f/8 and Be There
Fred Lynch

St. Charles Hotel

Posted Friday, February 27, 2015, at 12:00 AM

In January 1861, it was announced in a Cape Girardeau newspaper that a magnificent structure was finally completed: The St. Charles Hotel on the southwest corner of Main and Themis streets. The proprietors, Garaghty & Gail, proclaimed the four-story brick building as modern architecture with verandas, an observatory, picturesque views and large ventilated rooms. The hotel featured cornices with dentils and decorative window hoods. On Dec. 16, 1965, the hotel was auctioned off, and Charles A. Hood, the mayor of Cape Girardeau at the time, purchased the building for $55,000. It had an appraised value of $100,000. In February 1967, the hotel was razed to make room for the Sterling variety store. (from Lost and Saved Landmarks)

Excerpt from March 4, 1993 Southeast Missourian:

City Hotels Recall Grandeur, Beauty of Cape's History

One of the earliest operators of the St. Charles Hotel--which was designed by Joseph Lansmon, who also was the architect for the Common Pleas Courthouse and St. Mary's Cathedral--was Zalma Block.

Block came to Cape Girardeau from New Orleans some time after 1852, and he apparently first operated the New Johnson House, which later was renamed the Riverview Hotel. During the Civil War, the Riverview was used by federal soldiers as a hospital and officers' quarters.

Several years after the war, Block assumed control of the St. Charles. With the aid of his wife, the former Matilda Rodney, he ran the hostelry until his retirement Feb. 8, 1886.

The St. Charles was the leading hotel in Cape Girardeau and the center of social activity.

"The St. Charles corner was one of the busiest places in town," Lee L. Albert, who has written of Cape Girardeau history, recalls.

Gen. U.S. Grant, then commanding the western armies of the Union, was the honored guest of a ball at the hotel in July or August of 1862.

When Mark Twain was a riverboat pilot, he made stops at the St. Charles, history reports, and Charles Dickens was said to have spent a night at the hotel during a lecture tour.

But the hotel was best known for the magnificent balls that were held to commemorate notable events and happenings.

For example, Cape Girardeau news accounts of a leap year and centennial party held there in 1876 were as follows:

"The St. Charles Hotel, on last Friday evening, was crowded with a brilliant party, gotten up by the leading young ladies of our city for the purpose of entertaining the young gentlemen, and to treat them to one of the finest balls that ever came off in this magnificent hotel."

The hotel also can be said to be in one sensed the birthplace of Southeast Missouri State University. It was in the parlor of the hotel, on Oct. 28, 1873, that a state board met and decided to put the Third District Normal School at Cape Girardeau.

But the St. Charles also is known for an infamous guest it housed in the 1850s--a seriously ill man removed from a boat and taken to the hotel, where he soon died of cholera. From that start, a cholera epidemic spread through the community, taking many lives.

The primary competition came from the Riverview Hotel. The Riverview had a larger dining and ballroom. Albert recalled: "But the St. Charles was more homelike and the young set seemed to like it the best."

Previous blogs:

Riverview Hotel

Hotel Marquette

Hotel Idan-Ha

Here is a view of the St. Charles Hotel in 1957:

Downtown Merchants Push Clean-Up Week


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  • I remember in the early 1960s the St Charles had a wonderful gift shop on the first floor. It was owned or managed by our neighbor, Aldora Oldfield. They sold lotions, perfumes, jewelry,etc., and was very pretty inside. Probably one of Cape's boutiques!

    -- Posted by Vwwvwv on Fri, Feb 27, 2015, at 6:06 AM
  • Fred, Nice article on the St. Charles Hotel. I'm doing research on Zalma Block and the Johnson House Hotel which was in existence by at least February 13, 1852. Block, however was in Cape by November 1, 1832, as he married Matilda Rodney Renfroe in Cape on that date. Matilda was the daughter of Thomas Rodney and Mary Penny. Zalma was probably in Cape by the 1830 census as his father, Simon Z Block, is shown on that census. His Johnson House Hotel was taken over by the Federal Army in October 1862 and used as the Post Hospital. After the war the Johnson House Hotel became the New Johnson House, then the Riverview, the finally the Marble City Hotel.

    -- Posted by nichrm on Fri, Feb 27, 2015, at 8:15 AM
  • 2nd Comment. My mistake. The Simon Z Block family was still in Powhatan County, Virginia on the 1830 Census. They apparently came to Cape Girardeau between 1830 and 1832. Should have read my notes first.

    -- Posted by nichrm on Fri, Feb 27, 2015, at 9:01 AM
  • I shot a photo of the St. Charles with pigeons flying around in it in 1967.


    Here are photos when it was being razed.


    A buddy of mine said his dad pointed out the hotel to him one day and said, "You could sleep in the very room where General Grant slept during the Civil War. And, on the same sheets."

    -- Posted by ksteinhoff on Fri, Feb 27, 2015, at 11:27 AM
  • When they razed the St. Charles, I had just returned from the Navy a year earlier and was attending Southeast. My dad delivered on Main and Spanish Streets for Elfrink Truck Lines and someone on Spanish, probably at the paint store, told him there were crates of Louis Houck books in the basement and they were going to throw them away. I went down there with dad and we got two sets each of History of Missouri and Spanish Regime both in the old green cloth covers. However, after all these years and lots of moves I don't know what happened to them.

    -- Posted by nichrm on Fri, Feb 27, 2015, at 4:41 PM
  • Love your photo and history of the St. Charles Hotel which was owned by my Gr-Uncle Earl Gramling from early 1900s to 1965 when he passed away. From Dexter, we would go up there on occasion as I did when at SE MO State in 1962. He and my grandmother Alice were fairly close. The ballroom even then looked so very large to me. After working on some genealogy, just decided to google it tonight and there it was - thanks. ~ Neva

    -- Posted by pcsanity on Fri, Mar 4, 2016, at 10:51 PM