Home News Vision A splendid hotel in a rough-hewn Old West town

A splendid hotel in a rough-hewn Old West town

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The Roswell Hotel, which was surrounded by large trees even when trees were sparse in most of Roswell. Room rates were $1 and $1.25. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

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Roswell Hotel protected its guests from ‘vices and allurements’ such as tobacco and card playing

Have you ever looked at an old picture and wondered what your life would be like if you had lived in those days? Some old photographs just sort of draw you in.

What would it be like to have hotels today where you could just sit out on the veranda and visit with the other guests, and take all your meals together (family style) in the hotel dining room? Those were my thoughts when I looked at the picture of the old Roswell Hotel.

A Roswell Daily Record article, dated Aug. 19, 1905, stated that A.J. Crawford bought the Roswell Hotel near the train depot, from L.A. Stevens. With the vast improvements, it cannot be recognized as the same hotel. It had been mismanaged on previous occasions and was in a rundown condition.

From the start, Crawford began making gradual improvements, and a splendid building is a silent testimony of the thrift, energy and the real worth of the owner, as one of the men engaged in the up-building of Roswell.

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Crawford said, “My aim from the start has been to make it one of the best hotels in the Southwest, regardless of prices. My motto has been always to lead and not to follow.”

He has often said that if anything be more needed in any city it was a nice hotel where young men could be protected from the vices and allurements thrown out to them by the vast majority of hotels, which have card playing rooms and bar rooms. Two of the policies of the Roswell Hotel were that no tobacco or cigars be sold along with no card playing on the premises.

On April 16, 1909, this article appeared in the Roswell Daily Record:

Two Hotel Buildings for Greater Roswell

The substantial growth that Roswell is enjoying is reflected in the fact that two new hotel buildings are to go up in the vicinity of the railroad station this spring. One will be started next week and the heavy 36-foot steel girders for the other are now on the ground ready for work to begin as soon as the details can be arranged. Within two months, both buildings will be well on their way to completion.

The building to be started next week is being contracted by A.J. Crawford, and will be in the form of an addition to the Roswell Hotel. The addition will appear larger than the original building extending 86 feet to the east from the present building and being three full stories and a fourth with the dormer windows.

To correspond to the rest of the building, the addition will be constructed of cement stone, and the style or architecture will be the same, with three full, arched galleries, one for each of the three stories. The plans and drawings of the new building as it will appear, when the work is ended, show a fine looking structure 126 feet in length, three stories and a half in the larger portion of the building, and two stories and a half in the older section. The arched galleries add greatly to the appearance of the whole. The addition will afford 36 bedrooms, being 32 feet in width and each floor affording a double row of rooms. In all the Roswell Hotel will then have 87 bedrooms.

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A year later on March 26, 1910, this article appeared in the Roswell Daily Record:

Crawford Builds Fish Pond At Roswell Hotel

A.J. Crawford, who bought the hotel in 1905 and made vast improvements. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

A.J. Crawford, Landlord of the Roswell Hotel, has caused the construction of a large cement tank which not only removes an unsanitary mud hole around the hydrant in the front of the hotel, but makes the fish pond for the amusement of his guests. The tank is 18 foot long, 5-feet wide and 2 1/2-feet deep. He now has 25 fish as a starter and will have the tank alive with the gold and silver colored beauties before long. He has supplied the rear yard hydrant with a similar, smaller reservoir for sanitary purposes.

Mr. Crawford truly did add a lot to this hotel to upgrade and attract.

The Roswell Hotel, which was located in the 500 block of North Virginia Avenue, formerly called Pecos Avenue, was an example of the splendor that the early settlement of Roswell offered to travelers. Soon after the coming of the railroad to the Pecos Valley in the mid-1890s, hotel accommodations were a necessity at every train stop.

The Roswell Hotel conformed to the expected exterior of a first-class hotel. Like many buildings in Roswell, the hotel is difficult to identify in terms of a single architectural style. Nevertheless, it’s wood frame with sturdy walls of precast stone blocks, made by a local contractor, along with its wraparound porch with lathe turned spindles as posts gave it some characteristics of the Queen Anne style.

The decorous arch effect between the porch posts, and the hip roof with gable dormer’s, and the Widows walk, make the structure both architecturally unique and interesting.

It’s elegance was most impressive in a small frontier town. There were few other buildings that could compare with its architectural beauty at that time. The Roswell Hotel was very inviting with its long shady porch, it’s spacious grounds, and huge trees even in the very early days of Roswell.

The interior of the Roswell Hotel was no less impressive. It’s polished hardwood floors, plastered walls and artistically draped windows created an atmosphere of elegance.

