A Kaleidoscope of History
Pre-Civil War Hotels
Raymond became a busy town from around 1844 until 1858 (the year of the big fire). The courtyard square was filled with a variety of businesses and people came from everywhere to either do business in the town or to visit the famous Cooper's Well. Transportation to and from the town was made easy with the beginning of the railroad system.
During this early history of Raymond we see that two large hotels were located in the heart of Raymond; the Oak Tree Hotel and the Hunter Hotel. Both were located right on the Town Square and were easily accessible to visitors. There was a third hotel in the area but it was located at Cooper's Well some four miles from the town. Often people frequented Cooper's Well but chose to stay in town at local hotels and be taxied out to the well by horse and buggy. Many men made a living by providing carriages for this purpose. From all accounts both hotels were considered of the finest quality during the time.
The HUNTER HOTEL was located directly in front of the new courthouse on the property now owned by Mrs. Bessie Long. Mrs. Long commented "... when my husband and I bought the property we had the old hotel torn down and built our house using some of the good timbers from it." Originally the Hunter Hotel was one of the landmarks of the town and one of the most popular hotels in this part of the country. It was established by a town citizen, T. J. Hunter, who was one of the leading citizens of Raymond during his day. There is an account in Raymond's history telling about Mr. Hunter's devotion to the Methodist Church and his civic contributions. At one time during the Civil War - after the Battle of Raymond - he went out on the battlefield after the sick and wounded to make sure that none were left behind. There was a creek running nearby and he heard groans coming from the area. After a bit of searching he found three wounded boys who had been overlooked. They were brought to the Hunter home and nursed back to health. Later one of the wounded boys married Mr. Hunter's daughter. His name was Captain William Ridgeway from Tennessee and he came back after the war to claim Miss Harriet Hunter's hand in marriage. Their grandson, Brother D. T .Ridgeway became pastor of the Raymond Methodist Church from 1942 until 1945. (History of Raymond, Mrs. Jane Brent)
After the death of Mr. Hunter, Mrs. Hunter continued the business and conducted it with marked success. No better table was kept in any town than at the Hunter House. The rooms were large - clean and well kept. "It always has a large number of regular boarders but special inducements are offered for the patronage of traveling men and guests who came here for the purpose of getting the benefit of Cooper's Well water."
The OAK TREE HOTEL was located on the site where the S.O.S. Service Station is today. The owners of the hotel lived in the large house just below the hotel. The house is still standing - across from the Railroad Depot - but is in ruins. It was a very fashionable hotel also well known throughout the country. A large oak tree stood beside the two story hotel. Town records describe it "as a handsome structure painted white and trimmed with green. Across the entire front up and down stairs was a wide porch surrounded by balusters. Many windows with green shutters also opened across the front of the building. The ground being lower in the rear of the building allowed space for several rooms under the main floor, among them being a barber shop. Just over these rooms was a large dance hall considered the finest in the country .These walls, on many occasions, echoed to the strains of southern music as happy parties glided over the floor in the Virginia Reel." (History of Raymond, Mrs. Jane Brent)
It was from this hotel that Sargeant S. Prentiss delivered his famous Bed Bug Speech. It is said that during the night he was awakened by a bedbug and he rose and proceeded to address the enemy with "all the mock gravity at his command." He spoke with such eloquence using all the persuasive powers, as if some great result fringed upon his successful pleading. The entire hotel was aroused by his thrilling speech!
The Oak Tree served the town of Raymond - and - the many guests that frequented the area until it burned after the turn of the century. Two old hotels lost to history - but - not to the "imagination" of those interested in recreating romantic images of what life was like in Raymond - long long ago.
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