Draft:The Grand Riverview Mansion Hotel
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This year the Mansion is 125 years old this year. I have many relevant, historical photos to attach. The following was written and edited by me. It was printed in the Pope County Bicentennial's souvenir booklet.
A little over a century ago, America was really beginning to show its wealth and might. This period in the latter 19th Century, coined The Gilded Age by Mark Twain, was characterized by rapid industrialization and economic growth. Victorian Era architecture was very ornate, elaborate and romantic and correlated directly to the owner's wealth. Pope County, Illinois and it's county seat, Golconda in particular was a booming city that profited from all types of river traffic commerce. Packet boats and steam boats of all kinds were the primary means of transportation, and the Ohio River, its artery. This is the story of a building today known as, the Mansion.
The Riverview Mansion Hotel (along with most of downtown Golconda) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as both historically and architecturally significant. Prominently built overlooking the Ohio River and the city, the Mansion has been through both lean and good years during its century of existence. From "queen of silk stocking row" to a near-abandoned wreck, the house has played a major role in Golconda's history, and that of Pope County. A licensed hotel since 1927, many travelers and boarders have enjoyed the hospitality of various owners over the past nine decades. There have been several costly renovations, updates, and expansions over the years, yet through it all, “the Mansion” remains a treasure.
The late John Gilbert, Sr., who made his mark as a banker, merchant and the operator of river steamboats in Golconda Illinois and Evansville Indiana, ordered the Mansion built in 1894 for his son, John Gilbert Jr., and his family. Later a mayor of Golconda, John Jr. played an important role in commerce in the town in the early years of the 20th Century. The massive brick structure occupied a prime spot on "Silk Stocking Row," the choice waterfront residential area in Golconda, and no expense was spared to make the Gilbert's river view mansion a showplace. John Gilbert, Jr. was born in Golconda, Pope County, Illinois in 1854, the son of John Gilbert, Sr., an emigrant from Pennsylvania. Mrs. Gilbert, the mother, was Miss Cornelia Bucklin, formerly of Rhode Island. In 1874 John Gilbert, Jr. was employed in the bank as a bookkeeper with W.P. Sloan & Co. In 1877, the firm became Sloan & Gilbert, the firm again changing its name in 1889 when Mr. Gilbert purchased the interest of Mr. Sloan to John Gilbert, Jr. & Co. In 1897 the firm of John Gilbert, Jr., & Co. was consolidated with the Pope County State Bank. Much of what follows is from The Biographical Review of Johnson, Massac, Pope and Hardin Counties, Illinois, The Biographical Publishing Co., Chicago, 1893.
John Gilbert, Jr., Mayor of Golconda, and a banker of this city, is a financier of exceptional talent, and is one of the foremost business men of Pope County, a fine representative of her sons, ‘native and to the manor born,’ whose push and executive ability have done so much to promote her substantial growth. Our subject was born in Golconda October 13, 1854, a son of John Gilbert, a former well known and prominent citizen of this place, and now one of the leading business men of Evansville. In September 1882, Mr. John Gilbert Jr. was united in marriage with Miss Edmenia Kidd, a native of McCracken County, KY., and a daughter of Dr. Kidd. In October 1891, after a wedded life of nine years, Mrs. Gilbert died, leaving behind her a gracious record of true womanhood as daughter, wife mother and friend. Three children were born of that marriage named Raymond, Ethel and John. The father, John Gilbert Sr. was born in Pennsylvania in 1818. He was left an orphan at an early age, and was bound out to live with an uncle. Hard work and ill treatment were his lot, and though a mere boy, he rebelled, and with characteristic independence, the sturdy, resolute little lad left the shelter of his relative's roof to seek a home among strangers. He was naturally strong and robust, industrious in his habits, and he supported himself by various employments, always ready to do what lay at hand, whereby he could turn an honest penny. He finally entered the employ of the Northwestern Fur Company, his venturesome spirit taking delight in the excitement and occasional peril of his journeys to the frontier settlements to buy furs. In connection with that business he combined another, that of selling clocks, which were not in common use in those days, the people having sunmarks on their door sills to tell the noon hour.
