Highlands Inn & Cottages
The Highlands Inn offered an excellent view of the Meramec River Valley, had 125 stately rooms, and was the crown jewel of the summer resort and subdivision. It featured all the amenities of an early summer hotel: a bowling alley, billiards room, tennis and croquet courts, chess rooms, a barbershop, bakery, wine cellar, restaurants, banquet rooms, a stage for plays, large verandas, and porches where guests congregated to view the beautiful scenery. The presence of hot running water, "ideal sanitary plumbing," and electric lighting made the hotel a marvel in its time. It opened in 1894 and was popular with affluent St. Louisans who could stay at the resort and still commute to work on the Frisco Railroad. Once the cheaper streetcars began bringing "common folk" in 1896, the inn's exclusivity was compromised and hotel patronage dwindled. Despite a surge in business during the 1904 Worlds Fair, the hotel closed the next summer. Future attempts to continue its operation were unsuccessful. The Highlands Inn was destroyed by fire in 1926.
The four story Highlands Inn was a Victorian architectural mixture of towers, gables, spires, and broad
verandas with massive cloth awnings over its windows. It featured a carriage entrance on Quinette Road (now Big Bend Road) and a long sloping front lawn that stretched all the way to the Frisco Railroad tracks. The lawn was adorned with two stone fountains and formal flower gardens. Hyde, in the Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis, described the grounds as, "tastefully laid out, with gravel walks and drives and ornamented with evergreens and parterres, and the scenery is not surpassed anywhere in the Mississippi Valley."
Consensus of the populace in 1894 was that the Highlands Inn was a beautiful establishment, though one young lady, in a letter to her friend, stated a negative opinion of the hotel, "The hotel architecturally is an execrable potpourri of remnants of all styles!"
By 1900 the Highlands Inn wasn't "news" any longer. Its clientele dropped every year during 1900, 1901, 1902, and 1903, so a concerted bid was made for patronage during the 1904 World's Fair. The Meramec Highlands Company, owned by Jacob Bernheimer, produced a booklet illustrated with photographs. It glowingly described the advantages that the Meramec Highlands Resort had to offer over other hostelries in St. Louis with the intent of enticing people to stay at the Highlands Inn and Cottages:
"Midway between Grand View Place and Sunset Hill, and equidistant from the Frisco tracks and the
Electric Road, and overlooking the beautiful valley of the Meramec, lies the spacious and attractive
Highlands Inn and Cottages...The Inn Grounds while near the terminus of the Electric Road are
absolutely retired and separated from the general grounds and are reserved for exclusive use of Inn
Highlands Inn is acknowledged to be one of the finest Summer Houses in the country, fully worthy
of its picturesque surroundings; it is an ideal country home provided with all modern appurtenances
of comfort and luxury, and the social center of the pleasure seeking community."
After much self-congratulatory verbiage about the attractions of the Meramec Highlands Resort and the Highlands Inn and Cottages, the brochure included an invitation to, "THE WORLD TO COME AND SEE US AND STAY LONG," and followed with a blast at city hotels, comparing them to the comfort and well
"tastefully laid out, with gravel walks and drives and ornamented with evergreens and parterres, and the scenery is not surpassed anywhere in the Mississippi Valley." -- Hyde, Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis, 1899
being to be found at the Meramec Highlands:
"Realizing that the most gigantic Exposition the world has ever known and likely never to be repeated, is to be held here during this year, and that representative men and women from all parts of the earth will visit us, all expecting to see the best of everything; we have elected to place MERAMEC HIGHLANDS, HIGHLANDS INN AND COTTAGES, AT THE BEST...Make up your party of four, six or eight couples-come to see the World's Fair, and try to occupy one of our cottages (exclusively), where you can enjoy perfect rest after returning from the Day at the Fair, then a good night's sleep and all of the comforts of home for less money than it will cost in the over-crowded downtown hotels. You will also escape the noise, the jam, the dust, the smoke, and the fear of fire incurred in the crowded hostelries in and near the World's Fair Grounds-- besides in and around Highlands Inn and Cottages, the climate is perfect and healthful, and the temperature while warm mid day, is comfortably cool morn and evening, at all times 5 to 10 degrees under the city's readings."
During the World's Fair season, the Highlands Inn was well filled because room rates had been lowered to $1.00 a night to compete with other newly constructed hotels and because of convenient and inexpensive transportation to and from the Fair.
"For the benefit of World's Fair Visitors, the Electric Roads will run Cars through from the Meramec Highlands to the WORLD'S FAIR GROUNDS in 40 minutes, which is less time than it takes from heart of the city to Fair Grounds; cars from Highlands but six minutes apart. Fare, 5c [cents]."
