|By Bill Clark, Columbia Daily Tribune,
Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 6, 2009 - What does a guy who spent a lifetime in the hotel business do when he retires?
Some, no doubt, simply semi-retire on a part-time basis at some beachside hotel where it only snows on television. After a lifetime in the rat race of daily dirty towels and guests you can never satisfy, not many devote six years to an 1,100-page book about 4,235 hotels that existed in Missouri, from the earliest taverns of the last half of the 18th century to the early 20th century.
That monumental undertaking has been compiled by Columbia's David James. His book, titled "Historic Hotels of Missouri," is now on the market, all 10 pounds of it.
Not only are 4,235 hotels in 872 Missouri towns and cities listed, but most have at least brief stories attached. Advertisements for 806 and photos of 211 spice up what has to be the most comprehensive history of the hotel culture in our state ever.
The data are overwhelming, both in volume and in statewide historical significance.
Before we review this history, you need to meet the old hosteler who put it all together.
Dave James is a 71-year-old native of New Cumberland, Pa., who gave up the violin in the ninth grade to take on the tuba. He still plays the big horn with the Columbia Community Band and at the annual band concert each July in Roanoke. His license plate -- "Oompa."
Dave graduated from Penn State in 1960 with a degree in hotel administration -- so long ago that Joe Paterno was an assistant football coach en route to becoming the winningest coach in collegiate history.
Dave spent eight years with the American Noel Corp. and wound up in Washington, D.C., where he worked for seven years for the Marriott hotel chain. In 1975, he became the manager of the Ramada Inn Convention Center in Champaign, Ill., picked up his MBA from the University of Illinois, then moved on in 1980 for eight years with the McRand Corp. in Chicago as a meeting planner for large groups in the hemisphere's major hotels.
In 1988, he came to Columbia to manage the now-departed Ramada Inn and six months later became a teacher at the University of Missouri in hotel administration, adding a doctorate in 1994. He retired from MU in 2000.
Then the fun began.
After 40 years in the hotel business, he was very familiar with the way things were done but not with how they once were. He felt the need to preserve the history of the early taverns, inns and hotels in our state -- a history that had to be extracted, almost painfully, from old newspapers, city and county histories, the Missouri State Gazeteer and Business Directory, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, and with the help of many of the state's county historical societies.
Dave spent at least 5,000 hours in the State Historical Society of Missouri's microfilm newspaper files alone, searching, copying and writing.
He methodically worked by geographical regions, county by county. Once he was satisfied with a county, he sent that county's historical society a copy of his work to be edited, corrected and supplemented.
He spent another 1,000 hours putting the book together and who knows how many more hours to compile his references, county by county, and to do both a city and surname index. He did it all by himself.
The first nine chapters review the history of taverns, which also served as communal sleeping rooms; upgrades to inns; how natural disasters -- mostly fires and floods -- affected early hotels; the effects of financial swings; the Civil War; the emergence of the railroads; early modernization and the beginning of auto travel.
The counties are arranged alphabetically, and each has a brief history wrapped around its major town or towns.
Boone County's 64 hotels in the 19th and early 20th centuries were located in Columbia, Centralia, Rocheport, Ashland, Claysville, Hartsburg, Providence, Sturgeon and Millersburg (really in Callaway County). A map of Columbia shows the locations of 13 hotel buildings, including the Daniel Boone, Tiger and Pennant Motel Inn, because of their uniqueness.
There are pictures, advertisements and descriptions of all the properties from Gentry's Tavern in 1819 Smithton to the Tiger.
There are labors of love -- and there is the ultimate labor -- "The Historical Hotels of Missouri." Even if you're not a history buff, this book is a "must." Call Dave at 449-1630 or go to his Web site at www.showmecards.net.
So what will Dave James do now in his spare time?
First, he is marketing a popular product called Showme Cards. They are poker decks with a history on each card. He has produced five different decks -- Explore Columbia, Explore Kansas City, Explore Missouri, The University of Missouri and the Civil War.
Another book? "I became intrigued by the various stagecoaches which operated from those hotels to connections with steamboats and railroads that took travelers worldwide. I'll do a little digging and see where those stages lead me."
Ol' Clark is betting on "The Saga of the Stagecoach" by 2013.
Bill Clark's columns appear Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at 474-4510.
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