Mr. Gilbert finally drifted into Golconda, and commenced life here as clerk in the general store of W.A. Loath, whom he served in that capacity for a time, and then bought the store from him. He continued its management some years, and eventually established a bank in a company with Wesley P. Sloan. In his removal to Evansville in 1874, Golconda sustained the loss of one of the most able and enterprising business men ever connected with its interests. Evansville, however, has been the gainer, as his experience, rare judgment and masterly business capacities have proved of inestimable value in advancing its material prosperity, and he ranks as one of the solid men of the city. For some years he was prominently connected with its street railway company, and he is now Vice-president of a national bank there, and President of the Evansville & Paducah Packet Line. Mr. Gilbert's wife, whose maiden name was Cornelia Bucklin, and who was a native of Rhode Island, died in 1887. Five of their seven children are living, namely: Harry C., Fanny, John, Minnie and Willis. Eliza, Maria and Clinton are deceased. Mr. Gilbert was a Whig in his younger days, but he has been a staunch Republican since the formation of the party.
There was even a packet boat named after John Gilbert. A picture has never been found, though we know it to exist from various sources including this traditional folk song, John Gilbert is the Boat. It goes like this:
John Gilbert is de boat Di-dee o, di-dee o John Gilbert is a boat Di-dee o Runnin' in the Cincinnati trade You see that boat a-comin' Comin' 'round the bend Loaded down with cotton She's comin' in again John Gilbert is de boat Di-dee o, di-dee o John Gilbert is a boat Di-dee o Runnin' in the Cincinnati trade She run peanuts and cotton And then she run so many Her men they run from her Never get a penny John Gilbert is de boat Di-dee o, di-dee o John Gilbert is a boat Di-dee o Runnin' in the Cincinnati trade You see that boat a-comin' She's comin' 'round the bend Loaded to the bottom With Louisiana men John Gilbert is de boat Di-dee o, di-dee o John Gilbert is a boat Di-dee o Runnin' in the Cincinnati trade John Gilbert is de boat Di-dee o, di-dee o John Gilbert is a boat Di-dee o Runnin' in the Cincinnati trade And, as a further testament to the man and his legend, The Evansville Brewing Company until recently used to carry a beer called, “John Gilbert Riverboat Brand.” The subject of this biography, Mr. John Gilbert Jr., was reared and educated in Golconda. In 1874 he became a clerk in the bank which he now owns, and quickly mastered the details of banking. His career as a banker began in 1877, when he became partner in the ownership of said bank. In 1887 he bought his partner's interest, and has since been sole owner of the concern. Under his careful supervision the affairs of the bank are in an exceedingly prosperous condition, and it is acknowledged to be one of the safest and best conducted institutions of the kind in southern Illinois. The funds entrusted to his care, Mr. Gilbert invests judiciously, and so as to bring sure returns, and all his business transactions show him to possess a keen insight in money matters, to be quick to take advantage of the markets, and to be prompt in meeting all obligations. A man of his calibre, popularity and unsullied reputation is necessarily a conspicuous figure in any community, and is naturally selected by his fellow-citizens to bear the honors and responsibilities of public life. Hence, our subject served some years as a member of the city council, he served one term on the county board and has been mayor of Golconda for ten consecutive terms, an honor almost unprecedented, administering municipal affairs with prudence and characteristic vigor, and giving the city a good government. Fraternally Mr. Gilbert is an Odd Fellow, Knight of Honor, Knight of Pythias and Modern Woodman. Politically he is intensely republican and is the present chairman of the county central committee, rolling up the largest majority for the whole ticket Nov. 6, 1900, ever given his party in the county. Socially Mr. Gilbert is highly esteemed, and in business he is a success. Mr. Gilbert married Miss Lucy Morse on January 10th, 1893. Lucy was the daughter of Samuel Lewis (1837 – 1919) and Mary Margaret (Smith, 1833- 1899) Morse. She was born March 15, 1868 and died October 11, 1953 in Golconda. It is said that the new mansion was built for John and his new wife as a wedding present.
