Isaac Merritt Mabbette, experienced in hotel management as well as building and cabinet making, designed and supervised construction of The Hotel Kissimmee with George Bass as contractor. The South Florida Railroad was Mabbette’s financial partner.
On May 1, 1886, bonds were issued by W.E. Wood and E.S. Douglass, proprietors, the hotel was greatly enlarged and the name changed to “The New Hotel Tropical”. Management changed frequently over the years as did its name and even paint color! The “Kissimmee Valley Gazette” December 16, 1896 issue reported improvements to the Tropical Hotel; including a new paint scheme of yellow, trimmed with Indian red. Another article, only four years later in 1900 states “Hotel Kissimmee being painted gray and yellow”.
An 1897 brochure for the Hotel Kissimmee boasted “The hotel is beautifully situated on the shore of Lake Tohopekaliga, one of the loveliest bodies of water in the state, and is particularly attractive to those who enjoy fishing, hunting, and outdoor sports. No finer fishing and hunting grounds to be found in the state. The Hotel Kissimmee is homelike and comfortable, and the cuisine excellent.” In the fall of 1897, J. Hamilton Gillespie designed a nine-hole golf course, and within the next few years golf tournaments were being held on the grounds.
The three-story wood-frame hotel featured an additional dormer story under the steeply pitched roof. Covered galleries wrapped around the first two floors and provided guests with an airy outdoor space and promenade. The projecting six-story tower in the center of the building also contained balconies and porches. An open-air observation deck at the top of the tower offered a panoramic view of surrounding countryside including the picturesque Lake Tohopekaliga . One hundred twenty-five guests could be accommodated, and had access to public rooms such as: guest lounges with open fireplaces, a dining room, billiards room and boasted its popular outdoor activities including lawn tennis, boating, hunting, and fishing. The hotel can count President Chester A. Arthur and millionaire John Jacob Astor and his wife, Thomas Edison and members of the Vanerbilt Family amoung its prestigious guests.
On the evening of April 6, 1906, at about ten o’clock on the evening of April 6, 1906, fire broke out in a small store room adjoining the dining room, the exact source remains unknown. Within an hour, the entire hotel was in ruins. Most of the guests were next door at the Opera House enjoying an evening of entertainment. Those still in the hotel were able to exit through windows and climb down ladders to the ground. While a few guests managed to save some of their personal articles, many other guests lost valuables and clothing to the fire. Fortunately the wind was blowing so that no nearby buildings were lost. H.C. Chapman, manager estimated losses of $25,000 but only carried insurance for half that amount.
Sources: “The Architecture of Leisure” by Susan R. Braden, “Kissimmee Valley” newspaper, “An Elegant Frontier Florida’s Plant System Hotels” by Hatty Lenfestey.
Photo Courtesy: Central Florida Memory and Florida Memory