It was a grand project, with every hope for success. Good financial backing, impressive architects, the finest furnishings, important guests. Who could have guessed that The Antlers Hotel was doomed practically from the beginning?
Upon construction and completion of the third Little Falls dam in 1887/88, the Louisville, Kentucky, investors responsible for financing the dam turned their attention to enhancing the business district on the west side of Little Falls. One of their investments was The Antlers Hotel. The Louisville investors spared no expense, spending at least $40,000 on the hotel, according to one report, and perhaps as much as $68,700, when all was said and done.
They hired St. Paul architects Gilbert and Taylor to design the hotel. Gilbert was none other than Cass Gilbert, who later designed the Northern Pacific Depot on the west side of Little Falls, along with Minnesota’s State Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. John B. Hutchings, who designed Major Ashley Morrill’s magnificent home at the confluence of the Little Elk and Mississippi Rivers north of Little Falls, was charged with supervising the construction.
The hotel was due to open in February 1889, but there were delays, primarily in waiting for furnishings to be delivered. As of May 1889, the billiard and pool tables still had not arrived, although the bar opened May 1, and the hotel itself had been slated to open April 1.
The Antlers was billed in the press and in promotional pieces as a “first-class” establishment and “the handsomest hotel in Northern Minnesota.” It had fifty guest rooms “furnished alternately in handsome antique oak and mahogany,” and was considered modern for the era due to its electric lights, steam heat, and electric return call-bells. There was a bathroom on each floor of the three-story building, which was apparently quite the rarity as it was mentioned so often as an amenity. The hotel had a separate bar, billiards room, sewing room, barbershop, dining room, kitchen, and ladies’ waiting room, but no room number thirteen. This room existed briefly, until there were protests about its bad fortune from Schilling’s traveling minstrels.
The Antlers appeared to operate under a leasing system, with lessee/managers coming and going with regularity. W. H. Barnes and a man with the surname Delvey had charge of the hotel when it opened. Other proprietors included John E. Sutton, Benton Hatch, William Forde, N. H. Henchman, and Felix Cardinal.
For its first few years of existence, The Antlers appeared to do a brisk and popular business, providing sleeping accommodations for travelers and other facilities for many of the well-to-do families of the area. Among the local regulars were Mr. and Mrs. A. R. Davidson, Mr. and Mrs. Ashley Morrill, Mr. and Mrs. M. M. Williams, and the Pine Tree Bachelors, Charles A. Weyerhaeuser and Richard Drew Musser.
Trouble was brewing, however. In July 1892, Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr. filed suit in district court on behalf of Samuel Castleman, one of the Louisville investors. Castleman was seeking $12,000 that had been loaned to the Little Falls Hotel Company, which was leasing and operating the hotel. One of the members of the Little Falls Hotel Company was Mary E. Sutton, who had inherited her position upon her husband’s death in January 1892. John Sutton had been the proprietor of The Antlers for two years, having signed a five-year lease on the property. After John’s death, the financial condition of the hotel spiraled downward. Bills and taxes weren’t paid. By December 1892, the hotel was sold to Samuel Castleman, et. al. in a mortgage foreclosure. Curiously, besides Castleman, the new purchasers included all but one of the original partners in the Little Falls Hotel Company. Mary Sutton was the only one cut out of the deal.
The “new” owners didn’t seem to be able to make a go of the hotel, either, once again relying on lessees to oversee day-to-day operations. In July 1893, the hotel closed and remained so for seven years.
By 1900, the property had amassed $3,500 in back taxes. Following a brief kerfuffle with Jerome Mecusker, proprietor of the Buckman Hotel, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners allowed Henning Landahl, who represented Castleman, et. al., to pay $1,500 in back taxes so that the property would become viable again. The construction of the Northern Pacific Depot on the west side of Little Falls spurred Castleman’s interest in revitalizing The Antlers, which was situated only two blocks away, and thus in an advantageous location for travelers. The hotel reopened in August 1900 under the ownership of Samuel Castleman and Henning Landahl and under the management of S. R. Snow.
The Antlers was never quite able to consistently live up to its promise of grandeur as a hotel. Castleman and Landahl sold it in 1907, after which it changed hands several more times. Finally it was purchased in 1917 by the Polish people of the west side of Little Falls, whence it served first as a church, then as a school for the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes. This venture proved much more successful, with the church using The Antlers until it was torn down in 1952.
By Mary Warner
Copyright 2007, Morrison County Historical Society
Little Falls Transcript (weekly) – Jan. 4, 1889, March 1, 1889, March 22, 1889, March 29, 1889, May 3, 1889, Jan. 15, 1892, July 22, 1892, Aug. 12, 1892, Oct. 14, 1892, Dec. 23, 1892
Little Falls Daily Transcript – Jan. 11, 1893, March 13, 1893, April 21, 1893, July 26, 1893, Jan. 23, 1900, July 26, 1900, July 2, 1903, Nov. 29, 1907, July 3, 1908, Dec. 23, 1910, June 11, 1917, June 12, 1948, May 15, 1952
The Northwest Magazine – Oct. 1891 & Nov. 1892
Nichols’ Headlight, Nov. 1899
John E. Sutton – Probate file #253