Relatively very little is known about the Mrs. John (Lucy Morse) Gilbert. Other than a few references toward her in the Pope Co. history volumes, there appears to be only scant information about her. For example, under the heading The Way it was in Golconda in the late 1800s concerning local “culture,” it was written that, “Lucy Gilbert taught China painting.” She was an artist as there are references to her paintings hanging in her mansion. The river-facing room on the mansion's third floor was the only room on the top floor that was completed at the time the Gilbert's moved in. The story goes that this easterly facing room was her “art studio.” Another rumor was that Lucy was of Native American descent, perhaps Cherokee, and that she was the former Mrs. Gilbert's seamstress.
Move in day, 1894, Mayor Gilbert proud of his fine new home, Lucy in her mid 20s, and her three young step children (Raymond aged 9, Ethel aged 7 and John III aged 5) no doubt excited and clamoring about. A young German immigrant named Agnes and six other servants began settling into their new surroundings. Lucy's father would also move into the mansion with the newlywed couple. Fine furnishings to be sure, trunks filled with cloths, keepsakes and more. It must have echoed with bare walls and floors and smelled of freshly sawn wood and plaster.
Apparently, they didn't have far to go as an old photo from the Rottman Collection at Golconda Library clearly shows there was a stick built house on the north-west corner of the parcels Gilbert was given by his father.
Insert construction pic here:::::::::::::::
The Gilbert Mansion was just over a decade old when John Gilbert Jr. died in 1907. He was just 54 years old. His estate was divided in equal quarters to his wife, Lucy, and three children. According to the 1910 census, they were all still living under the Mansion's slate roof, along with Agnes, their faithful servant. John and Lucy had no children of their own. Interestingly according to title abstracts, Lucy purchased the children's inheritance to then turn around and sign it all back over to the two remaining Gilberts (youngest son, John III died in 1915 in Idaho). Lucy stayed in the mansion however for another 12 years. According to the 1920 U.S. Census, only the widow Gilbert was living in the big mansion. Was there animosity between John's children and his second wife? Did Lucy give up ownership of the mansion to the Gilbert children in exchange for living there? Precise reasons clouded by the years, Lucy was given back the deed to the mansion and lands in late 1927. A week later, Lucy sold the entire Gilbert estate to William L. Baker for $8500.
The following account is from Ms Carole Brown who owned the Mansion a few decades ago.
Lucy was a tall, thin woman with jet black hair and dark eyes. Her tawny complexion was evidence of Native American heritage. I've only seen one photograph of her. It is a group portrait of the leading “society” ladies of Golconda. She is surrounded by pale ladies wearing their fanciest and costliest dresses. Lucy stands in the back row, a head taller than the other women, wearing a tailored, white shirtwaist and dark skirt. Her dark hair is pulled up and away from her face emphasizing her high cheekbones. All the other ladies have coy smiles and modest expressions. Lucy stands out; she draws your eyes to her...no smile.
Her life as John Gilbert, Jr.'s second wife is most likely, the reason for having very little to smile about. Her unhappiness has survived her life on earth, and she still roams the Gilbert mansion even though it has been a hotel for more than 80 years.
I owned the Riverview Mansion hotel for five years and during that time I felt Lucy's presence and witnessed her attempts to get our attention. Finally I met her. Before I tell you about our meeting, let's go back and find out just who Lucy was and how she became John's second wife.
She was born Lucy Morse probably in the Eddyville area. Her father, Samuel Morse, was a farmer. Lucy must have lived a fairly hard life. But, she was a fine seamstress and a brilliant artist. She was noted for her stunning miniatures. These were usual small portraits painted on porcelain or ivory. A long time Golconda resident, and neighbor and relative of the Gilberts, named Josephine (or Jody) McClusky owned one of Lucy's porcelain portraits. When she showed it to me, I was stunned by the beauty of the delicate, evocative portrait of a young woman.
Because of her ability as a seamstress, she was hired by John Gilbert, Jr. as a full-time seamstress for his wife, Edmonia. Lucy moved into the Gilbert house where new opportunities opened for her. She may have also acted as a nanny to the Gilbert's children, Raymond (1884); Ethel (1886); and John III (1888). John and Edmonia had married in 1882 and just nine years later Edmonia died. It is reasonable to conclude that Lucy's role in the household became more important after Mrs. Gilbert's death.
