The Arlington Hotel at the turn of the century

The Arlington Hotel was the first framed building to be built in Menahga, Minnesota. My great-great-great-grandfather, Col. Joseph Askew, built and operated the hotel with his wife, Jane (Eilbeck) Askew.

A couple of decades ago, my grandmother Harriet (Askew) Prettyman gave me a photograph of the Arlington Hotel. Nothing was written on either the back or the front of the photo. In this post, I’ll be taking a closer look at the photograph to see what I can learn about this photo and the hotel it depicts.

The hotel in the photograph is clearly identifiable as the Arlington Hotel by the sign mounted above the second-story windows on the front of the hotel (see detail to the right).

One of the first things I want to determine is the date of the photo. There are numerous potentially helpful hints in the photograph itself that might give some evidence of its age—the signs and advertisements, the buildings, and the people are among some of the more promising avenues for research.

First, the buildings, beginning with the Arlington Hotel itself. The Arlington Hotel is today located just off of the main street of Menahga (now Co. Hwy 17) on Birch Avenue SE. The photograph was taken from what is now the southeastern corner of the intersection of Hwy 17 and Birch Ave. The Hotel was positioned in the approximate center of the old village; not surprising, given that it was the first framed building built in the village.

The Arlington Hotel did not begin its life as the Arlington Hotel. It was first built by Joseph Askew in the Spring of 1891, and was known as the Menahga House, what was referred to locally as a “halfway house,” providing lodging and meals for those travelling through the area. By the time the then-new Park Rapids to Wadena railroad line arrived in the Summer of 1891, the Menahga House was nearly ready for business.

In the second part of her series on the early history of Menahga, Rebecca Komppa tells of the arrival of an expedition led by Captain Willard Glazier:

In his book, “Headwaters of the Mississippi” (1901), Captain Willard Glazier writes about being in Menahga on August 20, 1891. Glazier was leader of a group of 15 eminent scientists, geographers, mapmakers, geologists, and educators who were on a mission to, once and for all, either prove or disprove what was thought to be the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The K Line of the Great Northern had recently been made available for passenger trains between Wadena and Park Rapids, and the group decided to take the train to Park Rapids. From that point, the explorers would journey into the wilderness by horseback, wagon and canoe.

Glazier wrote: “A halt of nearly an hour was made at a halfway house known as Menahga (Arlington Hotel), where we had a very satisfactory dinner; the conductor favoring the landlord and ourselves at the same time, by holding his train until we could dine in detachments, the table and service not being equal to so large a party. After dinner the conductor still further delayed his train in order to give Mr. Trost an opportunity to photograph the Menahga House and its guests. Our brief stop at this pioneer establishment was, it may perhaps be considered, an event in its history, and the host seemed anxious to make the most of it. We may also explain that the new railway from Wadena to Park Rapids was, at that time, in an unfinished condition; there were no stations north of Wadena except at its terminus at Park Rapids.”

 

The photograph that Mr. Trost took of the Menahga House on August 20, 1891, was tracked down by Ms. Komppa and is reproduced at the right. The resolution and half-tone nature of the newsprint reproduction of the photo make it difficult to see many details or to make out faces. If I were to guess, I’d say that the man in the bowler hat seated near the right edge of the image is Joseph Askew, but I’ll have to find a higher resolution copy of this image to be able to say that with any certainty.

The Menahga House seen in the 1891 photo differs in a number of ways from the Arlington Hotel seen in the as-yet-undated photo that is the subject of this post:

  • An second chimney, closer to the front of the building, has been added to the Arlington Hotel;
  • A porch and second-story balcony have been added to the front of the Arlington Hotel;
  • The exterior of the Arlington Hotel has been covered with something that looks like stone-patterned asphalt siding;
  • The street level was elevated by the time of the later photo, so the steps up to the [originally] elevated front porch are no longer visible, and the level of the front porch is now at the same level as the new boardwalk;
  • The sign for the Arlington Hotel has been added.

Clearly these changes did not happen overnight, but just how much time separates the two photos? For additional hints, let’s look at some of the visible signs and advertisements.

