Mansion House - William Watson Hotel

Pittsfield, Pike Co., Illinois
Photo from the Brochure
The "Mansion House" was built in 1838 by William Watson on the Southside of Pittsfield's courthouse square. It is one of the oldest buildings on the square in Pittsfield Illinois and was frequented by Lincoln when he was practicing law in the Pike County Courthouse.

It was renamed the Parkway Hotel in 1938. At that time no one would have guessed the great-grandson of the housekeeper there would become the future owner. After falling into disrepair for decades, Jonas and Jane Ann Petty purchased it in 2006 with the intentions of bringing the old hotel back to its former glory. It took about two years of work and along the way it became a labor of love. During reconstruction the Petty's took care to preserve the historic feel of the hotel...the brick and the ceiling tiles are all original to the structure.

The William Watson Hotel, named for the original owner, opened to the public just weeks ago, with 14 rooms and suites with kitchenettes. Every room is different, which adds to the character of the one-of-a-kind hotel experience. Many of the rooms come with a one of a kind view of Pike County's Historic courthouse. Petty said, "We've had a great response from the community. We've got reservations from people passing through on business, hunting, people just coming in for a nice nights stay."
(Article by Melissa Shriver - January 08, 2009)

HISTORY OF 1880

- THE PUBLIC SQUARE -
A description of the Public Square and the short streets immediately around it, in the early days, should prove interesting. Nearly all the old buildings have been pulled down or removed, and the few landmarks that still remain must soon meet the same fate. On the north side of the Square there were but four buildings. A grocery or saloon occupied the corner where Shadel's meat market now stands; next west was Thomas Dickson's small frame store which long occupied the place of the present two-story brick edifice, and is still standing in the rear of its old site; next was the Courthouse, now Joseph Heck's store, and next a one-story frame, which was afterward enlarged, and is now occupied by Field's jewelry store. In the lower portion of the lot, where the Pittsfield House now stands, was the house of Michael McGuire. The first store on the west side was that of Green & Barber, the building now occupied by Clayton's hardware store; next was the store of Jacob Hodgen, who afterward built the first brick store in town; and next, near the south corner, the harness shop of Hamilton Wills. On the south side was the log store of Jonas Clark, which stood where Seeley, Lloyd & Co.'s big store now stands; then the store of Talcott & Co., and then the Mansion House, which was then but two stories high and having about half its present frontage. East of this was Mrs. Mary M. Heath's house. (This venerable lady, who is said to have been the first white child born in Cincinnati, O., is still living in the town, and is looked upon and respected as one of the few living links connecting the present with the past generation.) East of Mrs. Heath's was Frank Spencer's blacksmith shop. On the east side of the Square, and occupying the site of Winans & Platner's furniture store, was the residence of Miss Bush, and north of that J.U. Grimshaw's store. The Square it self was an unfenced playground, ornamented with a dense growth of hazelbrush.

- HOTELS -
The location on the Courthouse here, with the consequent influx of strangers during term time, made hotels a necessity at an early day. The Union House, kept by Samuel Crane, and the Mansion House, met the demand at first. Then the Kentucky House, now known as the Mansion House, was built. In 1870 the spacious and handsome Pittsfield House was built by a stock company. The three last named houses are still open. These, with Shibley's establishment and the Oregon House, amply supply the town with hotel accommodations. The Union House was a frame building on the north side of the Square. The lower portion of the building is now occupied by the stores of M. R. Peckenpaugh and Dober & Blades.

- AUGUSTUS SIMPKINS -
Augustus Simpkins was born in Marion county, Ind., in 1833 came to this county in 1856, and settled on a farm in Martinsburg tp. Three years afterward he went to Rockport and engaged in merchandising, where he remained until 1870, when he was appointed Deputy Sheriff, and two years afterward was elected Sheriff. Before the close of his term he leased the Mansion House, which he kept for 14 months, then sold out, opening his present place of business. He was twice elected constable in this city, and Supervisor in Martinsburg tp. And Atlas, also a member of the Town Board for 3 years, and has always taken an active interest in county affairs. In 1854 he married Nancy J. Francis, and they have 5 living children.
(History of Pike County by Charles M. Chapman)

- Pittsfield's William Watson Hotel will boast connection to Lincoln -
(By Deborah Gertz Husar
Herald-Whig - Staff Writer - January 10, 2010)
Another Pittsfield site soon will be "talking" about its connections to Abraham Lincoln. Work is under way on a sign to be posted next to the front door of the William Watson Hotel, and plans call for having the hotel "talking" to visitors in February, hopefully by Lincoln's birthday. Hotel owners Jane Ann and Jonas Petty had hoped to find a link to Lincoln for the hotel, located on the downtown square and across the street from the county's historic courthouse and a Looking for Lincoln wayside exhibit. "It really makes us feel like we're part of history and proud that we've done something to preserve another place (where) he was," Jane Ann Petty said. "It's so important to American history, not just Illinois or Pittsfield."

Proof came through research done by Kathy Zimmerman, president of the Abe Lincoln Project, of accounts from Jess Thompson and Milo Pearson Jr., two well-respected Pike County historians. "Lincoln visited folks in the lobby between court sessions. Lincoln was in the old hotel," Zimmerman said. "I feel like we have enough documentation to prove he was there, not that he stayed there, but he evidently visited."

Zimmerman supplied documentation to the city of Pittsfield for the sign and to Bryon Andreasen, research historian with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, who wrote scripts for the city's other talking houses. The script will highlight Watson, the first settler of Pittsfield who was a prominent businessman and also a probate judge. Pittsfield economic development consultant Bill McCartney said a talking house transmitter will be placed at the hotel and the city's "talking house" brochure will be revised to include the hotel. "It's just going to broaden the whole story about Lincoln's connection here in Pittsfield and Pike County," McCartney said.

Zimmerman said Lincoln's secretaries John Hay and John Nicolay both visited people at the hotel. At one time, both Alexander Starne and Ozias Hatch -- Hatch was secretary of state, and Starne was secretary of state and state treasurer -- had roomed there, "and Lincoln was very close to Hatch," Zimmerman said.

"The hotel has a really wonderful history," she said. "It's possible (Stephen) Douglas may have stayed there. According to historians, he had visited folk in the lobby. It was a popular place for attorneys to hang out during court sessions." The distinction provides more recognition for the hotel "as just a place to come and stay and be a part of history," Petty said. "Hotels were places people come and hang out in lobbies and tell stories. Lincoln was a storyteller. It was probably a place he told stories."

The hotel will be the city's 12th "talking house," but likely not its last. The same articles by Thompson and Pearson "stated Lincoln had been in the building where the Red Dome is now," Zimmerman said. "Also, we think he was in the building where B & amp;B Printing is, which used to be the Daniel Bush newspaper office. We're researching more sites Lincoln was in possibly here in town." "Those buildings, as old as they are, it stands to reason when he was in town here and had some time on his hands, he probably visited those places," McCartney said.