Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
HOTELS IN VAN BUREN COUNTY
Gracing the site of the first double log cabin in Des Moines City during the 1830s, the most famous hotel in Van Buren County history is probably the "steamboat gothic" Hotel Manning in Keosauqua that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Completed around 1897, the structure was built to echo and reflect the past when river traffic had flourished on the Des Moines. Hotel Manning and the Mason House in Bentonsport now stand as symbols of a nostalgic era that specialized, elevated and set apart these communities.
The role of hotels in the development of Van Buren County cannot be underestimated. Already in 1836, James Burns offered newcomers hotel accommodations in Farmington, which was then the largest village and Van Buren’s county seat. In 1840, a year before the town of Bonaparte was laid out and named, Dr. Roger Cresap built a hotel called the Tavern along the banks of the river. In the lobby above a stone fireplace hung a life-size portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte crossing the Alps, the French general whom Cresap idolized. In Bentonsport, the Mason House was built in 1846 to serve steamboat passengers. By 1850 downtown Keosauqua operated three hotels while yet another stood across the river in Pleasant Hill.
Every village in the county offered hotels to the public at some time during their history. Some were no more than upstairs rooms in homes or over businesses, while others specialized as boarding houses and became widely known for their food services.
Appearing in the 1875 Atlas of Van Buren County, is a photograph of one of the county’s most interesting hotels, the State Line Railroad House operated by the Brocks in Farmington, where all trains that came through Farmington stopped thirty minutes to obtain meals. Atchison, who had opened a restaurant in Farmington in 1880, later leased the Brock Building along with the Patton property next door, and founded Hotel Des Moines. Thus he gave accommodations for either transients or boarders, while continuing the tradition of providing food to rail travelers.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Hotel Manning’s handsome antique-filled dining room was the scene of many banquets and special meetings, and was issued a five-star rating for its fine cuisine under the able guidance of proprietor Mabel Miller. The spread of Keosauqua’s reputation for fine food and hospitality led to restoration work throughout Van Buren County that has helped inspire and initiate a solid tourist trade.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick