Askews: gracious hotel hosts

Joseph Askew, one of the early pioneers in this area, was many things. His great- grandson Gordon Askew of Wadena said that he did the talking and his wife Jane did the work -- that she was the pusher and doer.

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Joseph Askew, one of the early pioneers in this area, was many things. His great- grandson Gordon Askew of Wadena said that he did the talking and his wife Jane did the work -- that she was the pusher and doer.

He was born in Bootle, Cumberland, England in 1840, the son of Joseph and Ann Turner Askew, and one of eight children. At age 21 he married Jane Eilbeck. After their marriage for a year, he operated a store and then for some years he was engaged in iron mining. In 1875, he came to Wadena County with his wife and six children ages 1 to 12. One child died in infancy in England. They eventually had 13 children, three dying in infancy. I find a record of 80 acres of land owned by Jane in 1879 in Thomastown Township. However, the purchase of 80 acres of land in Wadena Township in 1882, for $500, seems to be the property they lived on until they moved to Menahga.

The first mention I find of Joseph Askew in Wadena County is a July 21, 1877, newspaper article stating that Joseph Askew and Isaac Roper have purchased Mr. Cook's half interest in the threshing machine formerly owned by Cook & Adams. "The new firm will be prepared to attend to calls in their line and guarantee good work. This machine was powered by a horse walking in circles to drive the machine." Sounds pretty primitive.

Opens Menahga House

In 1891, Col. Joseph Askew moved his family to Menahga, a new town on the Great Northern and built what was called the Menahga House, later the Arlington Hotel, which he operated until 1901. During his years in Menahga he served as mayor in 1893-94. It is interesting where he picked up the Colonel sobriquet which in Minnesota is a common salutation for auctioneers.


In the 1890s while at Menahga, Joseph had time to get involved in county politics and many discussions. In 1889, he was elected county commissioner from the first district and also president of the Wadena County Alliance, which was an organization for the betterment of the farmer. In 1891 a gentleman named L.A. Paddock who lived south of Wadena saw fit to criticize Askew for his actions as a county commissioner, accusing him of wasteful spending on county projects and that he was not a good Christian. Col. Askew took great offense to the remarks especially regarding his religious principals. He said that it wasn't difficult for Paddock to be obnoxious as it seemed to come to him naturally. The tiff appears to have boiled down as I find no further mention in the paper of it. During these years while in Menahga it appears that he was quite an entrepreneur as he was involved in many different things such as buying and selling livestock and machinery, threshing, auctioneering and politics. I would then assume that his wife Jane, ran the Arlington Hotel.

Tragedy struck in the family in 1882 when an infant son Charles died of Cholera and 10 years later when another infant son, Joseph, died from typhoid pneumonia. This brought the total to three deaths, an earlier child having died in England, with a total of 10 children raised to maturity.

Gold hunting in Colorado

In 1899, Col. Askew became interested in gold mining in Colorado. He, accompanied by his son-in-law Wm. McDonald, went out to Cripple Creek to examine some claims. On his return he made the statement that he was entirely satisfied with the property which is so far developed as to leave no doubt that the vein of ore is lasting and very rich. He further stated that about $100,000 in ore is now in the dump and a stamp mill will be put in at once. However, I am told by grandson Gordon Askew that nothing came of this because they had no way to extract the gold from the rock. I find nothing further on this venture but later he became involved with another son-in-law, James Spencer, but the claims which were highly praised at first never really amounted to very much. I remember years ago when I used to do some lock work at the Commercial Hotel for Mrs. Mason that there was a large picture hanging in the second floor stair landing showing Col. Askew riding on a mule and reading "Cripple Creek or Bust."

Another thing that was intriguing about the Askews was their apparent love for horses, especially running horses. The son, Sam, was involved in these ventures and a horse that stands out is one named Free Silver which raced in 1898. Sam at one time ran a livery barn on First Street SE in Wadena, present home of the WorkForce Center. Also, brother Will promoted a scheme introducing Sam Askew and James Kindred as hippodrome riders to race at the county fair. Hippodrome riding is when a standing rider is mounted on two horses to race.

Returns to Wadena

In 1901, before returning to Wadena, Joseph made a trip to Crookston to look over the hotel field, but he returned to Wadena and leased the Wadena Hotel from Gottfried Migge which he purchased outright in 1903 for a reported $10,000.

