THE HOTEL FIGHT OF
FOREST CITY, IOWA

 


It really was a bank fight! In 1900 Forest City needed a hotel. A frame building had served the traveling public for several years, but progressive citizens among the 1500 inhabitants of the town were agreed that a more adequate hotel was. needed. A successful bid to keep the county seat in 1886, when Lake Mills had competed for the new courthouse, had given Forest City citizens a confidence in their community and themselves. In 1897 the new courthouse had been completed after Forest City men raised $20,000 to pay a major part of its cost. The Community Club became the forum for discussion of the hotel project. There were those who felt that a site near the courthouse square, with its impressive new building, would be the place that would do justice to a progressive county seat town. Brook Plummer, president of the First National Bank, which was located on the present site of the Commercial Federal Bank, was one of these. There were those who thought otherwise, Charley Thompson president of Forest City National Bank, a block north of Plummer's bank, favored a north site for the hotel. In fact he wanted it located across the street from his palatial home (now the Mansion Museum) at the comer of Clark and M Streets.

There were two other banks in town. The Winnebago County State Bank, With Jasper Thompson favored the Plummer plan. The Farmers Bank, with Plummer's brother John as president, went along with that idea too. What starred out a mutually agreeable project for the improvement of the Forest City town soon became a financial "battle royal." Bank customers and others were "signed up" for subscriptions to promote a hotel at one or the other of the two sites.

The city became a town of "southerners" and "'northerners." Charley Thompson's group, composed of some of the younger businessmen bought their lot and began to build in the spring of 1900. This only intensified the rivalry. Plummer moved his home from 6th and J Streets and sold the lot to his group. In the summer of 1900 a hotel began to rise there. If Thompson and Plummer were going to build hotels they were going to be first class. Thompson was determined to build the finest hotel he could. Plummer was equally determined to build a far better hotel than the Summit at the exact same cost, $65,000, and with the exact same materials from the same sources.

Thus came into being the Summit and 'Waldorf Hotels. Each had about 50 rooms for guests, each featured European cuisine, each boasted game and music rooms, and each had dancing floors, as well as liveried stages for meeting trains. Both hotels were heated by steam, had baths, and electric lights. Each hotel spent more than $12,000 for furnishings. The Summit at the north edge of the business section on the present site of City Hall opened in the November of 1900. The Waldorf, across the street west from the courthouse square, opened in February 1901.

'While both operated competition was as keen as had been the rivalry of the factions that built them. The town divided anew. A merchant was either a "Waldorf man" or a "Summit man." A salesman, wanting to do business willi both groups, would come to town, stay at one hotel, call on a merchant and leave town. He would then return to the other hotel and then do business with another merchant This bitter rivalry forced farmers who came to Forest City for supplies to do the same.

The horse-drawn cabs, which met trains, were known to use every trick possible to persuade arriving guests to patronize the "better" hotel. Service was excellent in both hotels. Rates were low even for those days. The Waldon charged $1.00 per day and for $2.00 a person could get the best in room, board, and service.

This could not last. Both hotels operated at a lost (sic) from the day they opened. In the spring of 1900 both sides knew things could not continue. One day Charley Thompson and Brook Plummer met in the Winnebago County Bank to make peace. One would buy the other out Plummer had agreed with his supporters fuat they would offer Thompson $45,000 for the Summit or they would sell the Waldorf for the same price. After three days the offers were opened. The Summit bought the Waldorf and closed it. The Summit operated periodically until 1915 when it burned. A public library was later built on its site using parts of the hotel walls. The Waldorf building stood vacant for two years. In 1903 a group of churchmen under the leadership of Reverend C. S. Salveson, a local Lutheran pastor, bought the structure for $28,000. In September of that year they opened Waldorf College, a Christian academy. Since then'the building along with others added nearby, has served Forest City and surrounding area as an educational institution. People often ask why a college in Iowa is named "Waldorf." It gives Forest City residents a chance to tell again the strange hotel story that is a highlight of their history.

-source of this information is unknown
-document contributed by Errin Wilker & OCR scanned by the Winnebago County. coordinator

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