“Put up at Park Hotel. Quite a stylish place.”

Lavinia Goodell, December 20, 1875

During the time Lavinia Goodell lived in Janesville, Wisconsin in the 1870s, she would occasionally have to take the train to Madison, the state’s capitol, for business. When she needed to stay overnight in Madison, she chose the Park Hotel.

Park Hotel, Madison, Wisconsin 1870s

The Park Hotel, at the corner of Main and Carroll Streets on the capitol square, opened in August of 1871 and cost $125,000 to construct. The day before its grand opening, the Wisconsin State Journal reported:

The site chosen is so superior, that even those who first objected to it, now express entire satisfaction with it, and most of them admit that it is the best that could have been found.

It is built of Milwaukee pressed cream colored brick, with trimmings of the best of Madison stone…; is four stories high, with Mansard roof of elaborate finish…. The exterior of the building presents a most pleasing appearance, and is greatly admired by all who see it.

The newspaper described the rooms as “pleasant and conveniently arranged” with views “of surpassing beauty.”

In the furnishing of this hotel, no pain or expense has been spared,… The entire furniture is of walnut, oiled, and of the most substantial character, and of modern style. All the beds are furnished with hair mattresses and steel springs of the best quality that could be procured. The table furniture, as silver, china, glassware, etc. is superior to anything of the kind we have ever seen…. It is heated by the most approved steam apparatus, and water, both hard and soft, is supplied by steam pumps, and distributed through every part of the house; and for protection against fire, hose attachments are provided on every floor.

Three thousand people attended the hotel’s August 19 grand opening. The State Journal said “everybody expressed themselves highly delighted; their expectations more than met.” At dark, the hotel’s rooms were all lighted and the glow presented a brilliant appearance from the outside.

Wisconsin State Journal, August 21, 1875

We are uncertain when Lavinia Goodell first stayed at the Park Hotel, but she was there in both November and December of 1875 as she battled to be admitted to appear before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. On November 12, 1875, Lavinia was “plunged into a gulf of dark despair” after receiving a note from the Supreme Court’s clerk saying that the case she had wanted to appeal “had gone by default.” After consulting with her co-counsel John Bennett she decided to go to Madison to see what could be done. In her depressed mood she wrote in her diary. “Am at the Park Hotel. It is cold & lonesome & I have been writing for company. My head aches & I am tired & going to bed.”

Lavinia was in a better mood a month later when she returned to Madison and was in the Supreme Court hearing room when Assistant Attorney General I.C. Sloan presented her petition for admission to the Supreme Court Bar. She wrote to her sister, “I had a real good time at Madison. Put up at Park Hotel, quite a stylish place, opposite the Capitol, where all my business was to be transacted.” As to her nemesis, Chief Justice Edward Ryan, she added, “The Chief Justice is an old fogy and quite opposed to me. He bristled all up when he saw me, like a hen when she sees a hawk.”

It is likely that Lavinia also stayed at the Park Hotel when she visited her mother in Mendota Mental Health Institute in 1877.

The Park Hotel still stands on Madison’s capitol square. In the twentieth century its bar became a popular gathering place for lawmakers and lobbyists, and it is said that many backroom deals were made there. It underwent a major renovation in 2016 and is currently a Best Western hotel.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s diary; Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost (December 20, 1875); Wisconsin State Journal (August 18, 1871; August 19, 1871; August 21, 1871).

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