The old Russellville Hotel was a thriving business whose story began to unfold in 1897, during a period of unprecedented growth in the downtown area.
Facing the tracks of the old Missouri Pacific Railroad, the hotel was a facility that came to fruition through the efforts of individuals who possessed a common heritage of immigrant parents in addition to family ties resulting from marriage.
Born on a farm near Taos on May 15, 1869, Louis Schneider attended area schools and learned from an early age the value of hard work under the guidance of his parents, both German immigrants.
“(Louis Schneider) engaged in farming until 1897 when he sold himself and moved to Russellville,” explained Reba Koester in “The Heritage of Russellville in Cole County.” She added, “He built a two-story, 56-by-86-foot brick building that housed the most comfortable and welcoming hotel in the county at that time.”
The hotel opened on April 2, 1898, and raised $200 in receipts on the first day of operation. Additionally, the book published for Russellville’s 150th anniversary celebration in 1988 explained, “Associated with the hotel was a well-appointed bar, supplied with everything that could be demanded by the most discriminating taste in wines. , brandies, beer, etc. .”
The hotel was designed by Charles Opel, a renowned Jefferson City architect and builder who has been associated with many impressive structures throughout the state, including several listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Schneider’s new hotel was located in a row of downtown buildings adjacent to a business enterprise owned by Taos native and son of German immigrants Michael Schubert. On March 13, 1887, Louis Schneider’s brother, George, married Schubert’s younger sister, Katherine.
“(George Schneider) engaged in farming near Shipley Shoals for five years, when he bought the farm he still owns near Brazito,” noted the “Illustrated Sketchbook and Directory of the City of Jefferson and Cole County”.
The book added: “He joined his brother Louis in the hostelry at Russellville in April 1898, where he now settles, still retaining his farm, which he rents out.”
Louis soon met and was engaged to the former Katherine Sinish of Russellville. The couple married on July 4, 1899, at a time when the hotel and saloon business was beginning to turn into a lucrative business.
Many small towns of the day came to accept the vices associated with the sale of liquor and the presence of saloons as a common reality of the railroad. But in Russellville, temperance-minded individuals created much consternation for the Schneider brothers even years before Prohibition.
The Russellville Rustler newspaper reported on October 23, 1908: “John L. Chambers, John A. Hunter, William and True DeFoe and TA Shepherd, residents of Russellville, filed a petition in circuit court against George and Louis Schneider.”
The newspaper continued, “The object of this lawsuit is to try to revoke the license and make Russellville a dry town.”
An oral history passed down by local residents maintains that Silas Jasper Howard, who operated a blacksmith shop in the community, was an outspoken prohibitionist. If he needed to go through the saloon, he walked a short distance down the street rather than walking directly past the building.
Reba Koester wrote about the eventual success of those who oppose the sale of alcohol in “The Heritage of Russellville in Cole County”. She noted: “Some of you will recall that the Russellville Hotel closed when the saloon had to close in February 1914. …George Schneider bought the whole building from his brother and reopened the hotel .”
Liquor sales were again permitted in the community in 1918. However, in 1920 sales were suspended following the enactment of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which remained in place for the next 13 years and became known as “prohibition”.
In the years following George Schneider’s purchase of the building from his brother, a first-floor section of the building adjacent to the salon became a barber shop operated by his son-in-law, Fred Dampf.
Louis Schneider was 52 when he died in 1921, six years after selling the hotel to his older brother. He was interred in Riverview Cemetery in Jefferson City alongside his wife, who succeeded him in death 32 years later.
The hotel continued to operate over the following years, but often under different ownership. In October 1924, the Russellville Hotel was rented by Mrs. A. E. Hake of Mary’s Home and not only boasted first class accommodations but provided lunch and dinner for shoppers and farmers trading in the community.
The building was purchased by Gus Steffens in the late 1920s, who used the lounge section for his business while retaining the hotel section to provide accommodation for travelers and guests.
George Schneider remained in the Russellville area for the rest of his life, dying on February 14, 1944, at the ripe old age of 86. He was buried in Trinity Lutheran Cemetery near Russellville with his wife, who had died 18 years earlier.
Long ago, when the Russellville Hotel welcomed travellers; instead, the upper level has been converted into apartments. The saloon has also stood the test of time, remaining a bar that has existed under a multitude of different owners.
There may have been countless amounts of beer spilled on the old hardwood floor in the lounge and the steps of the busy hotel with travelers, but this is an edifice that has stood for more than a century and provides the community with many more years of use.
As the English writer John Ruskin said, many of these buildings can be considered gifts from our predecessors.
“When we build, think we are building forever,” he wrote. “Let it not be for present enjoyment or present use alone. Let it be work for which our descendants will thank us.”
This is one of many local history stories featured in Jeremy P. Ämick’s book “Hidden History of Cole County”.