The Elks building as it stands today was financed by the owners of the Paris Hotel in anticipation the Eagles Club would default on payments giving the hotel the right to take it over and create the city’s largest hotel. (Danny Briseno/The Prairie Press)

Historic hotels in Paris

Local properties have changed over the years

Many pieces of property change their identities through out time.

All start as a blank slate before owners build businesses or family homes on the ground. Properties may even turn back to blank open fields. One thing though is that all pieces of property hold history.

118 East Court Street, Paris, has quite an extensive history. Its most famous association is with Abraham Lincoln, when the property was the location of the Greentree Hotel.

The Greentree hotel was not the nicest place according to Lincoln’s esteemed colleague Judge David Davis but none the less was always full of hustle and bustle. Josiah Athon was the keeper of the Greentree Hotel and always kept it in tip-top shape.

Over the years many important people graced the Greentree hotel with their presence. Lincoln frequented the establishment many times while riding the Eighth Judicial Circuit.

One memorable instance involved Lincoln and Charles Constable. Early on in Constable’s political career he and Lincoln were good friends and were members of the Whig party.

However in due time Constable did not like the that the Whig Party was treating him so he changed parties and became a Democrat. Constable said the party was dominated by old fogies who are indifferent to younger men. Constable’s statement almost led to a fight in the Greentree hotel between him and Lincoln.

Lincoln said, “Mr. Constable, I understand you perfectly, and have noticed for some time that you have been slowly and cautiously picking your way over to the Democratic Party.” The argument continued but finally calmed down. Constable and Lincoln reconciled but by 1856 Lincoln announced Constable had left the party.

Another man to grace the hotel with his presence was Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain. Twain was in Paris to speak when he checked into the hotel. While there, he met a little boy who became the basis for one of Twain’s characters. William Evans, a six or seven year old boy who worked for Athon, delivered Twain his dinner and struck up a conversation. Out of that and a few other conversations it is said Twain developed the character Sociable Jimmy.

In 1922, the hotel suffered total loss in a fire and by 1924 the new fireproof Paris House was completed.

With 75 rooms, barber shop, beauty shop and dining room the Paris House was the finest hotel around. The beautiful brick work outside complete with the woodwork details inside made it a sight for everyone to see.

The Paris House was a four-story brick hotel that claimed to be fireproof. It too played host to some famous and infamous people of the times.

City folklore tells the story of America’s number one most wanted criminal pulling up to the Paris House, getting out of his car with his face covered and being ushered in to the barber shop for a quick cut and shave. It is not confirmed John Dillinger ever stepped foot into the Paris House, but one the Dillinger’s gang members did.

Howard Shouse, after breaking out of jail, was perusing the streets of Paris. It was a short stay because a tip brought the Indiana State Police to Paris and Shouse left in handcuffs.

Another story that is not well known is the origin of the Eagles Building that sits directly behind the hotel. The owners of the hotel knew the Eagles Club members were looking for a new building. They also knew that since the hotel was built out of only brick that four stories is all the higher they could build – any higher and the brick would crumble and collapse under its own weight. They talked the Eagles into letting them build them a new building. The only stipulation was the hotel got use of the top two stories of the Eagles building. One floor for guest rooms and the other a ballroom.

The Eagles agreed, but the club’s management was unaware the hotel owners had a secret backup plan. It was assumed the Eagles could not afford the payments and the property would eventually revert to the Paris Hotel through default. The Eagles Building was designed and constructed to be capable of supporting another five stories as the hotel owners planned for the future. If that had happened, a 10-story hotel would have dominated the Paris skyline.

What the hotel owners did not anticipate was the tavern and bowling alley in the basement of the Eagles lodge. Those two pieces allowed the Eagles to stay afloat in their new building for many years.

The hotel’s name eventually changed to the Paris Motor Inn. In 1988, it was converted to a senior citizen living facility and renamed the Kensington. Today it is the home of the Paris Human Resource Center.

Although the building has changed the history still remains. As people walk by they can stare off and imagine who walked there before them.

The Prairie Press

101 Central Avenue Paris, IL 61944