Lucy's story becomes darker at this point. One can only imagine what her life was like after Edmonia died. The upshot is that she and John married soon after he became a widower. The story I was told by the woman who showed me Lucy's art work indicated that Lucy made a choice she may have later regretted. She agreed to marry John if he allowed her to devote herself to her art. He agreed and built her a beautiful studio in the large third floor attic of the mansion. It was an open, airy room with all sorts of gingerbread type woodwork decoration and a half circle window finished with stained glass looking out over the Ohio River. The studio was only accessible by the servants' stairway in the back of the house. It also connected on the second floor to Lucy's bedroom that faced the river and through her room to a large upstairs sitting room, and on through that room to John's bedroom at the front of the house.
Her situation grew worse as the years went by. The children came to resent her, and John's drinking became much worse. In fact, he became a near invalid with a short temper and a bullying personality. He died in 1907 when he was 53. The cause of death listed on the coroner's finding is “chronic cirrhosis of liver.” Lucy's life became more difficult. The children were now young adults who felt Lucy did not deserve to own the mansion which John had left her in his will. In the 1910 census Lucy is listed as Head of Household, the three stepchildren are living with her as well as her father, Samuel and Agnes Stark, a German born maid.
John Gilbert III is dead by 1915 at the age of 27 and the lives of Raymond and Ethel disappear from any records in the county. Lucy continues to live at the mansion for a while longer. We can imagine that that huge house must have seemed haunted with memories and regrets and weighed on Lucy's spirit. We don't know what prompted her next move, but at least, she took charge of her life again. She traded, yes, traded, the mansion for a small house on the hill in Golconda. It is said that she lived out the rest of her life in the company of another woman, a Black man, and a cow. The mystery of this arrangement may never be solved. Lucy died in 1953 having lived well into her 80's.
Scoop Rottman, whose family owned the funeral home in Golconda and who was a brilliant photographer and superb storyteller, told me so many stories about Lucy after she moved to the little house on the hill. When he was a young teen, he did chores for her and “drove Miss Lucy” around town for doctor appointments and trips to the grocery store. He said by that time, she was nearly penniless and had a hard time keeping body and soul together. She would have very little cash to buy groceries, but when she left the grocery store, her bag was always full. The owner of the grocery, who must have liked and respected her, always put in extra items and never charged her for the extras.
Scoop said the saddest part of each trip was just before he was ready to take her back up the hill to her home, she would ask him to drive by the mansion, and he would hear her softly weeping as they drove by. Why? We would love to know more of that regret.
Some part of Lucy's spirit could not leave that house, and so she still haunts the mansion, but only in a particular area. She walks from the studio on the third floor, down the back stairs to her bedroom, into the second floor sitting room and into John's bedroom. That is her path, over and over again.
The signs of her presence are powerful. When we lived there, my son turned her studio into his bedroom. He got very used to her being there. If he were watching television or listening to the radio, the channel dial on the television or the station selector on the radio would spin uncontrollably. This was before remote controls! Other friends and family members who sometimes slept in the studio invariably reported the next morning that they had had incredibly sad dreams during the night.
Once she left the studio and came down the back stairs, she would walk the three rooms. We could not keep the doors to the rooms or between the rooms, either locked or unlocked. She would open a locked door or lock an open door, seemingly without rhyme or reason. We always alerted guests to this unorthodox problem. She never seemed to be a threatening presence, but only wanted us to know she was there. I really think she liked our family.
During my last few months as owner, I decided to move into her bedroom overlooking the river. One morning with the sun rising over the river, I was standing in front of her dresser which had a huge ornate mirror attached to it. I was brushing my hair and thinking about all I had to do that day when suddenly I saw a reflection of another person in the mirror. She was standing behind me in the doorway that entered the room from the back staircase. I slowly put the brush down, but I didn't turn around; I just stood there quietly looking in the mirror. She looked so much like the picture I had seen of her...dark skirt, white long sleeved blouse...her jet black hair swept up and away from her face. She had the saddest eyes. I had no fear of her, just an overwhelming sadness and understanding of her.
In any event, Lucy survived her husband by 45 years. Mrs. Gilbert died in 1953 and is buried in 100F Cemetery in Golconda, IL.
