Today I have a story about the Maxwell House Hotel in downtown Nashville Tennessee.. well it used to be down there. It caught fire on Christmas day in 1961. The SunTrust Building was built on the site of the original hotel and the SunTrust building is still there today. But they didn’t let the name go to waste and a new hotel was built at another site called the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel. That’s still there.
They started building the soon to be citadel in 1859. Construction was interrupted by that little thing called the Civil War. During the Civil War, the unfinished building was used by the occupying Union Army after 1862 as a barracks, prison, and hospital. In the fall of 1866 a year after the Civil War, former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was inducted into the Ku Klux Klan, a newly formed secret vigilante group. Politician John W. Morton performed the honors in Room 10 of the Maxwell House Hotel. Forrest was made the Grand Wizard of the Invisible Empire. The first national meeting of the KKK took place at the hotel in April 1867. Forrest was and remains to this day the only “Grand Wizard” ever elected by the racist to this post. Now, there are a lot of good ole boys running around here with tall pointy hats with all kinds of beads and chains hanging from they hoods and all kinds of medals and crosses and silver slashes and $#!!@ hanging from their robes, some even wear red robes and Chinese sandals, but they ain’t and never will be a “Grand Wizard.” They might razzle dazzle and mystify them 6th grade educated, turnip picking farm boys with all that fake gold and silver, all high and mighty, but we know the truth.
Anyway, Ima lock my door and close the curtains.. I will be right back…
What local citizens called “Overton’s Folly” was finally completed and opened in fall 1869. John Overton was the man who financed the hotel. Folly, because everyone knew a war was coming. He named the hotel after his wife, Harriet Maxwell Overton. The total costs were $500,000. That’s about $9.5 million in today’s currency. The Maxwell House was Nashville’s largest hotel, with five stories and 240 rooms. It advertised steam heat, gas lighting, and a bath on every floor. Rooms cost $4 a day, including meals. The main lobby featured mahogany cabinetry, brass fixtures, gilded mirrors, and chandeliers. There were ladies’ and men’s parlors, billiard rooms, barrooms, shaving “saloons,” and a grand staircase to the large ball or dining room. There was a separate entrance for women. Black men and women were only allowed to eat in the grand ball room… ???? Just seeing if you are paying attention… Any black walking on the same street as the hotel was never heard from again. We talking about the KKK National Headquarters here!
The hotel was at its height from the 1890s to the early twentieth century. Its Christmas dinner featuring calf’s head, black bear, and opossum, and other unusual delicacies became famous. Now here is where it becomes interesting. I mean who cares about some racist hotel that burned down over a century ago? One of the guest at the hotel, among a lot of famous guest that stayed there was President Theodore Roosevelt. It was Roosevelt that remarked after drinking a cup of the coffee, that “it was good to the last drop.” The rest is history. The remark was used as a slogan for the coffee served at the hotel and was forever after known as Maxwell House coffee. The coffee brand is still in operation, and is now owned by Kraft Heinz.