The 1855 Indiana State Gazetteer and Business Directory reported the following about the lodging in Indianapolis:

Indianapolis is noted for its fine and well regulated hotels. Perhaps no other city in the West can boast of as good hotels–being almost all houses of the first class. Among the most prominent are the Bates House, on the north-west corner of Illinois and West Washington streets–a very beautiful building. Little’s Hotel, on the south-east corner of East Washington and New Jersey streets. This House has been in operation for twenty-eight years. Palmer House, on the south-east corner of Illinois and West Washington streets. Wright House, south side of Washington, between Meridian and Pennsylvania streets. American Hotel, on Louisiana street, opposite Union Depot. There are several others, the Tremont, Galt, Ray House, etc.

Beyond the gaudy Victorian language, the directory’s glowing description does show how Indianapolis already was becoming the Crossroads of America. A few years later, the city continued to be a haven for travelers during the Civil War.

The earliest city directories we have from the 1850s and 60s contain lots of advertisements for these early hotels and boarding houses. For the most part, they are relatively simple, even somewhat crude, but they do give a sense of what lodging was available in the young growing city…

Bates House, 1855-56

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Bates House 1857 Bates House 1858
Ads for the Bates House and its hair dressing saloon from 1855-58. It was the finest hotel of the era, located on the northwest corner of Illinois and Washington; where the Claypool Hotel would be built many years later.

 Little House, 1858

 Littles Hotel, 1865
Little’s Hotel ads. The first from 1858, for the hotel itself and its accompanying saloon/restaurant. The other from 1865. The best hotels advertised omnibuses to and from the Union Depot. Little’s also had a stable available.

Palmer House, 1857 Palmer House, 1858

 Palmer House, 1865
Palmer House was another of the finer hotels, located on the opposite corner from the Bates House. This corner too would continue to be a hotel site, later becoming the Occidental. The first two ads are from 1857 and 58. Apparently, dying ones whiskers was a popular treatment to have done in the 1850s. The next advertisements is from 1865.

Wright House, 1857 Galt House, 1855
The Wright House and Galt House, from 1857 and 1855 respectively.

American Hotel, 1855 American House, 1860
The American Hotel/House, from 1855 and 1860.

Aimbery, 1857 Carlisle House, 1857
The A. Imbery Boarding House (and brewery!) and Carlisle House, both from 1857. The Madison depot would have been southeast of the Union Depot, while Carlisle House would have been near the river.

California House, 1858 California House, 1860-61
The California House, 1858 and 1860. It apparently made use of the residual notority of the California gold rush. This probably would have been one of the lower- or mid-range hotels, as they actually listed their prices in the ad, and noted they had a wagon yard available.

Farmers Hotel-1857 Farmers Hotel-1858

Farmers Hotel-1860-61 Farmers Hotel-1862
The Famers’ Hotel, from 1857-1862. Neither the proprietor nor the fare changed in that five year span.

Farmers and Drovers Hotel-1860-61 Indiana House, 1857
Unrelated to the Farmers’ Hotel was the Farmers’ and Drovers’ Hotel, oriented to the movers and shakers along the National Road (Washington Street). The Indiana House was also on the west side of town, “opposite the Governor’s Residence.” The ad years are 1860 and 1857.

Macy House-1860-61 Macy House-1862
The Macy House, 1860 and 62. The advertisement copy did not change, though the typeface and proprietor did.

East Street House, 1860-61National Hotel-1860-61
East Street House and National Hotel, both from 1860

Union Hall-1862 Union House-1862
The Union Hall appears to have been primarily a tavern with rooms to let, while the Union House, located near the Union Depot, was a lower-end hotel. Both ads from 1862.

Ohio House-1862 Reeds Boarding House-1865
Ohio House and Mrs. Reed’s Boarding House, from 1862 and 1865.

Commercial Hotel-1865 Concordia House-1865
Commercial Hotel and Concordia House, both 1865. I believe the Concordia House was previously the Tremont House and is now the Slippery Noodle.

Mason House 1865 Sherman House-1867
The Mason House (1865) and Sherman House (1867) were both located opposite the Union Depot. They may have even been the same place with a name change between the years.

Webb House-1867
Rounding out the city directory advertisements for the 1850s and 60s is one from 1867 for the Webb House, a “Good substantial boarding house and hotel” where “resident citizens, laborers and strangers will find a comfortable home.”

3 responses to “Sunday Ads: Hotels and Boarding Houses of the 1850s and 60s”

  1. Donna Dugan says:

    Does anyone know where the Ray House (mentioned in this article) may have been located? Two of my ancestors worked there in the 1860s. Thank you!

  2. Victoria says:

    Hi, Donna. I’m attaching a link to the image of the Ray House.
    “Title: “Old Ray House and Public Square, Shelbyville, Indiana, 1894″ created by Sterling Studio, Shelbyville, Indiana. Date: 1894. Owning Institution: Indiana Historical Society.
    Description: Shelbyville’s public square was laid out in 1823. The Ray House, a four-story brick hotel built on the northeast side of the square by M.M. Ray, was completed in 1857. It changed hands and was renamed more than once before being torn down in 1959.”
    I’m am the 5x great granddaughter of Rosanna Ray Ferrel and Martin Ray was one of her brothers. Always interested in connecting with people that are interested in the same history.
    Victoria McCarty,

  3. Melinda M Pennycuff says:

    Anyone heard of the St. Charles Boarding House in Indianapolis around the mid 1880s? Thanks for any information!

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