By David R. Schleper
The first hotel built in Shakopee was the Wasson House, named after its owner and proprietor, Frank Wasson. It was built in 1853 by Barney Young. The hotel was built in the days when steamboats and stagecoaches furnished all transportation to its hospitable portals, and whose solid timbers were brought to Shakopee by steamers plying up and down the Minnesota River between the village of St. Paul and Shakopee.
The Wasson House was a favorite stopping place for traders and travelers, and was headquarters for the boatmen when their boats were tied up at the levee below, waiting to unload freight and take aboard fresh cargo of the spoils of the pioneers. The Wasson House was built when the country was a wilderness and the Dakota were neighbors.
The big frame building was a prominent stage house and hostelry in the pioneer days. By 1854, the Wasson House was a fixture, one of only six buildings in Shakopee (other than the tipi tanka of the Dakota). During the next few years the boom changed things so rapidly that there was quite a town in Shakopee, but back in 1853, when the Wasson House was erected, there was naught but wilderness, a stage road, and the river steamboats being the only connection links with white civilization.
A year or so later, William Sherrerd purchased the hotel and conducted the hotel under that name of the American Hotel, which it is best known. It became the social center for the settlement, with many a hospitable gathering and social revel for the sturdy pioneers.
As the years passed the hotel changed hands a number of times, finally falling into disuse as a public house, and eventually half of it was removed, reducing it to the proportions of a dwelling house for which it had been used for many years.
Gertrude Berens had lived there for many years before Fred Gollmeier bought it in 1911. He lived there with his family, as well as William Wandschneider and his family.
On Sunday night, March 15, 1912, at 7 p.m., the once famous Wasson House, which had crowned the river bank above the steamboat landing for 59 years, caught fire from a defected flue, and in a couple of hours the north half was razed and the left side was standing, a charred and blackened skeleton.
Neighbors saw the blaze and gave the alarm, and the fire bell and the fire whistle brought out half the town to witness the spectacular fire. The fire department had a line of hoses running from the hydrant to the corner of Lewis and First Street in short order, but there was no water. So people thought that the hydrant was frozen, while others say it was not properly opened. It took more than half an hour after the fire started before a line of hose was run to the power house and the pump called upon to take the place of the standpipe. By that time, the fire had consumed the roof and upper floors, and the deluge of water simply held the flames from preventing other property to be up in flames.
During the long wait for water, the firemen and bystanders managed to save much of the furniture downstairs. They even carried out two Coral ranges. Both families suffered the loss of practically all of their clothing and a number of pieces of furniture which could not be removed from the sleeping rooms upstairs.
The Wasson House/American Hotel has found shelter and refreshment from statesmen, lawyers, and governors, as well as regular people of Minnesota. The old landmark is no more.
(Some information from “Old Landmark Prey to Flames,” The Shakopee Tribune, March 22, 1912.)