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From Centralia (Ill.) Sentinel Sunday, January 27, 1985
Alligator: Dahlgrens Grand Hotel
New York has its Waldorf, London its Ritz and Savoy; but in Dahlgren the Alligator Hotel was the place to stay. In the early part of the century, when railroad passenger service flourished, every small town of any size had a hotel of some fort; but the Alligator was the only one with a pool of real, live gators in the front yard.
Every spring hotel proprietor, Charley Goin, would send off to Jacksonville,
Fla. for a fresh supply of alligators. In
the front of the hotel, carefully fenced from in from the public, he built an
ornamental fountain and pool in which the gators were kept.
The biggest one we ever had was more than six feet, says Lucille
Garrison of Mt. Vernon, whose parents owned the hotel.
Garrison, who is 82, recalls that each fall her father brought the alligators
into the hotel for the winter. The
alligators were kept out of sight in a storage area under the stairway that led
to the second floor. The alligators
became torpid during the cold weather and two or three times each winter Goin
would bring them out and place them in front of the stove to try to revive them.
was so cold and he could never wake them up, says Mrs. Garrison.
Hed think they come out of it, but they never did, theyd die,
and hed have to get new alligators each year.
alligators were fed with pieces of meat placed on sticks, so that no one had to
get too close. One time recalls
Mrs. Garrison, the alligators escaped from the pen and dad told us not tell
anyone because people would be scared to death all over town.
Two of the escapees were found in the pond where baptisms were held, but
the others remained at large.
Alligator Hotel was built in 1908 and was the pride of Dahlgren.
It replaced an earlier frame building which Goin had moved to an
adjoining site. The foundation of
the new hotel was built of sandstone, which was quarried about three miles from
town and hauled to the site by a team of mules, which Goin hired for the
occasion. The hotel had three
stories, but the upper floor was never finished.
On the first floor was the office, a kitchen, dining room, a parlor and a
big sample room which ran the entire length of the building.
the drummers or traveling salesmen came to town they would spread their samples
on the table and the proprietors of the country stores would come into Dahlgren
to select yard goods, clothing, tools and all the sundries they needed to stock
their general stores. In later
years, when the road got better and salesmen called on their customers, the big
room was used to store caskets. Charley
Goin and his brother-in-law, Wesley Hart, were partners in an undertaking
business and would make house calls to lay out the dead. Since they didnt do embalming, the undertaker would have
to come from McLeansboro if the family wanted the deceased embalmed.
When Goins 10-year-old daughter (son?), John Owen, died in the flue
epidemic, he gave up the undertaking business completely.
He just couldnt do it anymore, says Mrs. Garrison.
were twelve bedrooms the second floor, one bathroom and a separate toilet for
the men and another for the ladies. In
addition, each of the rooms had a pitcher and washbowl, plus a chamber pot.
The family also lived on the second floor, sharing the sanitary
facilities with the guests.
traveling men were the hotels main clients, and since there were no paved
roads they all used the L&N Railroad. Rail
was the main means of travel in those days and there were five passenger trains
daily that came through Dahlgren. The trains were met by a drayman who was unkindly referred to
as Dummy by everyone because he was a deaf mute. Dummy also suffered from Goitre, then a common affliction;
but he did his job faithfully and was known to every drummer who stopped at
the hotels basement was the laundry, where all the sheets were ironed by
hand, the water system, furnace and a creamery, which was operated as a sideline
business by Mrs. Garrisons uncle. The
local farmers would bring in their cream which was tested for its butterfat
content by Mrs. Garrison who, although scarcely in her teens, had passed the
examination to be a licensed cream tester.
task of preparing meals for the guest was handled by the family and two hired
girls. The Alligator Hotel prided
itself on the abundance of its food. Dad
always checked on the number of dishes that were to be served, says Mrs.
Garrison. If there werent at
least ten, we would have to open a can of corn or something to fill up another
dish. The food was prepared on a
big Majestic coal range that held a huge reservoir of hot water.
In the summer, an oil stove was used because it made less heat in the
kitchen. Since there was no
electricity, kerosene lamps provided the light.
liquor was ever served on the premises. Mr.
Goin being a strict teetotaler. In
fact, anyone coming to the door smelling of spirits was asked to find other
lodgings. Rooms at the Alligator
coast about $1 per night with meals extra.
In the dining room there were three big tablesone for the family, one
for the traveling men and another for the local people.
Wham of Centralia, who grew up in Dahlgren, recalls that it was a rare treat to
eat at the hotel. They had
wonderful foodand things like bananas. We
had home-canned peaches at home, but at the Alligator they had fresh fruit in
Wham also recalls the time the grocery store next to the hotel caught fire and
the local fire brigade answered the alarm.
Fearing that the flames would spread to the hotel, Mrs. Goin pleaded with
the crowd of onlookers to pray that the Alligator might be spared.
Pray, fudge, wed better fight fire, retorted William Sneed,
Fayes father, who had come to assist in extinguishing the blaze.
Fortunately, Rachel Goings prayers were answered and the Alligator was
and Rachel Goin continued to operate the Alligator until 1920 when they sold the
hotel and moved to Mt. Vernon. It
was never the same after the Goins left or after they paved the road, says
Faye Wham. After years of muddy
roads that were impassable in wet weather, the first paved roads in the country
were a real delight. Mrs. Wham
recalls that she and her family would drive over to the new road that ran
between Mt. Vernon and Wayne City just for the sheer pleasure of riding back and
forth on the paved strip.
hard roads and the growing number of automobiles meant the end of small hotels
like the Alligator. Traveling men
could now drive from town to town and did not bother to spend the night at a
hotel near the depot.
livery stables went out of business and the car dealerships began to flourish.
One of these was owned by Charley Goins brother, who was known as W.
O. Bill Goin, or Uncle Omer to his family.
Bill Goin began his career in Bluford selling eggs, caskets and fresh
produce which he purchased locally from farmers.
He and his partner, Everett DeWiit, opened a Ford agency in Farina and in
the 1920s came to Centralia. Many
will recall that Goin lived in the big white mansion on Pleasant Street that
later became the Hudelson Baptist Childrens Home.
Their auto agency was located on the 100 block of S. Poplar.
Around 1934, Goin and DeWitt (who was married to Faye Whams sister,
Ava) both moved from Centralia to Jacksonville, Ill. and gave up the Centralia
Alligator Hotel has been gone for many yearsa victim of paved roads and
progress. But in the minds of those
who remember it, the Alligator is grander than ever. Once can almost see the sweeping verandah with its swing and
wicker furniture, the drummers samples spread out on the long oak tables, and
most of all the alligators that gave the hotel its name and for many years were
Dahlgrens chief claim to fame.
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