Today in Athens we usually shop for everyday items at a big box store or supermarket or most likely online. Yet a hundred years ago Athens residents obtained those items in downtown Athens around the Court House square. Back then there were numerous clothing stores, pharmacies, jewelry and grocery stores, restaurants – and hotels. And since many visitors arrived by train, they naturally desired overnight accommodations and they had several hostelries to choose from. However, one of the largest was the Deen Hotel which was founded about the time Athens was established in the 1850s, so it grew up with the city to survive even past the 1950s.
When it was first built the Deen Hotel was a two story frame building with a large front porch – a typical style of the time. As the reporter in the September 20, 1950 Athens Weekly Review related: “Its early day history is extremely colorful, dotted by interesting and exciting incidents.”
Then in the 1920s the hotel was rebuilt on the same property, and by the 1950s it consisted of three stories, contained 50 bedrooms and 30 baths. Each room had modern hotel furniture, was carpeted, and the building was steam heated and air cooled. Also, the coffee shop in the lobby was popular with guests and locals alike.
With that 1920s renovation came the latest equipment, especially telephones. According to the December 30, 1926 Athens Weekly Review, the central switchboard apparently at the front desk was the latest model and featured various features to assist desk personnel in communicating with the guests.
The reporter in the 1926 article stated: “The Deen Hotel is to be congratulated upon the installation of such a modern telephone system and it just indicates to all interested that nothing is to be spared in making the new Deen Hotel thoroughly modern…” The intention was to provide “…all necessary conveniences for their guests to the end that their home for travelers will be just as attractive as can be found in the cities.”
The new hotel was to open in January, 1927 and this was observed with a banquet for invited guests and local officials. The 100 guests would pay $1.50 a plate. The January 13, 1927 Athens Weekly Review described the event: “Some prominent citizens of Texas will be invited to make the principal address of the evening and there will be short speeches by local people.” An orchestra was to entertain during dinner and several local residents would also present musical presentations.
Then while dinner was in process the hotel would be open to inspection for everyone, and then banquet guests would tour the new hotel after their meal. There would also be dancing at 10:30 with admission by card and separate from the dinner.
However, though the new Deen Hotel was launched in 1927 about ten years later there was a tragedy when a local educator died in a fall.
According to the May 6, 1937 Athens Weekly Review, Mr. R.T. Bass, age 31, who was superintendent of the Brownsboro schools died at a Jacksonville hospital after he had taken a fall down a flight of stairs at the Deen Hotel just hours before. “His neck was broken when he tripped and fell forward from steps leaving the second floor of the hotel to the landing between the first and second floors,” related the reporter. He was removed to the hospital in a Carroll & Lehr ambulance car with Dr. W.B. Lain following in his car. The ambulance stopped for a short time near LaRue for the doctor to further assist the man.
Superintendent Bass had been at the hotel for a meeting with an oil company executive about some property owned by the Brownsboro school board.
Henderson County Superintend of Schools related, “R.T.Bass was widely recognized by the leaders in educational work in Texas as one of the outstanding young men of the State…His sudden death came as a severe blow to the many who have seen him work and fight for the betterment of rural educational facilities in Texas. His own school will stand as a monument to those successful efforts.”
The Deen Hotel location is now occupied by the First State Bank and according to their website the bank moved to the southeast corner of the square after a building adaptation in 1962. Their website related: “The Deen Hotel originally resided on the same corner and some of the old hotel windows that were bricked over during the remodeling can be seen today.”