-by Greg Hoots-
Joseph Brandt was born in Germany in 1828 and immigrated to America in the mid-1850s, settling first in Wisconsin where he met his wife, Christena, the daughter of Prussian immigrants. The couple was married in 1858 and raised a family in Wisconsin for 20 years before moving to Montana in the late 1870s where they spent five years.
In 1884 the Brandt family moved to Alma, Kansas where Christena Brandt’s sister, Victoria lived with her husband, Jacob Horne. The Horne family was engaged in the hotel and saloon business in Alma, and Joseph Brandt chose the same occupation, purchasing John Winkler’s old Commercial Hotel, located at 1st and Missouri Streets. Brandt renamed the hotel, The Commercial House, and operated a successful business there for three years.
By 1886 a boom in construction and new settlers had arrived in Alma with the impending construction of the Rock Island Railway line. The Alma Enterprise of September 17, 1886 addressed the shortage of lodging in Alma, saying, “Alma has two hotels that under ordinary circumstances were sufficient, but since the boom has struck us their accommodations are inadequate. Another hotel would be a paying investment, and we should like to see some capitalist take hold of the matter at once.”
Joseph and Christena Brandt decided that they would build a new hotel in Alma, just north of the new Limerick block under construction in the north end of the business district. The Alma Enterprise of July 22, 1887 reported, “Friday last Jos. Brandt purchased the Rock property on Missouri Street for the purpose of putting up thereon a hotel. The building will be two stories with basement in the rear, and is to be built of stone, the contract being let to Paul Springer. The estimated cost is $7,000 as per plans and specifications now being prepared by Carl Schubert. The building will be “L” shaped 50×60 feet and will contain twenty rooms on the upper floor.”
Work began almost immediately on the hotel, and the progress of the construction was reported frequently in the two local newspapers. The September 2nd edition of The Alma Enterprise reported, “The workmen reached the second story of Brandt’s new hotel Wednesday and are pushing the work as rapidly as possible.” The December 2, 1887 edition of the same paper noted, “The furniture for the new hotel arrived this week and ever since then all hands have been busy putting down carpets and in various ways getting ready for the opening of the house. It has been christened the “Brandt House,” and when opened to the public will give Alma more and better hotel facilities than ever before.”
The December 9, 1887 issue of The Alma Enterprise announced the opening of the hotel, saying, “On Monday next the Brandt Hotel of this city will be opened up for the accommodation of the public. This is the largest hotel in the city, having but just been completed and is thoroughly fitted up with everything that goes to make up a first class hostlery. There are seventeen bed rooms on the second floor, all of them fitted up complete and thoroughly ventilated. Mr. Jos. Brandt, who has had years of experience in the hotel business, is the popular proprietor of this house, and having spared neither pains nor expense to make it one of the most complete and best fitted buildings for a hotel in the country, we feel safe in saying that the traveling public, appreciating his efforts will give to him the liberal patronage he is so much entitled to, and on his part we can pledge them the cleanest of rooms, the best of accommodations and a table supplied with the best the market affords.”
The property on which the hotel was constructed had been the home of M. W. Rock who had sold the property in March of 1887 to J. Adler and wife. The Adlers owned the corner lots for only four months before Christena Brandt purchased the property. The Brandts borrowed money to construct the hotel from Alma businessman, John Limerick on a one-year note which they repaid the following year. In 1888 Christena Brandt borrowed $1,500 against the hotel from her sister, Victoria Horne and repaid that loan in 1890. By fall of 1890 the hotel was debt-free, and business was excellent for the Brandts.
The summer of 1891 brought tragedy to the Brandt family. On Saturday, July 25th Christena Brandt died at her home, the Brandt Hotel, from complications of influenza. She was 54 years old. The Alma Enterprise of July 31, 1891 reported on Christena Brandt’s death, noting, “She was the mother of nine children, three of whom survive her…The deceased was a lady of education and refinement, having fitted herself for the practice of medicine in the homeopathic school. She was a faithful wife, a kind and affectionate mother, a good neighbor and a woman that was always a friend to the weak and oppressed.”