One of the most visible signs is the one that reads “Drug Store. Apteeki.” Apteeki is merely the Finnish word for pharmacy. I have not yet been able to find a historical record or mention of the old drug store in Menahga. Below the drug store sign is a much smaller sign reading “Watch Maker, Up Stairs, Work Guaranteed.” This may also help narrow down the time frame once I can find historic directories, tax records, or other records of area businesses.

To the right of the drug store sign is another large sign, this time for Jayne’s Tonic Vermifuge. Dr. Jayne’s Family Medicines were available from 1843 through at least the 1930s. The Tonic Vermifuge (“A sure remedy for worms”) was first created by Dr. Jayne’s in 1845. The phrase “The Strength-Giver” appears to be less common. I found uses of it in the minutes of an 1892 Methodist conference, on a Dr. Jayne’s 1899 calendar, a 1903 volume of Outlook magazine, and another in a 1904 volume of Cosmopolitan magazine, and a 1905 volume of the Christian work and the evangelist magazine.  By 1907, the slogan appears to have been modified to “Here’s a Natural Strength-Giver,” according to an advertisement in the Oswego Daily Palladium. This sign does not appear to help narrow the date range of the photograph—it appears to the 1890-1910 equivalent of “Drink Coca Cola!” There’s also a small “Climax” brand soda or bottle advertisement

The people in the photograph may also offer some clues. I recognize one person immediately—the man in the suit and the light-colored hat sitting on the boardwalk (on the right of the first detail photograph below) is Joseph Askew. While the resolution of the photograph doesn’t allow for an accurate estimation of age, Joseph died on September 21, 1911, so the photo had to have been taken before then. To my eye, the boy in the overalls between Joseph and the bicycle looks like Clyde Lawson Askew. If so, and if he’s about 7-10 years old, this photo would date to 1903-1906 (Clyde’s birthday is May 7, 1896). I haven’t yet recognized any of the other people in the photo.

The clothing worn by the people in the photograph also fails (at least to someone with my level of fashion history knowledge) to clarify the time period of the photograph. Bowler hats, for instance, were popular from their introduction in 1849 well into the last century. Using some of the resources brought together by Nancy Price in her helpful article, Style clues and cues in antique photos, I was left with the impression that the clothing worn by the women in this photo is most consistent with the decades from 1900–1909 and from 1910–1919. I just bought two books on dating photos using fashion and style details (Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, and Uncovering your Ancestry through Family Photographs, 2nd ed.), and perhaps what I learn there will help me extract more dating details.

 

Finally, there are two bicycles pictured in the photograph—one held by a man below the Watchmaker sign, and one held by a woman on the front porch of the Hotel. Both are diamond-frame safety bicycles with wheels of equal size, a style which became popular in the late 1880s. The man’s bicycle has rather distinctive handlebars, and I was able to find a near match to his bicycle in this 1899 example, preserved at the Smithsonian Institution.

For now, it appears that all I can say about the date of this photo is that it appears to have been taken at least several years after 1891 (time for the additions and the subsequent wear and tear on the building), and perhaps not too long after 1907 (when the logo on the Dr. Jayne’s sign would have been worded differently). A range of 1895–1911 seems a reasonably conservative estimate, with 1897-1907 being perhaps the most likely. If the boy in the photo is Clyde Askew, then a date of 1903–1906 would be indicated. Hopefully there I will find more definitive clues as to the date of this photo in the local property and business records in Menahga and in Wadena County, when I travel there later this Fall.

Epilogue

The Menahga Hotel still stands today. According to a story published in August, 2012, in The Review Messenger, the building was recently a shoe store, and is now a healthy foods cafe and grocery. It’s great to see it still standing, regardless of its use.

2 thoughts on “The Arlington Hotel at the turn of the century

  1. I just stumbled onto your most interesting accounts of Menahga, the Arlington Hotel, etc. The APTEEKI sign is likely to be on the business of my grandfather, Matt Ristinen, an immigrant who arrived in Menahga about 1894. He was active in other Menahga businesses, also. If you would like to have more information about the early days of Menahga, you could contact my sister, Kathleen Ristinen Jonas at kaisa@columbus.rr.com.
    She is well informed on that subject.We both grew up in Menahga.

  2. Robert,

    Thanks for your comment! I’m eager to learn more about Menahga and your grandfather’s store. I’ll be in touch as soon as I’m back from my vacation.

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