When he left Menahga, his son Wilfred took over the management of the Arlington and served until 1903 when he and his family returned to Wadena and he then moved onto a family farm near Hewitt.


In 1904, the Wadena Pioneer Journal published a letter Col. Askew wrote to the city council decrying their method of operating, saying that the water and light departments should be operated for the benefit of the tax payers and not for the profit of the city. He also stated that he was going to run for mayor at the next election but I find no mention of it ever happening. In 1908, Col. Askew sold the hotel for $25,000 to Frank Lynch of Fargo. In turn he traded for a section and one half of prime farm land near Mapleton, N.D., plus cash and said he would turn the operation over to his sons Sam and Wilfred, who purchased the personal property and leased the land.

Askew killed in accident

In fall 1911, on one of his visits to the farm, the Colonel suffered fatal injuries when a team he was driving ran away upsetting the buggy and causing life-ending injuries. Interment was in the Wadena City Cemetery.

In 1912, Jane Askew bought back the hotel and again took over the operation and formed the Askew Realty Company which operated the hotel until 1965 when the property was sold to Oray and Lucille Gregerson. They continued to operate it until 1977 when it was closed and sold to the city of Wadena and refurbished and now operates as the Commercial Apartments.

Commercial Hotel

During the years that the Askew family operated it, many different members of the family were involved and many improvements and changes were made. A major addition was planned in 1921 and in the spring of 1922 there was a three story addition, 42 x 58 added to the rear of the original building, adding 30 rooms and increasing the capacity to 72 transient rooms. In this arrangement there would be 16 rooms with private baths and four rooms with connecting baths. Telephones and hot and cold running water to all rooms, all to be outside rooms. In remodeling, the lobby was enlarged, floor tiled and beamed ceiling added. Also a marquis was added at the front. There were two dining rooms connected by folding doors with a seating capacity for 90 people. The kitchen was to have three divisions, general, pastry and vegetable with many labor-saving devices geared to efficiency and cleanliness. An elevator carried linens from the laundry to the different floors and new laundry equipment. The Askew Realty Company leased it to the operating company to be known as the Edward Young Co. This arrangement changed over the years but the Askew Realty Company always maintained building ownership with different family members as the operating people with Harold Mason, Ally Askew's husband being one of the most notable.

Joseph and Jane Askew had seven daughters whom through the years gained fame and recognition for their operation of the Commercial Hotel dining room. It is not a coincidence that most of the young ladies married traveling salesmen who stayed at the hotel.

Quoting from Harald Boen's Progress Report: "The Commercial and Merchant's hotels were by far the most pretentious and attracted the bulk of the hotel trade, although there were three other hotels in town.


"Seven daughters of Joseph and Jane collaborated to make the Commercial Hotel a hospitable home for the weary traveler and its piping hot steaks became a byword particularly with traveling salesmen, who swarmed over the state in their pursuit in making a livelihood. Trains were practically the only mode of transportation, train schedules making rather long layovers. Wadena as the hub of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern thus became a focal point for transfers and the layovers thus put the hotels in a position to reap the financial whirlwind.

"The dominating spirit of their mother decreed hard work and her dictum that nothing but the best be served was quickly assimilated by the daughters and their record of performance was little short of miraculous in the annals of hotel history. Service included a spirit of good fellowship and the lonely traveler was quickly made to feel at home."

Possibly the fact that the Askews and their daughters were members of the Episcopal Church might have something to do with the fact that most of the salesmen in the area went to the Episcopal church.

Family all but gone now

The family is all gone now from this area, with the exception of Gordon Askew, retired postmaster, son of Wilfred Askew by his second marriage; his daughter, Rita, and her two daughters, Hannah and Alex; and Harold Harrison, retired owner of Mason Brothers Company, grandson of Jennie Askew Harrison and Harold's sons, Rick and Jeff.

Jane Eilbeck Askew died in 1914 of a kidney ailment and was buried beside her husband in the Wadena City Cemetery.

The early family were true pioneers and did as most of the early people did, in taking advantage of any opportunity, doing whatever needed to be done, to move forward and provide a living for their family and better themselves.

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