With the prep work for demolition currently underway, the Lincoln House will soon be a memory in Merrill. Over the past 112 years, the structure has served as a hotel, as long-term housing for residents and has housed numerous restaurants and businesses.
The first hotel was built on the Lincoln House site by Jules Posey, one of Merrill’s earliest settlers, in 1863. Called Posey House, the hotel burned in 1878. It was rebuilt as the Lincoln House that same year, but burned again in 1898.
The current structure built as the Lincoln Hotel, was completed in 1901 and survived a fire in 1944 that destroyed much of the interior. Re-opened in 1946, the hotel was without much of its ornate original features. The interior floor plan was somewhat altered when it was reconstructed.
The Lincoln House is notable as it is the oldest building in Merrill designed by architecture Henry Van Ryn of Milwaukee. Van Ryn later designed the Lincoln County Courthouse, Trinity Lutheran Church and the original city halls in Merrill, Marshfield and Antigo. Van Ryn & DeGellecke also designed buildings no longer standing, such as Merrill High School, Lincoln County Bank and the Badger Hotel.
The Lincoln House is an example of early 20th Century vernacular form with strong neo-classical style.
The 1901 building was originally constructed with a smooth, reddish-brown brick exterior, which was later painted white sometime after 1946. The building was renovated again during the 1980s.
It is the last remaining notable hotel building of its type in Merrill, and the last survivor of approximately 25 hotels built in Merrill in the 19th and early 20th century.
The City of Merrill acquired the property in June 2011 from the Bank of Wausau on a warrantee deed. The building was acquired to eliminate its blighting influence within the City of Merrill.
A brief history of the building’s value is a testament to the declining condition of the property. A June 2003 appraisal report fixed the market value at $865,000, and the property sold for $680,000 in 2004. The 2010 assessment by the City of Merrill was $213,600, and the property was purchased by the City of Merrill for $150,000 in 2011.
Originally a hotel serving business travelers and tourists, the building was later turned into efficiency and one-bedroom apartments on the second and third levels, with rental office space in the lower and first levels. Over the years the building deteriorated significantly. The city attempted unsuccessfully to interest outside parties in redeveloping the existing structure.
A perusal of old Merrill city directories offers the following glimpse of the life of the Lincoln House:
In 1926, Hotel Lincoln offered dinners for 75 cents.
The Merrill Fire Department report from Nov. 25, 1944 noted that insurance paid $32,500 on the building and $18,959 on the contents.
Chain hotel operator J. Herschel Hardy was the owner at the time of the 1944 fire. He had purchased the property in 1937 from C.C. Murphy, who had owned it for the previous 14 years. Hardy also owned the Butterfield Hotel in Antigo.
For decades, the Lincoln House was not only a hotel, but a home to various businesses.
In 1915, with E & M Gerow listed as the proprietors and managers, the Lincoln Hotel also featured the Lincoln Hotel Buffet.
In 1921, the hotel was billed as the Hotel Lincoln European, with O.F. Hohberg as manager. An ad in that year’s City Directory touted Hotel Lincoln as “Merrill’s leading hotel on State Hwys. 10-63-64.”
By 1925, Murphy was running the hotel, which boasted “every room a view, with and without baths.” Room rates started at $1.25 and noon lunches were 60 cents at the hotel café.
In 1930, a real estate agent and abstract company were listed among the businesses housed in the building. In 1936, the directory lists a beauty shop, jeweler, attorney and real estate agent in the Lincoln Hotel.
In 1939 advertising, operators Curtis and Brown invited people to “visit our new and modern bar and cocktail lounge.”
In 1951, Hotel Merrill was owned by Admil, Inc., with C.E. Fenlon as president and general manager and M.C. Kidd as manager. At the time, the same company owned both Hotel Merrill and the Badger Hotel on Merrill’s west side. Businesses housed in Hotel Merrill in 1951 included the Pi-Yi Coffee Shop & Cocktail Lounge, Trees for Tomorrow, D&M Beauty Shop, Jeane Hats & Dresses, Dr. Hughes (dentist), Walther’s Store for Men, Gibson’s Barbershop, Ralph “Fata” Voigt Insurance, Mark Koenig accounting and Wurster & Curtis. Also, several long-term tenants had made their homes in the hotel.
Other business tenants in the 1950s included Sally’s Shoe Shop, Victor Adjustment Co., U.S. Fur Ranchers, Standard Oil Training Clinic, Nienow Atty. and Hotel Merrill Barbershop.
By 1965, the Pi-Yi had been replaced with the Ivanhoe Room Cocktail Lounge. Hotel Merrill boasted Merrill’s “finest foods, lounge and banquet facility.”
In 1967, Hotel Merrill was now listed as Lincoln House. Business activities included Greyhound bus lines, investment securities, beauty salon, telegraph company and insurance office.
By 1969, WXMT radio (predecessor to the current WJMT radio) had moved into the building. They would later move to Main Street, but move back into the Lincoln House in the 1980s.
In 1971, the hotel’s restaurant was listed as Jake’s Supper Club, but 1973 advertising noted the Lincoln House Motor-Inn as “featuring the Fin-N-Feather Cocktail Lounge & Supper Club , the Rainbow Room for breakfast, lunch and parties.” The hotel boasted “30 newly decorated rooms, air conditioning and TV.” Businesses in the building in 1973 included the Merrill Chamber of Commerce and WXMT.
In 1983, the Lincoln House Lounge was the building’s cocktail lounge and restaurant. A few offices remained in the building, along with several long-term tenants.
By the mid-1990s, neither a cocktail lounge nor a restaurant were operating in the Lincoln House. There were still several businesses, including Ad House, Edward Jones, Mallory & Zimmerman attorneys, Phil Ziesemer photography.
By 1997, WJMT and its sister FM station Z104 had moved back into the building, along with several other businesses. After a nearly 45-year history with the building, WJMT was the last tenant to move out in October of 2013.