Stage Coach Inn
The Beers and St. John Company Coach Inn is locally significant under Criterion A as a relatively unaltered rural example of an early stage coach inn. Its period of significance dates from 1842, when occupation and construction started, until 1855 when Smith sold the property. It is one of Iowa’s last remaining, rural, heavy timber framed, First Period (1838–1845) stage coach inns. It also relates to and overlaps Iowa’s Second Period of stage coach hotels and inns (1846–1863). During its period of significance (1842–1855) the site was the focus of local and regional communication, transportation, and commerce. The inn is the only building remaining from that period on the property. Its context is related to its construction and occupation by Egbert T. Smith specifically for use as a stage inn and tavern built expressly for the purpose of providing a staging inn for the Beers and St. John Company, which had won the federal mail contract in 1842 for the Bloomington (Muscatine) to Iowa City Route. The inn maintains a high degree of the seven aspects of integrity. Its location is original. Its late Federal design is unchanged. The setting is the same size and retains its landscaping. The materials consisting of brick, stone, and wood are original. The hewn timbers, handmade bricks, and quarried stone as well as the fine woodwork shows its workmanship. The feeling of a territorial era stagecoach inn is present in it floor plan, large chimney, exterior coach mounting mounds, wells and other features. Its association with the old stage route (U.S. 6) and its entry lane location are unchanged. With the arrival of the railroad in Iowa City in 1855, passing just two miles to its north, the site’s use as a stage coach inn and staging point ended and marks the end of its period of significance under Criterion A. The significance of the Beers and St. John Company Coach Inn lies in its relationship to Iowa’s first period of stage coaching (1836–1845). Coach inns from this period, especially from the first years relating to the 1830s and early 1840s, are very rare in the state. Also, the size, quality, and integrity of the resource for the period are remarkable. The entrepreneurial spirit of Egbert T. Smith, William St. John, and Robert Stewart reflect both the formative nature of the state and also its relatedness to the mail route and staging movement from the East.
The Beers and St. John Company Coach Inn was listed on the National Historical Registry on February 10, 2016.
In 1839 the newly surveyed area of the Second Black Hawk Purchase was opened for settlement in the Territory of Iowa. In that same year Iowa City was designated the capitol of the Territory of Iowa. The Beers and St. John Company, who were livery operators in the formative community of Bloomington (later changed to Muscatine), were awarded the federal mail contract between Iowa City and Bloomington. In 1839 Bloomington was the closest point between Iowa City and the Mississippi River and a mail route and road was a logical connection between the two. The road between the two became an important transportation route. Beers and St. John, along with Egbert T. Smith the builder and owner, established a small inn and tavern along the route in 1839 to provide for travelers. The resource operated as both an inn and tavern on the Muscatine to Iowa City road. This business was expanded when Beers and St. John were awarded a second federal mail contract in 1841. At that time the construction of a larger inn was undertaken. This inn was finished in 1842 and operated as a stage coach inn until 1851 under Egbert T. Smith. In 1854 Smith sold the property and returned briefly in 1855 to settle the property mortgage and to sell the rest of his land holdings. During the time from 1839 to 1854 an inn was in operation. The earlier (1839) inn/tavern became an attached wing and kitchen to the larger inn completed in 1842. At that time the site contained the original 1839 inn/tavern, the large 1842 building, a forge, and a barn, which functioned as a swing station for the coaching operation. A swing station is a place where horses and drivers could be switched along the routes. These swing stations were set up every ten to fifteen miles along the coaching routes to provide fresh teams of horses. Located just west of the village of West Liberty, in the far western part of Muscatine County, the site was an important transportation node at a crossing point of two important staging routes. These were the routes from Iowa City to Muscatine and from Iowa City to the city of Davenport, also on the Mississippi River. The inn was in operation until around 1855 when two events occurred. The first was the death of Smith’s wife in 1851. The second event was the coming of the railroad to Iowa City in 1855. This nomination concerns the inn completed in 1842. Its basic plan copied Egbert T. Smith’s previous colonial home located on Long Island, New York. The siding, windows and door, and interior millwork were constructed and shipped from Cincinnati, Ohio in 1841. Traveling down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi by steamboat it arrived in 1841 and was finished by 1842. The inn is framed of hewn heavy timbers. A large central Rumford chimney, copied from New York antecedents, supports the interior framing (Buckley 2003). The wall studs were whip-sawn on site and the brick and stone used in its construction were hand-made or quarried nearby. The inn is two and one-half stories in height and once had an octagonal cupola in the center of the roof crest. The exterior siding is of cypress. Stylistically the inn melds a colonial end-gabled form with late-federal and classical stylistic elements.