do, knowing that those who read the Patriot, both far and near, are interested in learning something of the improvements of our town.
The House, which is named for its owner and proprietor, Mr. B.F. Bates, is situated a little west of the northwest corner of the public square on the lot formerly, and for many years, the home of Mrs. Eliza Mitchell.
It was erected the latter part of this season, and is now nearly completed and furnished, and is an improvement of which our citizens are justly proud.
The building has a south front of 56, and an east of 77 feet, and is three stories high above the basement; is built of good brick, and viewed from the square, especially, presents a very good and substantial appearance. there are, in all, nearly fifty rooms, all of which are well furnished. The beds are all provided with wool and wire mattresses and new and handsome clothing throughout. The furniture of the rooms are ash trimmed with black walnut, while the carpets are of neat patterns, giving the whole house an air of neatness and comfort which cannot fail to be quite satisfactory to guests.
There are a number of suites of rooms that are commodius, and which, for a house in a small town like ours, might be termed "elegant," while the whole house is well planned, both with reference to the comfort of the patrons and the profit of the landlord. Mr. Bates is certainly entitled to considerable credit for the enterprise he has shown in the building and furnishing of this house, and we bespeak for him the good will of our citizens, and such a profitable run of custom as will repay him for his outlay in making the improvement.
Before heading back to his office, the Patriot editor checked out the hotel register and was able to report, too, that "The following persons were registered at the Bates Tuesday morning: Judge Rorer and C. White Smith, of Burlington; T.B. Perry, Esq., of Albia; M.A. Jones, prosecuting attorney, Bloomfield; J.K. Johnson, attorney, Oskaloosa; Judge Williams, Ottumwa; J.S. Carter, Des Moines; M.W. Humeston and wife, Humeston; S.L. Clark, Lee Rosenheard Abbott, C.W. Reeman, J.M. Crouch, C.R. Coleman and J. Hubbard, of Chicago; A.E. Doer, St. Louis; and Joe Temple, S. Carpenter, J.F. Hanna and A. Greenbaum, Chariton."
During the years that followed, the Bates played host to thousands of guests engaged in all sorts of pursuits --- residential, social, business and otherwise.
I was intrigued to find the following report in The Leader of May 10, 1879, involving my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Myers, engaged at the time in promoting his Arizona silver interests:
"The various stockholders of Arizona mining stocks, living in this county, met at the Bates House on Wednesday to hold conversation with Mr. Jacob Myers, who recently returned from a visit to that territory. Mr. Myers gave them some valuable information on Arizona and exhibited some rich specimens of ore which he had selected himself from the Longavina mines. He expresses the upmost confidence in them, and has a high opinion of the mineral resources of the territory."
B.F. Bates retired from active management of the hotel during 1883 and during 1887 the entire operation was sold to Byron R. and Ella VanDyke, who operated it for the next 25 years. The VanDykes maintained the very high standards of the Bates and the hotel remained a point of pride for the city during their years at the helm.
After the VanDykes sold the operation during 1912, however, a gradual decline began and the Chariton market was ready for something newer and more up-to-date. The Hotel Charitone, which opened its doors on the norteast corner of the square during 1923, filled that bill and the gradual decline of the Bates House continued.
By the 1950s, the Bates was more of a rooming house than anything else and, although structurally sound, was badly frayed. It still looked good from the outside, however, during the summer of 1958 as seen in the distance just off the northwest corner of the square as the American Legion Junior Band marches in the foreground.
Luther Johnson purchased the Bates property during 1959 and began to plan demolition of the grand old structure, which was carried out that fall after everything that could be salvaged from it had been.
The next year, what now is Midwest Heritage Bank constructed its new building on the site and moved there from its former location in the corner Union Block. Sadly, from a preservation standpoint at least, new owners of the Union Block made the decision to demolish this grand old centerpiece of the square's northwest corner and construct what now is the Great Western Bank building on its site.