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  • Writer's pictureTJ Blakeman

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"." 

*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 clearly 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 HotelConstructed 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."

This souvenir book (above), includes 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.

This rare interior photo shows the modern and impressive Beardsley Hotel lobby. The hotel featured electric lighting, steam heat and an elevator.

An annex was added to the west of the Hotel. The building would later become the Women's Town Club and today home to the Buzard Pipe Organ Company and Organ Lofts.

"By the 1920s, the Beardlsey Hotel needed renovation and was aptly renamed "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". 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 Company Building next door.  That building was also increased in height and still features the same detailed brick work.

This view below looks north on Neil Street from Main Street and shows the Beardsley to the left with American flag.

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 shortly after this photo above in 1967 to make way for additional Downtown Parking.

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 Credits: Champaign County History Museum, Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library, Michael Markstahler, City of Champaign, and T.J. Blakeman.

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