The Mansion has played a pivotal role in the lives of several Golconda families who lived and worked there throughout the years and in the history of the town, itself. Converted to use as a boarding house and commercial hotel, the building has played host to many during its storied past. Much of the short bio pieces that follow are excerpted from Pope County Illinois History and Families.
(info. on previous owners were gleaned from "Pope County, Illinois History and Families. Turner Publishing, Paducah KY, 1988)
Mr. William Lathan (WL) and Mrs. Rose Annice (Clemens) Baker Jr. bought the Gilbert Mansion in 1927. Having owned and operated restaurants and hotels in the area previously, they knew they could convert the stately home into a successful "river-view" hotel. Records show they took out a loan in the amount of $4000 - likely to pay for necessary renovations to convert the stately Gilbert Mansion into a hotel (with a river view). It was during this time, the Baker's decided to build the large two-story addition on the east. A news clipping from the time about area hotels and the Bakers’ new venture, said their hotel “now enjoys an enviable reputation. A miniature golf course is operated in connection with it and a swimming pool to be made within the next few months will be an added attraction.” Wonder if this ever materialized?
WL was born in Newport, KY in 1872 to WL Baker Sr. and Elizabeth Thirza Truman. His mother died when he was just five years old. His father remarried and moved to Carrsville, KY where they owned a general store. It was here the WL met and fell in love with 16 year old Rose Annice.
Rose Annice Clemens was born in 1877 in Crittendon Co., KY. Her parents, Walter Pickney and Lavina Judson Clemens, were farmers and tobacco buyers. Her father, like his second cousin Samuel Clemens (pen named Mark Twain), spent some time as a river man on the Ohio River.
WL Jr. followed the Clemens' to Pope County, Illinois and eventually married Rose at Dixon Springs May 28, 1893. They were childless for ten years then were blessed with two children, daughter Irene Elizabeth (b.1902) and son Truman Clemens (b.1908). After short stays in several locations, they came back to Golconda to stay in 1913. WL dealt in buying and selling produce, chickens, eggs, cream, nuts, furs, etc. often accompanying railroad car loads to big city markets.
WL was a jolly, rotund man, always composing little poems and singing songs, affectionate, frequently kissing his wife, whom he wanted by his side in everything he did. Annice was a homemaker and never worked outside the home except when she helped her husband in the restaurant or hotel. They were good parents, strict but loving, and wanted the best for their children. After 51 years together, WL died Sept. 18, 1944 aged 72 and Annice died Sept. 26 1960 aged 83. Both are buried in Golconda.
The Riverview Hotel was used as the official Red Cross headquarters during the devastating flood of 1937. It was also used by Coast Guard officials, engineers and reporters. Many of the temporary homeless stayed here even as the rising waters lapped against the ceiling of the basement below. A metal plaque on the basement door still testifies to the record flood's high-water mark.
In 1937, Rex and Omah Karnes purchased the Riverview Hotel from the Baker family. The couple was new to the area moving there in 1931, from Carrier Mills, IL to Golconda with their three children, Wallace, Bonita and Rex D. They initially opened a grocery store in Golconda. During the '37 flood, it became necessary to move the store to the First Baptist Church located above the high flood water mark. They operated the grocery store out of the church until the water receded and they could return to the Main Street location.
Finding opportunity in crisis, the Karnes' bought the Riverview Hotel. They moved their family into the hotel which became their residence as well as the only hotel in Golconda. Shortly after the flood, the Army Corps of Engineers set about to build a levee to protect the city. This turned into a thriving business during the period that the flood wall was being constructed.
After selling both the grocery store and hotel, Rex and Omah retired to a farm in the Renshaw Community. They however kept a home in Golconda and remained part of the community until their deaths (Rex in 1968 and Omah in 1982). They are buried in the Oddfellows Cemetery. Many of their children and grand children still live in the area.
James and Olive Rose bought the former Gilbert home, now turned hotel in 1946. Little could be verified of these Mansion owners, whether they resided there or just operated the business, however they sold to the Hollis’ just a few short years later.
