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1860s Monroe and the American House
This photo, from the collection of Tom Fey, shows a portion of the former American House taken before 1900. A portion of what many know as the Ruf Block can be seen across the street. It shows a building to the west, which still stands and is attached to the current White Block.

Last week we heard Norman Churchill’s recollections about the building of the American House on the southwest corner of the square. More is printed about that building in Becoming A Village: Monroe in the 1850s. That book includes a list of the residents of the hotel from the 1860 census: Joseph A. Gleissner, hotel keeper, his wife and their seven children, six servants, and 22 other residents. The book also includes several snippets about the building. This column contains a few tidbits of information from the 1860s.

A report from June 19, 1861 stated, “On Saturday morning last, while the wind was blowing a perfect hurricane from the west, a cry of fire was raised in our village, and turning to see the cause, we discovered heavy clouds of black smoke rolling upwards from the roof of the American House. Fortunately it proved to be only a chimney on fire and no serious damage was done. We have heard a suggestion from one of our citizens, which we think is a good one, and one which ought to be acted upon at once; which is, that the village trustees pass an ordinance requiring owners of buildings on blocks surrounding the square to have about his building ladders with which, in case of fire, the roof can be reached at once, also a certain quantity of leather buckets. Some such regulation, faithfully enforced, may at some time in the future save us from fearful loss. If, in this case, the American House had really been on fire, unless speedily put out, no human power could have prevented it from sweeping the whole south side of the square.

“Shall we take the necessary precaution or wait until it is too late?”

Another fire occurred in the hotel barn as reported later that year on December 11. “On last Thursday evening about ten o’clock the barn of J. A. Gleissner, the proprietor of the American House in this place, was discovered on fire. The flames had made considerable progress when first discovered, and in thirty minutes it was totally destroyed. There were several horses in the barn at the time, but they were got out, not however until some of them were severely burned. The loss, besides the building, consists of one new harness and about one hundred bushels of grain. The fire is supposed to be the work of an incendiary.”

A new barn, “more commodious and better located,” was completed by the end of April. A short article on May 14 mentioned that Gleissner was a good natured, obliging host and was ever mindful of the comfort and accommodation of his friends and patrons. An advertisement in the same paper gave “notice to the farmers of this and adjoining counties, in which he calls attention to his superior facilities for entertaining all who can call upon him, and promising perfect satisfaction or no charge. His promises will be redeemed.”

A new barber shop and shaving saloon was opened in May 1862 by Antonio Delight in the basement of the building. He had “the reputation of knowing his biz, and of tending to it.” 

An advertisement for the hotel on July 29, 1863 said that it had been “refitted and furnished anew in all departments. Its tables will always be well furnished. Stables attached, well supplied with provender and faithful hostlers. Stages leave in every direction from his house.” There was an article in the same paper that brought attention to the new advertisement. The editor said that he had “no hesitation in pronouncing it No. 1 for neatness and comfort. His cozy sitting-rooms and bedrooms are enough to make a bachelor forswear matrimony and housekeeping forever, and the contents of his tables would tempt the appetite of an anchorite. Travelers stopping at the ‘American,’ will be constrained to acknowledge that though we have no showy hotels in outward appearance, in comfort and convenience they are unsurpassed by any throughout the country.”

There have been beekeepers in Green County from the early years. An ad in the May 3, 1865 paper let people know that Mr. E. Green would be stopping at the American Hotel for a few days where he would be exhibiting a new beehive, for which he claimed “superior advantages.” Those who were interested were asked to call on him in the sample room of the hotel.

Another ad on July 12 announced that the “celebrated Dr. Kennedy has arrived in Monroe, and will remain one week only. Persons that are troubled with cross eyes will find it to their interest to call at the American House, room No. 5, and receive treatment that will leave the eye in its natural position. Also doctors the throat and lungs, and remove pimples from the face, leaving the skin smooth and healthy.

“To insure people against humbug. Dr. Kennedy will make no charge for treatment where satisfaction is not given. Examination free of charge. The Doctor can be consulted by Ladies and Gentlemen at any hour of the day.”

It was announced on April 11, 1866 that “our friend Gleissner is about to build a brick Hotel on the corner where the American now stands, which will be a great improvement.” A look at the photo included with this column will show you that a new building would have been welcome. Unfortunately, a new building would not happen for several decades. A comical advertisement/news clipping on May 9 stated, “J. A. Gleissner is fixing the sidewalk about the American House, which improvement will be hailed with joy by all who wear crinoline, a good quality of which can be purchased at Hassinger & Chandler’s and Whitney & Treat’s.”

Gleissner, who had kept a good house in town for many years, sold his furniture and rented the hotel to Cunningham & Welch of Whitewater the following March. There is much more information to share about this property, but it will have to wait for a column sometime in the future.

— Matt Figi is a Monroe resident and a local historian. His column will appear periodically on Saturdays in the Times. He can be reached at or at 608-325-6503.