In 1825 James Rutledge opened an English style tavern on the current site in the new city of Hillsboro (founded in 1823) in the newly founded county (Montgomery County was founded in 1821) in the new State of Illinois (founded in 1818). Rutledge’s Tiger Inn, a small frame building, depicted a large tiger on a white background. In 1851, Rutledge’s Tiger Inn was added on to and changed hands. The new owner and proprietor was James M. Hagee and the hotel became known as the Hagee House. In 1883 Mrs. Mary Pollard purchased the hotel for $294 and it became known as the City Hotel. That standing wooden frame building was broken into three parts and sold off as single family homes when the new brick hotel was constructed. Two of those parts still stand today in Hillsboro, one on Jefferson St. and one on Summer St.
Around 1900, it was decided that the City of Hillsboro needed to create a stately brick hotel to improve their appearance and prestige as the county seat. At this time, Hillsboro was on the main line of the New York Central Railroad and the trains made 13 trips a day from St. Louis to New York City. There were many distinguished visitors coming through and exotic cuisine was shipped each day packed on ice from the New York City markets. The friendly county seat of Hillsboro took advantage of this and was able to serve the finest dishes at their hotel to all number of guests.
In order to achieve that goal, a corporation was created on January 8, 1902 in the state of Illinois with shares bought by local prominent Hillsboro businessmen. Shares were sold at $50 each and went on sale September 10, 1901 just prior to the official incorporation. Sixty prominent businessmen subscribed to a total of 320 shares to raise $16,000. Once the money was raised, construction began. ($16,000 in 1902 dollars is the equivalent of $480,000 in today’s dollars.) Construction costs were less at that time even though most work was completed by an army of local craftsmen. Upon completion the shareholders leased the hotel to William McDavid who became the proprietor and ran the hotel for a decade. As far as we know the shareholders were never involved in the business of running the hotel.
The current building was completed and opened on November 21, 1902. The opening ceremony was formally attended by over 200 of Hillsboro’s most elite and there were many more hundreds that gathered outside the hotel to hear the toasts and music. The new building was known as the Hillsboro Hotel - the initials of which can be seen today carved into the anchor post of the lobby staircase.
In early 1903, the first addition to the building began. At this point we do not know if it was an additional wing that was planned as a second phase of construction or if they nearly immediately realized that the building was too small for the existing demand. This addition is the northwest wing that is closest to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
The original 1902 & 1903 structures featured some electric overhead lighting - a very modern and new concept in rural America - as well as gas lighting and a radiant heat system. The original hotel advertisement read “A Completely Modern House with all the latest Accommodations for the Traveling Public.”
The radiant heating system originally ran off the public Hillsboro city boiler located across Broad St. from the hotel but eventually was upgraded with a large private boiler in the basement. That heating system was still in use in 2017 when we bought the building. At that point, there were very many leaks causing damage to existing wall and floor structure across the building so it was removed and replaced with a modern 21st century HVAC system.
In 1912, the shareholders were bought out by Mrs. Otillia Brinton (known as Tillie) and her son and daughter, Herbert and Stella Brinton. The Brinton Family owned a bakery in Jerseyville and sold it and moved to Hillsboro when they purchased the Hillsboro Hotel. Mary Virginia Brinton Imle (known as Virginia), longtime proprietor, was the daughter of Herbert and his wife Elvira and was born and raised in the hotel. Together the generations of that family owned and operated the hotel until 1982.
In 1913 George Dunn and Jacob Frey (ancestors of the Dunn family, current Hillsboro residents) loaned the hotel $10,000.00 to help build the southwest front addition. ($10,000 in 1913 dollars is the equivalent of $260,000 in today’s dollars.) This addition was originally used as the private residence for the family. The loan was paid in full in 1918, so the expense of the addition must have been a wise business move.
Virgina Brinton Imle had gradually taken over operations of the hotel from her parents and grandmother by the 1940’s. In 1965, she opened the English Pub style restaurant and bar in the basement and renamed the hotel The Red Rooster Inn.
She was born and raised in the hotel, married Albert Imle in the hotel in 1939, and raised her own family in the hotel. She loved the building and her role at the helm, where she reigned until it was closed just before her death in early 1983.
In 1984 William York of Vandalia purchased the building and began the renovation process. In 1986, new proprietors Earl & Bert Williams and Tom & Mary Frances Paulding continued the task of updating and remodeling. They hosted a rededication ceremony on November 21, 1987, on the 85th anniversary of the original dedication in 1902. They owned the hotel for about 20 years. After that time, it was briefly owned by the Mattioda family from California and then in 2011 it was purchased by the Pollard family of Hillsboro.
We bought the hotel in October 2017 from the Pollard family and began the comprehensive renovation in January 2018.