Carl and Mary Hollis bought the Riverview Hotel in 1949. Mary and her daughters ran the hotel for the next 12 years. It was during this period that many structural improvements took place. For example, there was house built on the north side of the mansion presumably during the Karnes’ proprietorship. Hollis, a brick mason had this structure picked up, rolled down Columbus Avenue and attached onto the south side of the mansion where the small porch used to be. He also removed the old, rotten porch on the front of the house and replaced with a sturdy brick structure. Both still stand today. Originally built of wood, Mr. Hollis also cinder blocked the ground floor of the large addition on the east.
In 1935 Carl married Mary Hindman in East Moline, IL. During the Depression, the couple moved to Marianna, Florida and lived with Mary's father. Carl learned the craft of brick masonry from his father-in-law, Ernest Hindman (who also lived with the family in the Mansion). Their first daughter, Marilee, was born there. The young father returned to Illinois in 1940, where Carl continued to build and sell houses. The couple added daughters Dixie Anne (b.1940) and Bonnie (b.1945) to their ranks. Seeking warmer climes, the Hollis' moved to Golconda, IL in 1948 where they purchased and operated the once grand Gilbert House, a.k.a the Riverview Hotel. Carl, a union man and Free Mason, continued to work as a brick mason throughout Southern Illinois. He also served a term as city councilman. In 1952, the couple welcomed their fourth daughter, Christine. The family attended the First Baptist Church of Golconda.
Incidentally I found what must have been Mr. Hollis’ fingerprints in the cement that built a tiled shower on the first floor. This room under the main staircase was subsequently converted into a toilet stall, but I had to remove it to renovate the ladies restroom and build a second hotel room bath just behind it. The stall was simply paneling and drywall covering the lime green tile blocks. Anytime I peel back a layer of another's previous work, like an archaeologist, I investigate who and why this was done...
The only real record or history of the Mansion is written by Bonnie (Hollis) Copley. The big old house made an impression on the Hollis girl, as her passion today is constructing dollhouses - the Riverview Mansion being one of her finest. Over one hundred pages of “A Victorian Dwelling from a Different and Personal Point of View” is full of precise drawings and models as well as reminiscences of the house that she remembers. And, as she creates schematics to be sold as build-it-yourself dollhouses, you can see the house as it might have existed when originally built – or at least a very near likeness.
Bonnie also delineates upon the timeline of the property. Something that the Hollis’ found tucked away in the Mansion was the Abstract of Title for the Mansion. This legal description of the deed or title was created for Lucy Gilbert when she sold the Mansion back in 1927. It included 34 complicated and fragile onion-skin pages of plots of land being sold and resold until John Gilbert Sr. and then Jr. acquired the land upon which now sits the infamous Mansion of Golconda. I was lucky enough to have received a 2013 edition of her book along with scores of old photos of how the Mansion looked in the ‘50’s.
Having left their own indelible mark on the Riverview Mansion, the Hollis’ sold the old hotel in 1961 and moved to Metropolis, IL. Mr. Hollis continued working until ill health and retirement. He died in 1969. Mrs. Hollis went to college (SIC) and became an LPN at the local hospital. She died in 2002 at the grand age of 86 on Christmas Day. Christine, the youngest Hollis girl said, “She never talked about the hotel so I know she didn’t regret it. In fact, she and Dixie both had nightmares that they had bought it back and had to run it! LOL” Dixie Barger is widowed and lives in Evansville, IN. Marilee Hedger is also widowed and lives in Wadesville IN. Bonnie Copley lives in San Diego, CA and Christine Nutty lives in Metropolis, IL.
Merle Dailey and wife Hazel both hail from Saline Co., IL. They grew up in and around Harrisburg and both went to school there. When World War II broke out, Merle joined the U.S. Navy and was shipped to California. Hazel soon joined him there and the two were married in 1945. After the war, the couple eventually returned to Saline County.
Merle began his career with Southeastern Illinois Electric Cooperative (REA). Having been transferred, he and the family moved to Pope County in 1959. They bought the Riverview Mansion Hotel in 1961 and operated it for the next decade. The Dailey's had four children (Martha Marie, Steven, Michael and Perry) and many grandchildren and both were active in the community. They sold the hotel in 1970 and built a new home west of Golconda on IL146.
