Monday, June 8, 2015

Another Historic Hotel Is Reborn As The Hotel Chester in Starkville Mississippi

Here is the Hotel's Website with good pictures of how it looks in its present incarnation.

Now my history with this hotel goes back to 1947 or 1948.
My father used to stay here back in the day. I have vague memory of staying at this old hotel with my father and mother and brother around the late 1940s or early 1950s. I think it was the Hotel Stark then. According to the new owner it was originally named The Hotel Chester from its beginning in 1926 or so.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s it was the best local hotel. You entered and walked down a long hallway to the reception desk. A stairway was on the right. 3 floors and no elevator.
There were these hotels all over the South in those days and their main customers were traveling salesmen.
The place looked like it belonged in a Tennessee Williams play or movie.

Now fast forward to 1965. The hotel  had fallen on hard times. Starkville was not a happening place in 1965. The hotel was vacant and abandoned and looked as though it had been closed for 10 or 15 years.

My wife Rachel and I had driven up from New Orleans in May of 1965 with another couple from the French Quarter Patty and Lynn Franklin. We had visited people I knew in nearby Crawford, Miss. Carrie Lee and M.T. Harvey. The Harvey's own most everything in Crawford. The grocery store and the liquor store were owned by them. They had an ante bellum home in town and a beautiful old home out in the country on a hill they called johnny quill hill from the jonquils that grew along the drive up to the old house which had detached kitchen.

They were full of family and could not give us a place to stay the night so we drove into Starkville. First we tried Mississippi State University thinkiing maybe we could stay at the Alumni House. No dice.
So we drove downtown. It was late maybe 11 or midnight. The street in front of the old Hotel was deserted.

No people and no cars were in sight. Main Street was (and still is) only three or four blocks long downtown.
We were intending to stay at the old Hotel but it was dark and abandoned.
So we tried the door and it was open.
We climbed the stairs and found empty rooms. Everything had been cleared out. Only the beds and old fashioned box springs remained. We each chose a room and went to sleep.

In the morning which must have been a Sunday we went down around 10 or 11 am. or maybe earlier. Whenever we woke up we went down and found the street still deserted except for a police car and 2 policemen who were waiting to see who the old car with Louisiana license plates belonged to.
They asked who we were and what we were doing.
I told them our story and gave them our identifications.
I told them we had been visiting M.T. and Carrie Lee Harvey in Crawford nearby. That was important because they would know M.T. and Carrie Lee.
I also told them I was a Juvenile Probation Officer in New Orleans and I showed them some ID to that effect.
They laughed and said, "Well what would they say in New Orleans if we locked up one of their Probation Officers?
They let us go but told us to go on back to New Orleans which we did.

Now fast forward to Sunday May 31st 2015. 50 years later I see this old hotel and it still there now named The Hotel Chester. Not only is it back in operation but has been reborn.
We went around to the side entrance they use now not the old front entrance on Main Street.
There we met the current owner.
We sat and talked with him for a long time. I guess because it was early on a Sunday morning he had time to do this. He listened to my story and I listened to his.
He had had a hard time and Gordon Ramsay had come down 2 years ago and done his Hotel From Hell show from there. His advice among other things was to put in a Beer Garden. The hotel now has an attractive Beer Garden that we went to on Monday evening.
So here I was back in a place I had been 50 years ago almost to the day.
And also 68 years ago when I was a child.
Will wonders never cease?
The new owner told us about the Johnny Cash Flower Picking Festival. Johnny was arrested in Starkville in May 11 1965 for picking a flower or so he said in his song The Starkville City Jail.
Locals say another story. There are several different versions of what really happened.
The Starkville Motel is still open where he was staying. Room 22 where he was registered has a plaque outside on the door that reads Johnny Cash May 11th 1965. But Johnny spent the night in jail in Starkville.

Click on this picture to enlarge it.
I have just written about my wonder in discovering The White House Hotel in Biloxi reopened last year after a multi million dollar renovation. Click on the link at the bottom of this post.

My family stayed in this historic hotel on summer vacations in the 1940s and 1950s.