As the repository for Osceola County history, the Osceola County Historical Society receives a number of great historical treasures every year through the generous donations of our local community. While we are selective on what items are accepted into the permanent collections, gems from local history are added each year to help preserve and share Osceola County history with the public.
One time, an unexpected package was waiting on our doorstep and as we opened the package, we realized that one of those historical gems was hiding within the contents of the box. There, buried in layers of bubble wrap, was an original silver tea set from the Graystone Hotel of Kissimmee.
The Graystone Inn was built in 1908 by Harry Thurman on the former site of the Tropical Hotel, which had been destroyed by a fire in 1906. To eliminate the potential of another devastating fire, the hotel was reconstructed of concrete block instead of wood and advertised as “fire-proof.” As one of the premiere hotels of downtown Kissimmee, the Graystone held prime property on Broadway Street. Guests of the inn could stay for $2.50 per day, what a bargain!
The hotel building also contained a number of office suites and an adjacent opera house. Eventually, a second concrete block building was added to the property to expand the amount of rooms available to guests visiting the area. The “inn” thus became a “hotel” with its larger capacity.
In 1915, Thurman sold the Graystone Hotel property to Senator Arthur E. Donegan, which included the entire city block on Broadway from Possiel to Dakin Avenues, the hotel building, the Graystone Casino and office building. An excerpt from the Kissimmee Valley Gazette details Donegan’s plans for his new property:
“Extensive improvements will be made in the property at once, and it will be placed in such shape as to be one of the foremost tourist resorts in the state. Senator Donegan intimated the plans included an annex on Paradise Island, which he controls, and that arrangements would be probably be made for outing grounds for winter visitors.”
According to a 1915 newspaper article from the Kissimmee Valley Gazette, State Hotel Inspector O.G. Husband rated all of the hotels in the Kissimmee area. During his visit, Husband looked for the hotel’s cleanliness, efficiency in equipment, care of “foodstuffs,” ventilation, and screening, among other assorted qualifications. Out of a scale of 100, the Graystone received the highest rating in the city: a 97 for both the inn and the dining room. This earned the Graystone the highest honor: a gold seal.
The hotel was sold in the 1930s to Ben Bostain, who promptly renamed the property as the “Bostain Hotel.” During the 1940s, the hotel was refurbished and received a final name change – repeating history as the Tropical Hotel (or the Tropical Motor Hotel in the later years). The hotel’s long history in Kissimmee came to an end In the 1960s, as the hotel was razed in order to make room for the First Federal Savings and Loan building, which is now part of the City Centre.
As a remnant of this historic hotel from Kissimmee’s past, the silver tea set is an important piece of Osceola History. Along with the engraved “Graystone” tea set, the donation package also included a few historic photos of the Bon Air Hotel and a letter from the donor. In the letter, the donor, Kay Jennings MacMillan, detailed her family’s involvement with the Graystone Inn and the Bon Air Hotel.
According to the letter, her great grandmother, Jane Goodrich Hafeli-Wiggins, and her grandmother, Naomi Caroline Hafeli Jennings, moved to Kissimmee in the early 1920s. They owned the Bon Air hotel and managed the Graystone Hotel during the 1920s into the 1950s. The tea set was kept within the family until MacMillan decided to pass on these historical items to OCHS to save for posterity.
Thanks to this unexpected delivery, a piece of the Graystone Hotel’s rich history will now be preserved within the collection of OCHS and will likely be on display at the Osceola County Welcome Center and History Museum in the future for guests to have the opportunity to see this great physical memory of Kissimmee from 100 years ago.