Early Hotels: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

While some Conway visitors found shelter in the wagon yards, others sought out hotels for their overnight stays. Although the Hotel Bachelor is one of the most talked about and well-remembered Conway hotels, there are a few other notable hotels that did a fine business downtown.

One of the first hotels to be established in Conway was, of course, near the railroad depot. Andrew Horton purchased a lot on Railroad (Parkway) Avenue at West Main from Col. Asa Robinson, Conway’s founder, in late 1874. Horton built the Conway Hotel there and operated it until 1878 when he sold it to William Clifton. William Lea then owned it for a time, calling it the Lea Hotel.

One of the most famous guests to stay in the Conway Hotel was the notorious Belle Starr. According to the February 24, 1921 Arkansas Gazette, she and her daughter stayed at the hotel for about six months in 1876 while visiting a cousin who lived in the Holland area.

Isaac Francisco, the next owner, owned the hotel for about ten years and named it the Francisco Hotel in 1887. In 1900, Francisco sold it to W.B. Hines and it became known as the Hotel de Hines. It was described as a rambling two-story white frame building with a wide veranda across the east façade. It is often visible in the background of old depot pictures.

Traveling salesmen, whose main mean of transportation was the railroad, would walk across Railroad Avenue for a “large, airy room” at the Hotel de Hines. They would sit on the veranda and demonstrate their wares to customers. In the evening, they would sit in the rocking chairs on the porch and swap stories of their travels.

The Hotel de Hines burned January 17, 1924. Apparently the blaze was a sight to behold. Many locals gathered to watch it burn just as the locals gathered decades later to watch the Hotel Bachelor burn.

The Markham Hotel, established in 1879 by Dr. Reuben Markham and his wife, Burilla, was also located west of the railroad tracks on Oak Street. By 1910, it was called the Rosa Hotel and was under the proprietorship of Joe Rosa.

There were also a number of hotels to the east of the railroad tracks. The Crosby House, founded by William E. Crosby in 1880, stood at the corner of Main and Front streets. It was remembered for its rickety stairs that faced the lobby. Mrs. Margaret E. Simpson also ran a hotel across the street from Crosby House.

The Farrow Hotel was established in 1882 at the corner of Main and Front where the Federal Building is today. Benjamin S. Farrow, the proprietor, later left the hotel business to start a retail business.

The Allinder Hotel, a two-story brick at the corner of Front and Prairie, was established by J.M. Allinder in 1878. The hotel was 85’ x 76’ and elegantly furnished. He established a grocery in the bottom floor of the hotel in 1895. In 1898, it caught fire and burned.

Another hotel was erected at the corner of Front and North Streets where Baker Drug is located today. It went through several owners before being purchased by Tom and Frank Witt in 1895. It became known as the Witt Hotel and also later burned.

Several new hotels made their appearance as the 20th century began. Sally Harkrider Powers opened the Cottage Hotel on north Front Street in 1903. Her husband, Tom operated Powers wagon yard next door. The Laymon Hotel, established by W.S. Laymon, was also opened on Front Street that year. Laymon sold it four years later to W.H. Wood who then sold it to Charlie Jones in 1916. Jones changed the hotel’s name to the Commercial Hotel. The hotel later became a rooming house. Another hotel, the De Choate, was established on Parkway in the 1920s by A.D. Choate.

This story would not be complete without mentioning one final establishment. Shortly after the turn of the century, the Steed Hotel was established at Van Ronkle and Harrison. In 1942, it was sold to George Joseph, a Syrian immigrant. It was a large, rambling gray two-story frame structure. A store was located on the ground floor. The Josephs also had a wagon yard, horse stables and chickens behind the store.

The Joseph eventually transitioned into a rooming house and became an iconic landmark in Conway. Many remember its residents sitting on the porch watching the world go by. It was still in operation until it was demolished in the late 1980s.

Downtown hotels began to disappear as the main route through Conway shifted east. Hotels sprang up along Highway 64 and the re-routed Highway 65 to accommodate travelers who now traveled by automobile instead of by train.