In October 1970 Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Foster saw the potential of the aging Riverview Mansion Hotel and bought it. "Foster, with the assistance of his wife, whom he calls 'Ralph,' began the task of rolling back the many years of neglect. it took three years of dedicated labor, but the results were worth it." A June 1975 Southeastern Light article elaborates on the hotel, "Updated but still reminiscent of the past. Among its more interesting features are: a beautiful staircase with a six foot stain glass window at the top landing, six fireplaces with woodwork identical to that of the White House. Each room has 12 foot ceilings. Several rooms have a beautiful view of the Ohio River where river traffic is said to be comparable to that on the Panama Canal."
The Fosters operated the hotel for eight years. County Clerk records indicate the Fosters sold to the Browns in 1978. In 1981, it was said that nearly $200,000 was spent restoring and renovating the entire facility. The beautifully appointed dining rooms with thick, plush carpet and gleaming chandeliers and color coordinated linens foreshadowed the fine dining experience of the Kunz's Mansion of Golconda.
Records at the court house indicate Bonnell purchased the Mansion in 1982 and was later returned to the Bank. Then in 1983 “Doc” Nancy Paulius (and Christopher Lockwood) bought the Mansion, and then was again foreclosed by the bank in 1984. Then Charles and Cynthia Patrick decided to have a go at the Mansion after it'd been closed for several months. The Patrick's had three daughters, two that were trained in restaurant management. Everyone had high expectations of a huge success. They sold out in little over a year.
News articles during this time hint at the frustrations of not only the owners, but the community hoping and wishing the old Mansion could be the profitable asset it used to be. An Illinois Rural Electric News story from 1983 said, “Golconda’s Riverview Mansion Hotel is enjoying another revival. [You can almost hear the sarcasm.] While a long succession of owners have made any number of enthusiastic attempts to restore the 100 year old structure, it looks as though the one-time riverboat captain’s home may finally avoid the snags that sunk so many previous restoration efforts.” Apparently not. It went on to say, “Dr. Charles Paulius and his wife, Nancy, are providing the thrust behind the revival of the restaurant and hotel, and the story of how they came to buy the historic house is as unlikely as it is typical. They saw it, Mrs. Paulius was instantly enchanted and, within two weeks, they were owner-operators of an old house with a lot of potential.” Nancy's son, Christopher Lockwood and the doctor's children Molly and Karl Paulius assisted in the renovation work according to the article. It may be during this time that the interiors woodwork was stripped showing the golden oak underneath, and “a tasteful new beige exterior paint” job occurred. Months later, the bank foreclosed. Next...
The 90-year old Riverview Mansion Hotel was saved from the wrecking ball when Charles and Cynthia Patrick bought the historic structure on the courthouse steps at a recent sheriff's sale. The acquisition and reopening of the hotel should come as good news, as there were no hotel accommodations in Golconda last year. The hotel's reopening also is good news to connoisseurs of turn of the century architecture and those who enjoy dining in elegant surroundings.
The Sunday Look's November 1984 news clipping found in the local library detailed the Patrick's vision for the Mansion. They opened in July and were eager to cater to deer hunters and tourists. Their restaurant was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and was prepared by the Patrick family, themselves. “Cocktails are also available.” The Patrick's said, “50 to 60 people can stay at the hotel. The restaurant can serve 80.” The article went on wax poetically about eating prime rib while imagining the “elegant lifestyle John Gilbert and his artist wife Lucy, for whom the mansion was built.” Apparently until recent history, one of Lucy's paintings, “a river scene,” hung in the hotel foyer. Lucy's third studio had not been renovated, the article lamented. Interestingly, it also said Lucy, herself, began renting rooms to construction workers who came to Golconda to work on the dam being built in the 1920s.
Then something different came along. The Mansion was purchased by Don and Marilyn Kunz in 1985 as a grander setting for the well-received dining concept developed for the Crossroads Motel at Junction, IL. They began a slow process of turning it into a genuine Victorian Bed and Breakfast. The Mansion of Golconda had a full-time chef, three dining rooms and a bar on the first floor and rooms on the second. They also rented out the attached “cottage” to groups of fishermen or boaters. A pianist entertained diners who came from far and wide. Everyone remembers the old phone booth in the foyer. Marilyn offered an award-winning menu - uniquely American cuisine, a blend of local specialties and classic gourmet. The couple hoped to produce a feast for both the eyes and the palate and planned on continuing the effort to return the Mansion to its storied splendor.
