The Commercial Hotel (on the National Register of Historic Places, now repurposed as the Commercial Apartments), is a three-story Queen Anne Style, late Victorian brick building on South Jefferson St. in Wadena, Minnesota, that served as an anchor for the Askew family, especially the women of the Askew family, for decades. I’m still trying to understand this aspect of the Askew family, so this post will serve as a place to gather my notes and sources about the Askews at the Commercial Hotel. I have a lot to learn about this subject, so please do leave comments if you can further illuminate the subject.
In the Spring of 1901, Joseph Askew and his wife Jane leased a three-story brick hotel called the Wadena Hotel. They soon renamed the hotel the Commercial Hotel, as their target customers were travelling salesmen who came by train and needed a place to eat, sleep, and display their goods. After a time, Joseph purchased the Hotel for an estimated $10,000 (the equivalent of about $275,000 in today’s dollars).
Joseph Askew and his wife and their children managed and later owned the Commercial Hotel in Wadena, MN, for much of the first decade of the 1900s. By 1908, Joseph decided to sell the hotel and move his family to North Dakota to farm. In the meantime, the hotel was leased to Frank Lynch in 1908, then to J. A. Schreiner in 1909, and in 1910 the hotel was leased (or possibly purchased) by the Askew’s youngest daughter, Jennie, and her husband, Albert Barker.
After Joseph’s death September 21, 1911, Jane made the decision to sell the farm, move back to Wadena, and buy back the Commercial Hotel. Jane’s son Wilfred contributed $5,000 he had from selling off his mining interest in Colorado, and this, combined with other family money was enough to buy back the Commercial Hotel. Possibly in recognition of the fact that the hotel was bought back and then operated cooperatively by the members of the Askew family, in 1912, Jane Askew formed the Askew Realty Company and distributed shares of the company among the members of the family.
Long after Jane’s death in 1914, the Commercial Hotel served served as a shared home for many of the Askew daughters, keeping the family bonds strong. As can be seen from the 1920 census return (below; the top half of the page lists the residents of the Commercial Hotel), the Askew women and their families made the Commercial Hotel their home as well as their livelihood.
The Askews enumerated at the Commercial Hotel on the 1920 census:
- Edward and Fannie (Askew) Young were living in the hotel with their 9-year-old stepson Joseph and their 5-year-old twins Jack and Jean.
- Jennie (Askew) Harrison, recently widowed after the 1919 death of her second husband Charles, was living in the hotel with her 12-year-old son Charles, and someone who was possibly her mother-in-law, 69-year-old Mary Harrison.
- Belle (Askew) Spencer, a widow of more than 10 years after the death of her husband Jim, lived in the hotel with her 21-year-old daughter Jennie.
- Harold and Allie (Askew) Mason were living in the hotel.
- William and Edith (Askew) King were living in the hotel with their 16-year-old daughter Florence and their 12-year-old son Robert.
Only two Askew daughters were missing from the Commercial Hotel in 1920: Annie and Etta. Annie and her husband Billie were busy running their own hotel, the Askew’s first hotel—the Arlington Hotel in nearby Menahga. Etta and her husband Charles Wilkins were farming in Cass County, ND.
By 1930, the impact of the automobile on the hotel trade was being felt (or perhaps the census taker came by during an ebb in business). The 1930 census lists only 12 people in the Commercial Hotel, 6 of which were Askew family members, and 4 were non-Askew maids/waitresses, leaving only 2 travelling salesman as paying guests.
The Askews enumerated at the Commercial Hotel on the 1930 census:
- Henrietta (Askew) Wilkins
- ? Lucy Harrison (a possible relation of Jennie Askew Harrison’s husband), a widow
- Charles Harrison (Jennie Askew Harrison’s son)
- ? Ella Spencer (a possible relation of Isabella Askew Spencer’s husband), a widow
- Harold and Jennie (Spencer) Harvey
Jennie Harrison is conspicuously absent.
The 1940 census shows the Askew clan still running and living at the Commercial Hotel.
The Askews enumerated at the Commercial Hotel on the 1940 census:
- Fannie Young and her daughter Jean
- Belle Spencer
- Henrietta Wilkins
- Harold and Allie Mason
- Jennie Harrison
- ? Hannal Mason (a possible relation of Harold Mason; a widower, perhaps Harold’s brother?)
- John and Mary Young and their daughter Mary Yvonne Young, returned from Beverly Hills, California
- Harry and Jennie (Spencer) Harvey
They also had 14 guests recorded as staying in the Hotel at the time of the 1940 census, including a 75-year-old widow named Katherine Murphy who is marked as being a guest, but is recorded as having lived in the same place (the Commercial Hotel) in 1935. Perhaps this is the mysterious “Mother Murphy” I’ve heard about in relation to the Commercial Hotel? Below is a photo of “Mother Murphy” and Fannie (Askew) Young:
An article on the history of the Commercial Hotel that was published in the Wadena Pioneer Journal on July 23, 1964 (reproduced from a poor-quality, incomplete photocopy below) described what the Commercial Hotel was like under the Askew women:
Seven daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Askew collaborated to make the Commercial Hotel a hospitable home for the weary traveller and its piping hot steaks became a byword particularly with the traveling salesmen who swarmed over the state in their pursuit of making a livlihood. Trains were practically their only mode of travel, train schedules, more often than not, made connections that entailed rather long layovers. Wadena as the hub with its Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads thus became a focal point of transfers and the layovers thus put the hotels in a position to reap the financial whirlwind.
The dominating spirit of their mother decreed hard work and her dictum that nothing but the best be served was quickly assimilated by the daughters and their record of performance was little short of miraculous in the annals of hotel history. Service included a spirit of good fellowship and the lonely traveller was quickly made to feel at home.
The Askew sisters worked as a unit, imbued with the spirit of one for all and all for one, a spirit which was to engulf the entire Askew tribe including relatives. The hotel became, in a sense, a home for them all, now still the home of Jennie Harvey, daughter of Belle Askew, and one of three survivors of the original family residing here. She has for some time managed the Commercial but is not in the best of health. Bob King and John Askew are still here.
Social activities of the sisters was considerably limited by their close attention to their duties at the hotel but they were staunch affiliates of the Episcopal church even though their attendance and participation in its activities were largely represented by Harold and Alice Mason, the former for many years acting as head of the clan and hotel manager. Lurking underneath a somewhat stern approach to the duties of daily life was a charitable side of the Askew characters, unheralded for the most part, in which they contributed liberally to the community well being when their judgment suggested the cause worthy.
Please leave comments below if you have any more information about the Askews’ relationship with the Commercial Hotel.