The first hotel in Jefferson City was the Rising Sun Hotel. It opened in 1826 and was located at the corner of Madison and Water (now State) streets across from the present-day Governor’s Mansion.
The name of the hotel was based on the large porch that wrapped around to the river side where you could sit and watch the sun rise. It was owned and operated by John Churchill Gordon Jr.
Gordon was the son of John Churchill and Penelope Pope Gordon. Gordon Sr., born in 1761 was a Revolutionary War hero, having served with the 14th Virginia Regiment. The Gordon family moved to central Missouri around 1810 and was among some of the earliest settlers of this area.
John Gordon Jr. was a young man when his family moved here and soon became influential in the development of Jefferson City. Serving as a land commissioner when city lots were being sold, he was able to purchase the lot for the hotel for $29.90 in 1823.
The hotel was sold in 1839 to Major Alfred Basye. He enlarged the building to accommodate his family of 11 children. Basye died in 1856 after which his daughter Elizabeth operated the hotel until her death in 1901. A very successful business women, she was on a first name basis with many state officials, including every Missouri governor from McNair to Dockery.
The property changed hands several more times and was eventually bought by Missouri Power and Light in the 1960s and was soon demolished.
Besides the Rising Sun, there were also a few taverns that would rent rooms to legislators who would sometimes have to sleep three to a bed. On occasion, the taverns would also rent tents in the back of their buildings.
The second hotel in Jefferson City was the McCarty House located in the 100 block of McCarty Street. This residence and hotel were built for Burr Harrison McCarty in 1837. McCarty was born in Leesburg, Virginia, in 1810 and educated in the University of Virginia before he left for Missouri in 1835.
He was a close friend of Thomas Lawson Price, also a native of Virginia. McCarty and Price owned and operated the stagecoach line from St. Louis to Jefferson City. This route ran east of town on Old St. Louis Road down High Street to Jefferson ending up in front of the McCarty Hotel.
In the 1840s and 1850s, the county collectors were required to bring their collections to Jefferson City to deposit with the state treasurer, and it was all in coin. The horses, boarded at McCarty’s stables by the hotel, would arrive back exhausted from their load.
McCarty’s wife, Alzira, had an exceptional memory. Once you were a guest at the hotel, she would always greet you on return visits by your first name. She was also a midwife to many babies born in Jefferson City. Remarkably, she could remember the names, date of birth and the weather at the time of their births.
McCarty Street was first called Van Buren Street after the 1844 president, Martin Van Buren. However, when Van Buren changed political parties, this displeased McCarty so much that he petitioned the city to change the name of the street, and they did.
By 1860, the McCarty House was the leading hotel in Jefferson City. A famous guest of the hotel and friend of McCarty was journalist John N. Edwards, who once wrote of the hotel, “This house is located in Jefferson City, but it belongs to Missouri. It is a memory, a tradition … and yet as royal as reality …”
The cook was also from Virginia and known as Aunt Sally. Well known in all four corners of the state, she cooked at the hotel for more than 40 years.
A biographical sketch of Burr McCarty in 1900 stated, “It is doubtful if the name of a single distinguished Missourian can be named who at some time or other did not partake of the hospitalities of the McCarty House.”
The McCarty House also housed Frank James on occasion. On the eve of his surrender to Gov. Thomas Crittenden on Oct. 5, 1882, James walked to the Capitol to surrender his gun to the governor. Many lined the streets to watch. He presented his gun, a Remington 1875 nickel- plated model 44-40 caliber pistol to the governor saying, “I have been hunted for 21 years and have literally lived in the saddle, having never known a day of perfect peace. It was one long, anxious eternal vigil.” He ended his statement by saying, “Governor, I have not let any man touch my gun since 1861.”
Frank James stood trial twice for his crimes, and both times was acquitted.
Burr McCarty died in 1890 at 79. His daughter, Ella, continued to operate the hotel for about another 10 years.
Henry Gensky is a native of Jefferson City. In his retirement, he has devoted much time to researching local history. Over the years he has presented history programs for Historic City of Jefferson, Jefferson Landing State Historic Site and the Missouri State Museum After Hours program.