The Newland Hotel, portions of which remain in a half block on Main Street south of Church Street.

Ancestors, Legends & Time

If only the Newland Hotel had survived

Picture of Jeanne Newby

Jeanne Newby

May 15, 2024

Talking with some friends about the Newland Hotel brought up the story of Col. James O’Neill and his futuristic plans for the Newland Hotel.

Col. O’Neill had a desire to build a large hotel in downtown Webb City, but there were no lots available on which to build such a large building. The year was 1890, and the colonel had an idea to get his hotel built on Allen Street (now known as Main Street). He went to the business owners along Allen Street from the alley at 32 S. Allen north to Church Street.

He purchased 32 S. Allen, and he made an unusual proposal to the rest of the businesses. He proposed to lease the airway above each business. He used the first and second floors of the building he purchased as the nucleus of the hotel and proceeded to have 100 rooms constructed above the entire half block of Allen Street.

The first floor of 32 S. Allen was the Hotel Office and lobby where guests checked in; as well as a grand stair case that took the guests up to the second floor. Here the guests were treated to the elaborate dining room on the south side of the building which also served as the ballroom. The second floor on north side of the ballroom was part of the 100 guest rooms that included the third floor and the two turrets on the fourth floor, where hotel employees stayed.

The colonel named his first class hotel The Newland in honor of this New Land that was rich with mines and opportunities. He even named his son Robert Newland O’Neill.

The Newland Hotel, which opened in January 1891, was designed with all the modern facilities that were available. The plumbing and sanitary arrangements were the best. (O’Neill established the city’s first water system.) Each room had a bathroom with hot and cold water. The steam heat was thanks to O’Neill establishing the gas company of Webb City. Electric lights lit up the hotel when most homes still used the kerosene lamps. O’Neill also started the first ice company in the city, which also supplied the hotel.

The hotel was conveniently located where the streetcar passed by the front doors. It was centrally located between the three railroad stations; Missouri Pacific, K.C.M.& G. and the St. L. & S.F.R.R. Many travelers would get off in Webb City just to stay at the Newland Hotel at the outrageous charge of $2 and $2.50 per night, when the other hotels in town were charging $1.

A story was told that John C. Veatch, father of Cecil J. Veatch was in charge of obtaining lodging for Nebraska Congressman William Jennings Bryan, who was coming to town to speak for the Single Tax League. The league could not afford the high-priced Newland, so Veatch reserved him a room at the Buffalo House for $1. Not to say that Bryan held a grudge or anything, but he did not put Webb City on his itinerary when he campaigned against William McKinley in the presidential campaign of 1896.

A great love story from the Newland Hotel was of a young lady, Miss Goldie M. Parish, who worked as a waitress at the hotel and stayed in a room in the fourth-floor turret. She had sewn some beautiful curtains to make her room more homey, and one day as she entered her room she observed that her pretty curtains had been bunched into a knot at either side of the window and a large wooden plank protruded out her window. She stuck her head out the window and there on the end of the wooden plank was young J. Frank Wilhite, who had been contracted to redecorate the hotel. He had gently tied back the curtains to keep them safe from the paint. Cupid shot his arrow at the young couple, and they were married in September of 1900. The Wilhites lived a long happy married life!

The 190-foot canopy that covered the sidewalk in front of the Newland was a favorite viewing spot for the many parades or anything else that might be happening on Allen Street. There was a big flower parade in 1902, which brought a large crowd of over 20,000 people to town. The crowd gave that canopy quite a test under the weight of too many spectators. But that canopy survived.

It is sad that this wonderful landmark of downtown Webb City did not survive the years. A grand “ole lady” worth remembering! The heart of the Newland Hotel still stands at 30 and 32 S. Main Street. 30 S. Main was the home of the Newland Bar.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.