The old Pond Hotel, located at 17301 Manchester Rd. in Wildwood, is likely to be destroyed soon. Wildwood's Director of Planning and Parks Joe Vujnich said the building is not condemned as of now, but city representatives have secured it in the interest of public safety.
He said Historic Preservation Commissioners will discuss the Pond Hotel at the Jan. 26 meeting, which is open to the public. The meeting will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Old Pond School, 17109 Manchester Rd.
Wildwood resident Scott Keller, the owner of the building, said he had big plans for the property when he purchased it in 1995, the year that Wildwood was incorporated. He planned to renovate the historic hotel and open a microbrewery, but plans stalled due to the lack of adequate sewers in that neighborhood.
“Another factor was the growth of the (Wildwood) Town Center and the lack of any development and growth in the west part of the center,” Keller said. “The problem with historic buildings is that there’s a point of no return. It would cost too much to save it, and it will probably be torn down."
According to a 1996 St. Louis County publication on historic buildings, The Past in Our Presence, Cyrus Speers was the first owner of the land where the hotel is located at the intersection of Manchester and Pond Roads. Speers opened a store on a portion of his 160-acre tract, and Frederick Essen Jr., took over the store in 1835. Essen and Fritz Rengstorff leased the building. In 1878, the local post office was located in the building, and by 1911, Essen’s widow and children had converted the business into the Pond Hotel, which was a very popular, rural inn and restaurant known for miles around.
Bicycle clubs from St. Louis used the restaurant as a meeting place after cycling to West County. After a luscious meal of Miss Emma Essen’s famous fried chicken and some homemade pie, they were well fortified for the long cycle back to the city. A monument in the front yard of the hotel honors one of the cyclists. The business operated until the 1950s.
Several fascinating stories about the old structure have been passed down by area residents through the years. Because there is no true way to verify the accuracy of these stories, though, they have to be classified as legends. The first one was told by Hugo Essen (1868-1968) to his grandson, Bill McLaughlin of Creve Coeur, MO.
Apparently the Pond Hotel, owned and operated by Essen, was visited by Cherokee American Indians from Oklahoma at some point when Essen was operating the hotel. The American Indians had traveled to St. Louis and were on their way back to Oklahoma. In his recollection of his grandfather’s story, McLaughlin wasn't sure when this happened. The visitors were a delegation of people who were sent to St. Louis to get reparation money because of the Trail of Tears.
At first, American Indians had been paid in sides of beef, but that proved unhandy, needless to say. So the government decided to pay the reparations in gold. The Cherokees had received their reparation money and headed back to Oklahoma, on the main road going west at the time from St. Louis: Manchester Road. About 26 miles from St. Louis, they came to the Pond Hotel, and they decided to spend the night there.
When the Cherokees went to bed that night at the hotel, Essen said, they all slept in a circle, with their feet together at the bottom. Under their feet was the gold, and covering it all was a blanket. That way, all would wake up if anyone tried to steal the gold.
Another story that has been passed on through the years involves a lynching. When a young lady was raped, local residents took the law into their own hands, stringing up an African-American man in a grove of trees near the hotel.
Rusty and Dot Pendleton, longtime Wildwood residents, recalled a Civil War-era story that was passed down by Lottie Kern, a local school teacher. She lived across the road from the Pond Hotel. Her ancestors told her that during the Civil War, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and some soldiers were traveling through the area and wanted to bunk at the hotel. When the owner objected, the general declared that if he didn’t allow them to stay there, they would burn down the hotel. Sherman later became famous for his “March to the Sea” through Georgia, and the burning of Atlanta.
It’s likely this story actually involves Gen. Sterling Price and his raiders, because it is well documented that they traveled through Pond. Price’s Raiders also were known for burning and looting. Gen. Sherman did come to Missouri, first to Jefferson Barracks and later to an instructional barracks during the period where he suffered a nervous breakdown and was relieved of his command temporarily. But during his time in Missouri, he was not a field commander.
Local residents have noted the gradual decline of the old hotel over the years with dismay. “It’s so sad to see the plywood over the windows,” said Dot Pendleton, who grew up in the area. She and her husband, Rusty, remember the hotel and restaurant as a community meeting place.
“We will miss this wonderful old building,” she said.