Tuesday, January 8, 2013

401 North Neil Street - Beardsley Hotel

The Neil House/Olive House
Constructed 1850s
Owner: Samuel Dean
Razed: 1887 (Fire)

The following excerpt is taken from the historical marker, erected by the Sesquicentennial Neighborhood Association, on the site of the former hotel.

"In 1850 Samuel Dean ran a ferry at the crossing of the Sangamon River.  In 1854, when West Urbana looked like a more promising investment, Dean bought several lots near the depot.  In 1855, Dean opened his hotel, the Neil House, at this corner of Neil and Hill.  The Neil House was later renamed the Olive House."
"On April 20, 1860, at this site [Neil House] the President and the Trustees of the town of West Urbana determined by legal vote to incorporate the depot town as a city and give it the name, "The City of Champaign"." 
Download the City of Champaign Incorporation Documents including the vote tally

The 1858 map by Alexander Bowman show she Neil (Neal) House.  The original
spelling of Neil Street was Neal but later changed to its current spelling Neil.
*Sidenote - There are conflicting early spellings of Neil Street in some documents.  The Bowman map shows the Neal House which would lend itself to the correct spelling of Captain David Augustus Neal (1793-1861), First Vice President of the Illinois Central Railroad (1851-1856) and head of the land development office.  It is unclear when this change happens but the name appears as Neil House in the 1860 incorporation documents.

The two story Neil Street Hotel is seen in this 1869 birds eye photo.  This
building was the site of the incorporation vote for the City of Champaign.

This Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1887 shows the "ruins of the Olive Hotel"

Beardsley Hotel/Hotel Tilden-Hall Hotel
Constructed 1896
Owner: George Beardsley & John W. Stipes
Razed: 1967

[From Michael Markstahler]

"The Champaign Daily Gazette - Feb. 6, 1890 "Messars. George Beardsley and Jonh W. Stipes have purchased from the heirs of the Samuel Dean the lots on the northwest conrer of North Neil and West Hill streets, which wre occupied for many years by the Neil House, estroyed by fire a few years ago . . .It is certain that (the hotel) will cover all of the ground which was a frontage of 148 feet by 136 feet. The site is an excellent one for the purpose, being midawy between several reailroad depots, and convient to all parts of the business portion of the city"

 "Excavation began March 18, 1895 and the first foundation bricks were laid June 3, 1895. Form Champaign Daily Gazette Feb 17, 1896 "the ground floor is given up entirely to lobby, dingin room, samply rooms, toulets and reading rooms . . . One of the cozy corners is supplied with a gas grae, with massive oak mantel. The broad staircase, which leads up from the lobby, and the office desk, are of solid oak, as is the rest of the furnishing . . . the decorators did their best work on the dingin room . . . the second and third floors are quite as colpete as the office floor, being models of coziness and taste. On the parlor floor there is an amply public parlor, and adjioning rooms which can be used in connection therewith . . . the sleeping rooms are all of good sixe . . .supplied with electric lgiht, ga, electri buttons and steam heat . . . Eahc floor i well supllied with bath and toiet . . . there are in all, 83 guest rooms"

The following excerpt is taken from the historical marker, erected by the Sesquicentennial Neighborhood Association, on the site of the former hotel.

"When it opened its doors on February 29, 1896, the Beardsley Hotel buzzed with activity.  Centrally located at Hill and Neil Street, it was between three train station.  The Illinois Central was 3 blocks to the east.  Both the Wabash and Big Four Stations were located 3 blocks north.  Any traveler could easily reach the Beardsley on foot or by the city's main trolley line."
"By the 1920s, the Beardlsey Hotel needed renovation and was aptly named "The New Hotel Beardsley".  Joe Meaney and his wife Marie came to manage the hotel in 1935, during the height of the Great Depression.  During those tough times, Joe would turn lights on and off in the unoccupied rooms to give the illusion of a fully-occupied hotel.  By 1939, the hotel acquired a new name, the Tilden-Hall.  Joe Meaney continued to manage the hotel successful [sic] despite changing times.  With little parking and communal bathrooms facilities, rooms were harder to rent.  Meaney was a master at engaging parties and community events at the hotel.  The News-Gazette prophetically wrote in Meaney's obituary, "The keeper of the Inn is dead. And the inn will never be the same without him."  It wasn't.  The Tilden-Hall Hotel was razed in 1967.
Perhaps the earliest known photo of the Beardsley Hotel
shortly after it opened in 1896.
Photos provided by Michael Markstahler

This colored postcard shows the Beardsley in its original state,
seen here looking from the intersection of Hill and Neil Streets.
Photo courtesy of TJ Blakeman

This Hill Street view shows how the Beardsley Hotel
fit with its annex to the west.  This building later
became the Women's Town Club and is currently the
Buzard Organ Factory and Loft Apartments.
Photo courtesy of TJ Blakeman

Interior view of the impressive Beardsley Hotel.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This is a portion of a souvenir book, including the menu, from a private
 formal dinner held at the Beardsley Hotel June 26, 1911. It was given by
Charles Hatch and Charles Baddeley for Levi Dodson.
Photo Courtesy of Michael Markstahler

The 1920s addition of the fourth floor changed the overall
appearance of the Beardsley.  To see the detailed brick work
of this addition, you need only look at the Buzard Organ
Factory next door.  That building was also increased in height
and still features the same detailed brick work.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

Another view of the fourth floor addition. This image
shows the main entrance and porches.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This view looking north on Neil Street from Main Street shows the Beardsley
to the left with American flag.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This hard to find view of the east and northern facades
shows the Neil Street entrance and the U shape of the building.
Photo courtesy of the City of Champaign
This excellent perspective shows the full view of the hotel as seen from
the corner of Neil and Hill Street.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

A view of the projecting sign of the Hotel Tilden-Hall shortly before it was razed
for additional parking.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

Today the site of the hotel is a municipal parking lot.  The hotels annex remains
and is now home to the Buzard Organ Factory and Lofts.  You will notice the
bricked up passages along the eastern facade of the building where the hotel
joined the annex.
Photo courtesy of TJ Blakeman

The site as it stands today in context with Neil Street.  The former Carmon's
Restaurant is the green building in the distance.  The City of Champaign
is exploring options for once again turning this lot over for redevelopment.
Photo courtesy of TJ Blakeman


  1. I'd *love* to see this valuable space re-developed! Especially considering how close the parking garage is. Great historical montage as always! Thanks TJ!

  2. Well done, TJ. I only vaguely remember the hotel and the flatiron building. I believe both were demolished when i was very young.

  3. Hi,
    Champaign apartmentsI can see that you are putting a lot of efforts . Keep posting the good work.Some really helpful information in there. Nice to see your site. Thanks!

  4. I have a photo of The Beardsley from 1914 and the fourth floor was intact, so it wasn't added in the 20's