In 1872 Napoleon Lavalee built the Mississippi Hotel now called the Greystone Hotel on land that was originally deeded in 1824 to Carleton Place, Ontario settler, William Morphy. Lavallee operated it as a hotel and the town council meetings were held there until 1883. It was said in those days that the four story building with the mansard roof and two story wrap-around veranda was the grandest hotel between Montreal and Toronto.
The outside was made of rubble with a rock face finish and large dark grey corner stones while the interior had an elegant central staircase, crystal chandeliers and monogrammed hotel china. Of course as any small-town hotel in those days, there was a room in the back where gentleman played cards complete with an automatic cigar lighter. There was said to be three deaths in the hotel during the Lavalee ownership even though no records can be found. Some thought they had occurred when it was a TB hospice or from an argument over gambling debts,
There are also stories that the hotel was originally built as a temperance house on October 20, 1846 by Lavalee, but that story seems to be disputed. Some argue that they have the hotel mixed up with another local building in Carleton Place. In 1882 a red brick annex was built where Guido's Restaurant is now located.
In 1883 the hotel was purchased by Walter Mcllquham who doubled the room capacity to 56. Walter's son, Clyde Mcllquham and his family ran the hotel from 1907-1959 and according to history his son Watty was quite the character and would sell bottles of booze right out of his dad's hotel bar. Ever so often he would get caught red-handed by the local police and would be sentenced to 30 dollars or 30 days in the Perth jail. Watty didn't really care for being the cook in the family hotel so he would always choose the 30 days in jail to rest up and avoid working.
Bill Green was the bell boy and always wore a crumpled suit and had a pink celluloid eye patch over an empty eye socket. When he wasn't driving a taxi bringing some of his fares to the hotel; he and some of the other town characters seemed to be fixated outside the hotel under a moose head. When the train arrived at the station to drop off the 'drummers' (travelling salesmen) Green would haul their sample trunks into the brick annex (sample room) and the local merchants would come to see what was new and place orders for their stores.
At 4:30 am on April of 1959, the Mississippi Hotel suffered a major fire. Fireman, aided by a crew and pumper from Smiths Falls eventually confined the blaze to the fourth floor and roof. Before anyone noticed the blaze, it had already broken through the roof on the south end of the building. Flames quickly ate along the studding between the ceiling and roof and soon the fire had engulfed every top floor window. For five hours they poured water on the fire and the ground floor was swimming in water and the damage was extensive. As the fire grew in intensity the local firemen quickly knew that they needed lots of help and required an aerial ladder from the surrounding area. By the time one arrived from Ottawa the fire was almost out and Fire Chief Caldwell Wilson and his men should be commended for holding the blaze to the top floor and not letting it get out of control allowing it to spread to the rest of the main (Bridge) street.
Willis Robertson on duty at Neilson's Kiln on Napoleon Street was the first to see the flames on the roof of the hotel that early morning and quickly journeyed by car to alert Bill Green the former bell boy who had now graduated to night caretaker. The devastating blaze had been caused by a defective south-end chimney right beside Green's room. Occupants of the hotel which included regulars and the Mcllquham family were forced out in semi-night-attire but some of their belongings were saved. In the end most of the Mississippi Hotel was rescued except the top floor (fourth floor) and the extensive ornate verandas had to be removed. Sadly, fireman James Garland who had been manning a heavy hose lost his life that day. He suffered a fatal heart-attack and was removed to hospital in an ambulance. Garland is said to haunt the hotel to this day.
If you are not Canadian the name Stompin' Tom Connors means nothing to you, but in Canada he is a music legend and a national treasure. Tom was not always at the top of the heap; in fact he worked his butt off to be the success he is now. One day in the 60's he drove his truck to Carleton Place, Ontario and walked into the Mississippi Hotel on the corner of Bridge Street and Lake Avenue looking for a singing job.
The owner at that time, Ms. Lorraine Lemay (Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame) looked at him curiously as he held a guitar in one hand and a piece of plywood in the other. His audition turned into a month long stay at the hotel, and so began Stompin' Tom's career for room and board in the hallowed hotel. Various stories have circulated about the origin of his foot stomping, but it's generally accepted that he did this to keep a beat for his guitar playing — especially in the noisy bars and beer joints where he frequently performed. After numerous complaints about damaged stage floors, Tom began to carry a piece of plywood that he stomped on even more vigorously than before.
As legend goes Stompin' Tom did a three week stint at the hotel and went through four sheets of plywood.At the Mississippi Hotel Tom worked on the song called "Big Joe Mufferaw" day after day and a couple of years later that particular song was heard on country music stations all over Canada. It was with this same conviction that Stompin' Tom Connors came out of hiding years later to save the beloved hotel where he once sang.
In 1990 the Mississippi Hotel was slated for demolition and a few concerned citizens contacted the now reclusive Connors and asked for his help. Connors had become "musically estranged" due to his ongoing disagreements with the Canadian music business. The Carleton Place plea to Connors got the ball rolling to save the hotel and he and the Mississippi Hotel made national news.Connors refused all requests for live interviews but released a written statement:
"All that can be done must be done to preserve this "Grand Ole Lady."
And with those few words the Mississippi Hotel was spared from demolition.
In the early 80's Brian Carter purchased the hotel from Lemay and it became known for its sultry striptease shows. Hoards of bikers would roar into town for the beverages from the hotel's famous long bar and many thought the hotel's reputation had taken a nose-dive. Rumours have circulated for years that the hotel suffered two deaths during that period of time. One of the female entertainers hung herself in her hotel room and a small boy who had been kept in a locked closet while their parents enjoyed themselves tragically suffocated and could not be revived. There was no mention of these two deaths in the local papers and people have long said that it was covered up to protect the hotel from losing anymore of its proud heritage.
In 1985 the hotel closed its doors and fell to disrepair for 10 long years. From 1995- 2010 it went through many owners until the Seccaspina family bought it in 2011 and once again began restoring it to its former glory.
In 2009 Chaps Paranormal (http://www.chapsparanormal.ca/chaps/carletonplace.htm) attempted to uncover if the hotel was indeed haunted. They experienced personal sensations of heavy chests and a smoke filled hall was witnessed. The names Jacob, Heddy and Stan were all felt by them and multiple EMF spikes were captured in places, as well as catching a moving apparition on camera. Everything was recorded and uploaded to YouTube. Their final verdict was that the hotel was haunted and it is listed in the top 100 haunted places in Canada.
"We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us."
Text and Photos (top one and Kiln- Google) (dining room Stephanie Seccaspina) by Linda Seccaspina with the gracious help of Jennifer Irwin, curator at:
Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum
267 Edmund St
Carleton Place, Ontario, Canada
Linda's other Architecture stories:
Just a note that if anyone wants to reserve spots for The Necromancer Show to PM me on FB or email at email@example.com. Thanks.
*It's reservations only* and I need a choice of meal. Chicken, Italian pork or vegetable lasagne. You can also pick up tickets at Guidos/Greystone 7 Bridge Street in Carleton Place Monday-Saturday.
They are closed Sundays and holidays and they open at noon.
The Humm just published another of my stories in their newspaper and online page 7
Linda's writing can be read Monday to Friday on Zoomers.ca where links to her stories have been picked up by Time Online, USA Today and Huffington Post from other sites she has blogged on. She is also a contributor on Yahoo. Follow her on Twitter @Mcpheeeeee. Linda Seccaspina was born in Cowansville Quebec about the same time the wheel was invented.