The St. Louis World's Fair brought people from all over the world. Many of them rode Frisco trains from Union Station in St. Louis to enjoy life in the country at Meramec Highlands. Wealthier visitors stayed at the Highlands Inn or rented cottages by the week, month, or summer. Local poor and middle class people often could not afford to stay at the Inn, even though its prices had been dropped, but large numbers ignored the Fair and instead rode out to the Highlands on the streetcar lines to enjoy the swimming, boating, horse rides, picnic groves, and the healthful baths. At night, before the last train or streetcar returned to the city, they enjoyed music and dancing in the Sunset Pagoda, the spacious dance hall adjacent to the Highlands Inn and the streetcar loop.
Despite the apparent success of the 1904 season, the management had other problems, such as handling disgruntled employees and planning how to fill the hotel the following season when the Fair would no longer draw people to St. Louis. The first was more dangerous:
"Mr. and Mrs. Albert Meyer were in county jail yesterday, charged with assaulting A. O. Winkle, manager of Meramec Highlands. Mrs. Meyer stabbed Winkle with a knife and her husband assaulted him. Meyer and his wife worked at the Highlands Inn and Winkle discharged both of them Wednesday night. For this reason they assaulted him. The woman is charged with intent to kill and the husband with common assault."
After the World's Fair season, even though other activities at the Meramec Highlands still attracted large
crowds, the hotel needed a face lift and was closed.
In 1908, Jack Ryan, a hotelier with big plans for the resort, leased the Inn and Cottages for a period of 10 years. He refurbished the Highlands Inn, and provided information to the newspapers about his "new" resort: The Inn had 75 sleeping rooms, "all outside rooms," with three balcony dining rooms under screen, a large table d' hote dining room, several party dining rooms, a private banquet hall, a ballroom and a theater.
Ryan attempted to profit from the numerous day visitors by operating the balcony dining rooms as a-la-carte
restaurants. His plans for the resort included building a, "splendid public dancing pavilion 150 feet square," to
replace the Pagoda which had been destroyed by fire, opening a moderate priced "al fresco" restaurant, and opening a bathing beach paired with river activities such as canoeing and boating.
The view from the Highlands Inn was still a drawing card that Ryan hoped to exploit:"These dining rooms are 700 feet above the Meramec River and the view from them is unsurpassed in the Mississippi Valley. [This was before the Chrysler factory was built.] The diners can see across St. Louis and Jefferson Counties thirty miles to the western horizon. The Meramec River runs like a thread below, and the beautiful view of the stream as it runs to picturesque Fenton is to be had."Ryan offered 12 furnished cottages on the grounds, varying in size from five to ten rooms. He stated: "These
cottages are really mansions with rock foundations. They all stand on high ground and offer excellent views from all windows."
The hotel once again was the destination for a variety of groups. On event of special interest to local residents was the first road run of the St. Louis Ford Club from Lindell Avenue in the city to the Highlands Inn in 1908. Those who successfully completed the run posed for photographs with their vehicles in front of the hotel.
Despite Ryan's ambitious plans to revive the popularity of the Inn and over $200,000 spent refurbishing the hotel and cottages, the resort still did not prosper and Ryan was forced to close the Inn long before his 10 year lease was to expire.
"There is no question that the Highlands Inn is one of the finest summer houses in the country, fully worthy of its picturesque surroundings. It is an ideal country home, provided with all the modern appurtenances of comfort and luxury, and the social center of the pleasure seeking community... No malaria. No heat. No dust. No mosquitos. No housekeeping. No servant troubles." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June, 1895
Rates ranged from $15-17.50 for cottages and inn alike, including meals.
"The fifteen cottages, in closest proximity to the Inn--all of modern design--with Electric Lights, Baths, and all conveniences, give families an exceptional opportunity of home comfort without the worry of house-keeping; and the beautiful groves surrounding them make a perfect haven for the pleasures of outdoor life for the little ones." Nicholls-Ritter Realty advertisement - 1895Of the fifteen guest cottages, thirteen remain. Two were destoyed by fire. Each cottage was given a name instead of a number. The cottage pictured above was "Ferndale Cottage." Today it is 22 Ponca Trail. In 1894, Missouri's Governor Stone stayed at the cottage while enjoying such amenities as a fox hunt provided by the resort management.
After the resort was sold in 1925, cottages were sold to private individuals.
For more information see "Glimpses of Meramec Highlands."
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