The town of Alma mourned with Joseph Brandt for the loss of his wife. While the Brandts had only been living in Alma for eight years, the residents of the town had embraced the family as their own, and Joseph Brandt was known as “Uncle Joe” to everyone. At 63 years old it was difficult for Brandt to manage the operations of the hotel and kitchen by himself; however, Uncle Joe persevered, and the Brandt Hotel remained the finest accommodations in Alma.
Struggling to maintain the business, in 1892 Joseph Brandt borrowed $1,000 from the Alma State Bank, mortgaging the hotel to secure the loan.
A year passed, and Joe Brandt was unable to repay the loan from the Alma State Bank. When the loan came due, Alma State Bank cashier, Louis Palenske let Uncle Joe extend the note.
On January 13, 1894 Joseph Brandt married an Alma widow, Mary Schweizer at the Brandt Hotel. The couple made their home in the hotel.
On December 2, 1895 Joseph Brandt suffered a stroke at his hotel and was immediately bedridden. He died three days later at his home, the Brandt Hotel.
Joseph Brandt had been unable to repay his note to the Alma State Bank; and as he had died without a will, an administrator, D. M. Gardner, was appointed by the Probate Court in January of 1896 to settle the estate. In November of 1896 the Wabaunsee County Sheriff held an auction of the Brandt Hotel to settle the debt owed to the Alma State Bank. The winning bidder on the hotel property was Joseph Brandt’s brother-in-law, Jacob Horne.
The December 12, 1896 issue of The Alma Signal reported on Jacob Horne’s plans for the Brandt Hotel which called for his son, Louis to operate the establishment. “Mr. Louis Horne will refit the Brandt Hotel with new furniture and enter upon his new duties as landlord in the near future. That Louis will be popular with the traveling public all are assured.” Louis Horne married Theresa Schutter on May 6, 1896, and the couple moved into the Alma Hotel as the new year arrived.
The Alma Signal noted the reopening of the hotel in its January 8, 1897 edition. “Louis Horne opened up for business in the Brandt Hotel Monday, and the name is now the ‘Alma Hotel’. Everything is spick-span new and it has been thoroughly cleaned and refitted. We wish him the best of success.” While the establishment would thereafter be named the “Alma Hotel”, the Brandt name would be associated with the hotel for more than a century after Joseph Brandt’s death.
In January of 1898 Jacob Horne transferred ownership of the hotel to his son, Louis, who had continued to make improvements to the hotel. A year later in 1899 Jacob Horne passed away after a short illness. Louis Horne became a prominent figure in the Alma business community, serving on the Board of Directors of the Alma National Bank while operating the Alma Hotel.
Less than a week after Louis Horne’s 31st birthday, celebrated on August 16, 1901, Horne began to complain of stomach pains. His condition worsened, and two days after its onset, Louis Horne was dead. Theresa Horne, his widow, continued to operate the Alma Hotel for more than 30 years.
In March of 1930, Theresa Little (Theresa Horne changed her last name to Little when she married newspaper man, O. W. Little) sold the Alma Hotel to Mr. and Mrs. Frank Grunewald who operated the business until 1935. In September of 1935, widower Frank Grunewald sold the Alma Hotel to Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Gnadt who operated the business until April 3, 1941 when the Gnadts sold the property to Herman Uhlrig.
Uhlrig owned the hotel for three years before selling the property to Eric M. Goebel. The Goebel family operated the hotel from June of 1944 until April of 1962 when the building was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Bute. The Butes owned the hotel until September of 1985 when they transferred the property to their son, Gordon Bute.
In January of 1989 Gordon Bute sold the Alma Hotel to Mr. and Mrs. M. J. Stuewe, Jr. who owned the property for four months before selling it to Mr. and Mrs. David A. Stuewe on May 5, 1989. Five days later, on May 10th, the hotel’s ownership was transferred to Alma Hotel, Inc.
Deed records dated November of 1999 reveal that Alma Hotel, Inc. transferred ownership of the property to a partnership comprised of Stephen F. Hund, Jr. and his wife and Steven A. Frederick and his wife.
In February of 2003, Samuel George Terbovich purchased the Alma Hotel property, and a month later ownership was transferred by Terbovich to The Alma Hotel, LLC, the current listed owner of the property.
See Wendall Anschutz’s visit to the Alma Hotel in his Place To Place series on KCTV. To view, click on the Youtube video below.
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