John Coonley, who was born in Wisconsin in 1864 to a prosperous dairy family, struck out on his own, armed with only a Sixth grade education and a good work ethic. He started a black smith shop in Bristow, Iowa and was very successful. John noted the need for grocery stores and opened one in Bristow, two in Hampton, one in Alexander and two in Oelwein.
Then on February 05, 1919,the announcement was made that North American Hotel Company of Omaha, Nebraska was building the Coonley Hotel in Hampton, Iowa for John Coonley on the quarter block where he normally kept his running horses. The builders had also started work on six or seven other hotels in Iowa, spread themselves too thin and went bankrupt, they completed only one hotel, the Coonley Hotel.
The elaborate structure was suppose to cost $200,000.00 but ended up costing $318,000.00. Half way through the construction of the “fireproof structure” a fire broke out, but luckily a bucket brigade doused the fire before any major damage was done.
John Coonley was forced to postpone installation of the hotel’s elevator because of World War I and the shortage of steel. Mr. Coonley spent an additional $30,000.00 on furnishings. The three story structure had every modern convenience with an elegant ballroom, a private party room, a barber shop, beauty shop, candy kitchen, coffee shop and restaurant, millinery shop, telegraph office, a lounge/beer parlor in the basement with eight billiard and pool tables , a double bowling alley and 63 guest rooms.
A menu for Sunday dinner in the Coonley Hotel, costing, the large sum, of .75 cents, reads as follow: celery hearts, cream of oyster soup, stuffed olives; choice of Glazed Domestic Duck with fruit jelly, Fried Spring Chicken Maryland style, Roast Prime Cut of Native Beef Espagnole or Escalloped Salmon Au Gratin; snow flake potatoes, apple salad and sugar corn; choice of corn muffins, white, rye or graham bread; choice of loganberry, hot mince or delicia apple pie; egg custard; choice of coffee, tea or milk.
In May of 1919, 2 ½ months after the opening of the hotel, 200 bankers from all over Iowa and other states met in Hampton to for an annual meeting. A special train of Pullman Sleepers brought seventy prominent financiers from out of state. The bankers attended a banquet at the Coonley Hotel, and the meal was highly praised.
The Coonley Hotel rented regular rooms for $1.00 and the best rooms were $1.50. The barber shop had individual shaving mugs for its customers which were inscribed with the customer’s name. The hotel provided umbrella stands, whereby customers could detach their expensive gold, ivory or Mother of Pearl umbrella handles but leave their umbrellas behind to dry.