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A Historic “Hotel Impossible”?

Albert Shirley's hotels

Albert Shirley’s hotels

After the Civil War, the Pool and Shirley families of Metcalfe County, Kentucky added hotel-keeping to their many commercial ventures.  Albert H. Shirley (1842-1895) operated the Garnett House in Richmond, Kentucky, and later the Hotel Shirley in Glasgow.  In 1876, when his cousin James W. Pool (known as “Gee”) and his father William C. Pool leased a hotel property in Hart County, Albert drew on his own experience to offer advice to this new family enterprise.

As the risk of being “officious,” Albert wrote Gee, he had thought “a great deal” about the business and believed it would be a success if managed properly.  His greatest concern, however, was that his cousin would be too soft-hearted: “Your entire patronage almost will be acquaintances and friends, . . . & I have feared you would pass too many without charging them any bill.”  Only friends paying a “special visit” should expect a complimentary stay; the rest, Albert believed, should not look for such indulgences and ought to be charged the same as any other business.

Albert had another suggestion: When a drummer (that is, a traveling salesman) stopped in, he should get “the very best room.”  Able to spread the word quickly about a bad experience, these customers were the equivalent of a hotels.com review.  “I have often heard your predecessor, Mr. Biggerstaff,” wrote Albert of the hotel’s previous proprietor, “abused for his dirty rooms and especially mean beds.”  Albert also urged his cousin to drive a hard bargain with food suppliers, for it was at the dining table that he could make a good profit from his hungry guests.

Finally, in what sounded like the pilot for a 19th-century reality show, Albert told Gee of his wish to make an on-site visit and “be with you for about half a day, I could then say a good many things to you that would be of service to you.”

Albert Shirley’s letter is part of the Howard and Anne Doll Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For more of our family collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

 

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