During their tenure, Marilyn wrote a pair of successful cook books that doubled as reminiscence journals of the Mansion. Her first book, More to Love, from 1993 ended with an oft-told story of what else, but Lucy the Mansion's ghost. Ghosts and old houses go together...
One of the changes during the Kunz's time was to give each hotel room their own bathroom. In so doing, two other rooms were cut in half. Well, there has been both good and bad aspects to each owner's decisions at re-muddling. For example, it is my understanding how the Gilbert house was used was that Lucy could move from her bedroom in the south-east corner, into the upstairs salon and continue on to the south-west room where she could go out onto the front porch's roof and watch the passersby. These three rooms connected (and so did the rooms on the north). Well, with the bathroom additions, Lucy's old bedroom was closed off; neutered to the size of a large walk-in closet - and the toilet was situated in front of Lucy's lovely fireplace mantel. Perhaps, Lucy (the ghost) was a little confused as to what happened to her old room, and has been merely trying to navigate the new layout.
The Kunz's Mansion of Golconda lasted for nearly two decades. They owned and operated the Mansion longer than any other since the last Gilbert left the home 80 years earlier. They had entertained and served thousands from near and far over the years. There's an old guest book at the Mansion today that attests to that. Marilyn's famous cookbooks are (in addition to a fine book of recipes) a wonderful window into the machinations of Mansion lore. It had gone through many changes as ownership slipped from one family to another, each with their own plan for the storied house. The old slate roof that must have been more like a sieve at this point was finally removed and the current asphalt shingle roof was made possible via a matching state grant.
In the fall of 2007 the bank unfortunately regained control of the Mansion again. Most everything in the Mansion was auctioned off. A few months later in 2008 and at a greatly reduced price, however William and Joyce Gilmore bought the Mansion from foreclosure and worked to reopen the business as a wedding chapel/honeymoon establishment. The elderly couple from Southern Illinois struggled to hold onto it for three years until the current owners decided to let the Mansion own them.
The last in the long line, and current owners are Tony and Beth Eckert. The couple have four children. They bought the Mansion in August 2011.
Our Mansion has been featured in more than a couple periodicals and papers including the summer edition of the Ohio River Scenic Byway entitled Perfect Hospitality at the Riverview Mansion Hotel. The following article appeared in the Southern Illinoisan last year.
The grand Riverview Mansion Hotel in Golconda, IL is an historic treasure with an eclectic bohemian vibe. Nestled in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest and along the Ohio River, the Mansion was recently heralded as one of the most significant architectural gems in the region. This boutique hotel boasts charming Victorian suites, a cozy little lounge and a charming restaurant.
If you walk into the Mansion today, you will certainly be amazed. Your eyes may be drawn to the ornate feast of architectural details. You may be amazed by the thousands of bottle of wine the line the shelves of the hotel's restaurant. Or more likely, you'll be overwhelmed by the limitless cornucopia of visual stimuli that dress the walls of the Levee Lounge and hotel walls. Well, you'll be surprised to know that the Mansion was nearly gutted when we moved in. Scant furnishings remained with dank, insufficient lighting and worn carpets. The famed Mansion of Golconda kitchen was gone, auctioned off with most everything else that could be carted off. We started over.
The old Riverview Mansion Hotel is finding new life, popular with locals and tourists alike. A boutique hotel in an old river town, folks can once again get a bite to eat and have some drinks with friends. The lounge brings as many folks to the Mansion these days as the hotel rooms and the two perfectly complement each other. I love the people that frequent our establishment. They are some real characters with great stories and real life experiences.
"Looking back over the list of “Mansion” owners, it appears that we are lucky number 13 in the long line of “mom and pop” operators. Some days, it sure feels like all the forces of evil are conspiring against us with this old house. But to be sure, most days – the days I stop and breath and take a look around, I still can hardly believe my eyes..."