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The Lindell Hotel

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

On October 19th, 1863, the grand Lindell Hotel in St. Louis opened to the public. So opulent was the Lindell, that its claim to be the finest hotel west of New York City was never challenged. If it seemed an inappropriate excess amid the ravages of the great Civil War, none of the guests who soon filled the Lindell seemed to notice.

The Lindell had every right to brag. It stood eight stories high, 112 feet from sidewalk to cornice, and covered eight acres. Three hundred-foot wings formed two interior courtyards, and 530 rooms with 810 windows. The brick used in the hotel would have paved thirty-eight acres. Add another acre of plate glass. The washroom in the basement held thirteen miles of washboards. A gentleman desiring to take a walk before breakfast could travel along the hotel corridors for one and three-quarters of a mile without retracing his steps.

The Lindell had a full complement of services: there were dining rooms, public and private parlors, reading and writing rooms, saloons, billiard rooms, and even a board of trade. Two grand walnut staircases connected the floors.

So snug and secure was the Lindell Hotel that on the evening of March 31st, 1867, people blocks away in downtown St. Louis smelled the burning pine and paint long before anyone inside the hotel even noticed that there was a fire. When they did and reported the fire at 8 o'clock, the roof was already in flames.

Not that the guests were one bit worried. The hotel had placed tanks of water on the roof and hoses on every floor. Guests in the dining rooms finished their seven-course meals at leisure, confident that the staff would soon control the fire. A YMCA meeting on the ground floor went on as usual, finishing the benediction before flames drove them out.

The death of the Lindell Hotel was as spectacular as its birth. The whole building was in flames by the time the roof fell in, sending fire several hundred feet into the air. A fire visible for thirty miles.

"The conflagration was one of the most splendid on record," reported the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, although by 1867, the Lindell could no longer lay claim to the most spectacular fire west of New York. General Sherman had already claimed that honor at Atlanta in the fall of 1864 in his march to the sea.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.