Charles G. Jackson immigrated to the U.S. and purchased the Anoka House, the oldest hotel in Anoka, Minnesota, in 1877. Despite a devastating 1884 fire, the hotel was rebuilt and expanded, becoming a community hub with amenities like a dining room, cigar store, and pool tables. In 1976, Mary Helen Cutter DeLong saved it from the threat of demolition and initiated restoration efforts. Today, the old hotel no longer caters to overnight guests, but it is home to Billy’s Bar & Grill.
New Owners of the Anoka House
Charles G. Jackson immigrated to the United States in 1866 and settled in Michigan briefly before moving to Saint Paul. He married Lettie Everson in 1876, and the couple soon found themselves drawn northward to Anoka. They acquired the Anoka House, the city’s oldest hotel, in 1877.
Under their stewardship, the Anoka House swiftly became a hub for loggers and laborers in and around Anoka. As the wheels of progress turned and Anoka industrialized, the hotel’s doors were open to a diverse clientele—entrepreneurs, entertainers, farmers, loggers, and tourists alike.
Tragedy struck on August 16, 1884, when a devastating fire reduced the hotel to ashes and consumed several adjacent buildings as well. Yet, within a month, a new hotel with Jackson’s name etched near its peak rose to reclaim its place near the river by the year’s end.
The reconstruction period saw not just a resurrection but an expansion. Undeterred by adversity, Charles added a two-story brick barn to the property, followed by a two-story brick addition to the east in 1885. In 1888, a three-story addition to the west completed the evolving structure, with a renovated basement extending beneath the center and east sections.
In 1896, Charles and his eldest son began additional upgrades. A sewer line connected the hotel to the Rum River, promising “sanitary convenience.” The lobby was transformed to create a more expansive and inviting space, and additional bathrooms were added in the basement.
By 1904, the building witnessed another transformation—a slightly larger addition on the east side, boasting rooms with private bathrooms. The not-quite symmetrical facade facing Jackson Street was adorned with bay windows capped by twin copper-topped cupolas.
In addition to providing a place to lay your head, the Jackson Hotel emerged as a community hub by attracting weekend tourists and serving as a venue for civic and business gatherings. Its elaborate dining room was a grand space accommodating up to 200 diners. It echoed with the clink of cutlery and the hum of lively conversation each day.
The hotel’s other popular offerings included a cigar store, pool and billiard tables, a ladies’ waiting room, a smoking room, and a confectionery. In 1894, an optician from Minneapolis even set up shop within the hotel.
The restaurant closed in 1952 to make space for more profitable accommodations, and the hotel operated as a rooming house. By the 1970s, it was in terrible condition and resembled a flop house more than the shining beacon of hospitality it had once been. By 1975, the old hotel stood derelict and vacant after being neglected for years.
Preservation and Re-use
Longtime Anoka resident and preservation advocate Mary Helen Cutter DeLong bought the iconic building from Fred Jackson in 1976, hoping to save the building from demolition. Her first order of business was to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places to ensure its history would be saved even if the building could not be. The listing also made it possible to obtain funding for restoration.
By April of 1981, Mary Helen had hired a crew to shore up sagging walls, salvage decorative items, and make the building useable again. In June, the newly renamed Jackson House Restaurant opened on the first floor of the building. Unfortunately, Mary Helen suffered health complications and never completed her planned renovations on the rest of the building. The restaurant closed in the autumn of 1982.
Ownership of the debt-ridden property reverted to Fred Jackson after Mary Helen’s death. He sold it again. A string of subsequent owners tried but could never keep the restaurant afloat until Bill Roslansky took over. He opened Billy’s Bar & Grill, which continues to attract people with the promise of good food in a casual atmosphere. You can find it at 214 Jackson Street.