The Maxwell House Hotel, which once stood at the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue, North, and Church Street in downtown Nashville, was for years the center of Nashville’s social and political life. Colonel John Overton Jr. built the hotel named for his wife, Harriet Maxwell Overton. Construction of the Maxwell House, designed by Isaiah Rogers, began in 1859 using slave labor. During the Civil War, the partially finished brick building served as both barracks and prison hospital for the occupying Union army.
After the war Overton resumed construction of what became Nashville’s largest hotel, which local citizens initially called “Overton’s Folly.” Opening in the fall of 1869, the five-story, 240-room hotel cost five hundred thousand dollars. The Maxwell House advertised steam heat, gas-lighting, and a bath on every floor. Rooms were four dollars a day, meals included. The building fronted on Fourth Avenue and the infamous Men’s Quarter; an entrance for women opened onto Church Street. Eight Corinthian columns flanked the main entrance; the elegant main lobby featured mahogany cabinetry, brass fixtures, gilded mirrors, and chandeliers. There were ladies’ and men’s parlors, billiard rooms, barrooms, shaving “saloons,” and a grand staircase to the large ball or dining room.
The heyday of the Maxwell House Hotel was the 1890s to the early twentieth century. The hotel became famous for its Christmas dinner, which featured such delicacies as Calf’s Head, Leg of Cumberland Black Bear, and Tennessee Opossum. Seven presidents stayed at the Maxwell House Hotel, including Theodore Roosevelt, whose comment that the coffee was “good to the last drop” launched the advertising slogan used for years to promote the nation’s first blended coffee. Other visitors included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, General Tom Thumb, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and George Westinghouse. The Maxwell House burned on Christmas night 1961.