Do you like history? Personally, I love looking at old photos and old things. When I look at old photos I can’t help but wonder what the people in the photo did, thought and felt. Did they lead happy lives? Did they have similar thoughts? Many of us are under the illusion we will live forever, but that’s just not the case. Time stops for no one. When I look at old photos or think about the people who lived before, it reminds me that life is short and that I should spend my time wisely.Recently we were invited to stay at the Southern Hotel in Ste. Genevieve. We’ve done stories at the Southern Hotel in the past, but never had an opportunity to actually stay there overnight. I can tell you without a doubt the entire experience was wonderful.
The Southern Hotel, now a bed and breakfast, is one part history museum and one part bed and breakfast. Mike Hankins, the current owner and innkeeper, tells us that what eventually became The Southern Hotel was built by Francois Valle II in 1790 as a private residence. He officiated as commandant reporting first to the Spanish governor, then to King Louis of France and finally to Napolean after the revolution of 1789. Francois Valle, at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, was the highest ranking official in the upper Louisiana Territory. He built his home on what was to become the crossroads of two of the greatest highways west of the Mississippi, the Grand Royale or Kingshighway, which ran through St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Cape Girardeau, and many other towns through the south and the Plank Road, which ran from the Mississippi to Old Mines and Meramec State Park. After Francois Valle’s death in1804, his widow sold the properties to a German named Hinsken in March of 1805.Hinsken immediately turned it into a hotel and it operated as such through several different owners. The hotel was purchased in the late 1850’s by Joseph Vorst who named it The Southern Hotel. The Southern Hotel remained in the Vorst family as a hotel until September of 1950 at which time it was transformed into apartments. It was then it also received its first indoor plumbing. In 1964, Vorst’s granddaughter sold it to another German family who continued to operate the apartments into the early 1980’s. Mike and his late wife, Barbara, found the long neglected building in 1985, purchased it the following year, and spent 9 months gutting, updating, and transforming it with all the modern amenities and restoring The Southern Hotel back to its former glory as the largest, oldest brick building west of the Mississippi in North America. The building is the longest continually operated lodging in the United States, west of the Mississippi.T building itself has seen little change since it was first constructed. Today, the saloon is a dining room, the slave quarters are an art gallery, and the lookout booth stands empty, where once slave children stood watching for steamboat smokestacks to appear. They then would alert the Innkeeper of approaching travelers in need of entertainment and a comfortable night stay.
The hotel had a pool hall, the first west of the Mississippi, and there were gambling rooms; I’m pretty sure there were many other goings on there too. Its most notable guest is none other than William Clark. Quite a feather in their hat.Cathy cooked us a wonderful breakfast of Caramel French toast, sausages, fresh fruit, blackberry muffins, coffee, milk and fresh orange juice. All made from scratch…. and served in the Victorian styled dining room.Cathy and Mike were married in 2008 only 17 days after their first date. A match made in B & B heaven. “Every year in July I would travel to Mexico on a mission trip to help build houses for those less fortunate. In 2008 my granddaughter, Ashley, who was eleven, had her heart set on going with me, but after some unexpected expenses, I had to cancel the trip. So we decided we would have our “Mema and Me” trip, just closer to home. I made a reservation to stay at the Southern Hotel, never expecting the degree to which my life was about to change. When we stepped up to the front porch and Mike opened the door to greet us, I fell in love with him before he said hello.”Spend any time around Cathy and Mike and you’ll see they have a wonderful working relationship and a happy marriage. “It’s a lot of work keeping this big boat afloat,” Mike told me as Cathy and he were cleaning the front music room. “It takes us two full days to clean and dust the room from top to bottom. Just getting the oversized curtains down and washed for the year is a job in and of itself.To book a stay: southernhotelbb.com