Initially, each bedroom on the third floor was provided with a water pitcher and a wash bowl. On the second floor there was a bathroom. Each bedroom was equipped with an ornate iron bedstead, a chest of drawers with mirror and a cane back rocking chair.

On the ground level, the spacious lobby was furnished with three fabric covered settees and an antique library table. The big pot bellied wood-burning stove was equipped with vents that opened into each upstairs room so the heat from the stove warmed the entire building.

The Roswell Hotel shorty before it was demolished. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

In later years, the stove was lined with fire brick and a natural gas burner was installed which accomplished the same purpose.

The lobby of the Roswell Hotel became a loitering place, a headquarters for gossip and socializing.

Here, too, was the public information center where new arrivals brought the latest word from distant places, and mingled informally with local politicians, ranchers, mule skinners, or any other person who might be there for a night’s lodging.

In the dining room, meals were served family style. The American plan of charging hotel guests a fee, which included meals that were served in a common dining room was the practice of the day.

Another add in the Roswell Daily Record, dated April 20, 1910, stated, “We will not only give you something good to eat, but we will fan you while you eat.” The price advertised for meals and lodging was $1 or $1.25 per day.

Little formality was observed in frontier hotels, and travelers from abroad were shocked that wealthy adventurers or investors dined with gamblers, desperadoes or perhaps the occasional sweat-stained, dusty rider from the open range who checked into the hotel for a bath and a good meal before going out on the town to splurge his $30-a-month wages.

Extending from the back of the hotel, which was north, there were three light housekeeping apartments which were usually occupied by the proprietor or perhaps a semi-permanent patron.

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Tode Brenneman, an old timer, once recalled coming to Roswell in 1907. When his family alighted from the train, there were three horse-drawn vehicles waiting to take passengers to the hotel. Each vehicle was an enclosed carriage with benches down the sides and a door in the center back. A driver sat on the top just in front of the luggage rack. When the traveler specified the hotel of his choice, a man tossed his luggage on top of the vehicle, and helped the family into the waiting carriage.

Being centrally located made the hotel a convenient place for various groups to meet. It was a meeting place for Boy Scout troops, politicians, civic groups, and others.

In Elvis Fleming and Minor Huffman’s book, “Round Up On the Pecos,” mentions the Roswell Hotel in the Jess Tanner family story.

It reads: “In 1916 Jess Tanner was the proprietor of the Roswell Hotel where he and his wife, Emma, rented rooms and served family style meals into the year of 1917. During the time that Battery ‘A’ of the New Mexico National Guard was in training and mobilizing, they ate their meals at the Roswell Hotel. In 1916 only a short time after they were called up, Battery ‘A’ was assigned to go into Mexico after the outlaw, Poncho Villa, following his raid on Columbus, New Mexico. Their efforts were to no avail.”

After Battery A returned to Roswell from the action in Mexico and housing at Fort Bliss, Texas, they again went into training in preparation to go overseas for the duty in World War I. Again, a large number of soldiers ate their meals at the Roswell Hotel before being shipped overseas.

Ed Hamm, whose family ran a burro train from Roswell to Lovington, recalled, “I remember quite well the first night I ever spent at the Roswell Hotel. I was about 11 years old.”

In 1933 and 1934, Mrs. Lou Alexander and Grace Sheppard were proprietors of the hotel. It can be assumed that a more extensive, or different type, of food service was available, as it was listed in the city directory as Roswell Hotel and Café.

In 1949, W.C. and Modemia Teel purchased the Roswell Hotel and turned it over to Florence Hendricks, Teel’s mother, who ran it for a few years.

On one occasion, Teel became concerned about the turned up edges of shingles on the roof and called the roofer: “Man your roof will never leak,” the roofer said. “it’s covered with old oil cans that have been opened up and made into shingles.”

The Coronado Wrecking Co of Albuquerque razed the building on May 10, 1973. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

As that many oil cans would not have been available when the hotel was built, it is assumed that sometime later, the original roof was covered with the tin shingles and then painted.

A woman named Mrs. Steele recalled the wraparound porch across the south front and west side of the building: “It was such a pleasant place for old-timers to gather and talk about the times that used to be.”

The hotel met its demise when on May 10, 1973, the Coronado Wrecking Co. of Albuquerque razed the old building.

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What fun it is, to go back to the slower, more simple times, that people, no matter their walk of life, had time to sit out on the porch and share stories, politics and weather. Bring back the old Roswell Hotel!

Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or by email at jdhist4@outlook.com.

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