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This 1973 photo shows the front of the Harris Hotel, 1015 First St. The structure was razed Saturday, June 2, 1984.

Pictures from the Past: Harris Hotel is colorful part of Hudson's past

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Pictures from the Past: Harris Hotel is colorful part of Hudson's past
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

When the Harris Hotel at 1015 First St. was razed in 1984, Hudson lost one of its best known landmarks. Though it had ceased being used as a hotel for more than 40 years, the building had been occupied by Adolph George (Duffy) Harris (1895-1982) for its final three decades. Harris inherited the property from his mother, Gunda (Tennyson) Harris, upon her death in 1940. The Harris family had lived in the hotel since the 1890s.

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Exact date of erection of the hotel building is shrouded in history, but it is known to date from the Civil War period, according to Richard LaRowe, author of "Hudson and North Hudson: An Intensive Study of Local Architecture and Historical Resources."

The structure was built as the Oleson House (sometimes spelled Olson), named for its owner, Andrew D. Oleson (1818-1891), an immigrant from Norway.

The Star & Times of July 8, 1870, reported that on the evening of the Fourth of July, a dancing party celebrating the holiday was given at Oleson's Hotel.

Being of Norwegian descent, Oleson attracted a lot of patronage from Scandinavians who had come to this area to find work as lumberjacks, farmhands, sawmill and railroad workers.

As an interesting footnote to history, Bethel Lutheran church (originally formed under the Evangelical Lutheran congregation) had its first meeting at the Oleson House on March 18, 1873.

After Oleson's death in 1921, Andrew Harris (1844-1922) became proprietor of the hotel, operating it until he died. Harris' widow, Gunda, continued to run the hotel, but during Prohibition, when liquor and beer could not be sold, the barroom was converted into a small confectionery store, where she sold candy and soft drinks to a neighborhood clientele.

Over the years the hotel enjoyed a robust business in both the bar and in renting rooms. According to old-timers, the hotel's barroom in those early days was not without its brawls, rough language and ladies of questionable conduct.

With the end of lumber milling in Hudson in 1917, the hotel's business diminished, though the railroaders still continued to patronize the Harris establishment for the next few years. However, the structure began to deteriorate, and painting and repairs were not made.

Duffy Harris, the oldest son of Andrew and Gunda Harris, was born in Hudson and resided at the hotel as a youth before he went to the Twin Cities, where he made his home for some years. After his mother's death, Duffy returned to Hudson and lived in the former hotel.

Those who knew Duffy Harris found him a colorful character, opinionated, and a definite loner. He was intelligent, an avid conversationalist (if he liked you), a person who kept his activities private and lived his life with few close or intimate associations.

In 1949, in Minneapolis, he married Florence Myers, a widow, and they lived in the former hotel for the next 20 years until she died in 1969.

Duffy liked cats and it was reported that at one time he had more than 20 of them roaming the premises.

There is one thing for certain: few people ever gained entrance to the old hotel building which Duffy used as his residence. Many people tried to get in, but seldom was anyone admitted. And after Duffy moved in, it was extremely rare that anyone was allowed to view the famous barroom with its elaborate solid black walnut back bar.

Duffy Harris died Oct. 8, 1982, at the age of 87. He had made his will two years earlier, in May 1980. According to the provisions of the will, a cousin, Rudolph Nelson of Minnetonka, Minn., was to receive a lot in the village of North Hudson. The rest and residue of the estate was to be divided in equal shares between Rudolph Nelson and another cousin, Ephraim (aka Epher) Nelson of Baldwin.

Harris' will stipulated that he would like to have money gifts presented to the following:

--First Presbyterian Church of Hudson

--Nelda Fyksen of Hudson

--Home for the Blind in Milwaukee

--Home for the Handicapped in Milwaukee

--To his stepdaughter, Lila M. Rohde ("daughter of my first wife").

The will further directed that such bequests would be made at the discretion of Rudolph Nelson and Epher Nelson in the amounts they "believe appropriate."

According to records in the office of the St. Croix County Probate Court, the value of the estate was placed at $56,324. Of that figure, the real estate was valued at $26,536, while the personal property, including cash, household goods and miscellaneous, was $29,788.

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Doug Stohlberg
Doug Stohlberg has been part of the Hudson Star-Observer since 1973 and has been editor since 1987. He worked at the New Richmond News from 1971 to 1973. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.
(715) 808-8600
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