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Rufus P. Harriman: 1912-1879

Posted March 9, 2021

I am Rufus P. Harriman and I was born on May 6, 1812 in Dundas, Ontario Canada because my father moved the family to Canada during the War of 1812. We moved back to New Hampshire at the end of the war. As an adult, I went to work for the Wabash & Erie Canal, where we cut a canal across Indiana and Ohio connecting the Ohio River to Lake Erie. I earned enough money working to purchase the Cottage Inn hotel in Milwaukee.  It was there I met and married my wife Rebecca. A fire broke out across the street from my hotel in April of 1845, which soon jumped the street to catch my hotel on fire. A total of two full city blocks were destroyed. 

After the fire, we moved to Sheboygan for a few years. Next we moved to Green Bay and then to Appleton.  In 1864, I moved the family back to Green Bay to open the Beaumont House in July of 1864.  In 1868, I began construction on a new hotel at the Southeast corner of Jefferson and Cherry Streets. I spared no expense on the four story building  where even the basement was used as a billiard hall and a saloon.  The hotel opened with a huge party on Tuesday April 13, 1869.   I named the hotel, the First National Hotel.  You could see the building from all over town.  It was one of the tallest buildings in the city.  

In March of 1879, a passerby noticed flames in the saloon of the First National Hotel.  By the time the fire department arrived flames traveled up the south wall  to catch the roof on fire.  All guests were awoken and safely made it out of the hotel.  My son, who managed hotel, had to crawl through the halls because the smoke was so thick. I thank God, he made it out safely. There was nothing the fire department could do to stop the fire.  My wife, son and myself, along with all the onlookers watched as my beautiful hotel burned before our eyes. To make matters worse, the insurance company refused to pay for the loss.  They were not going to pay the $20,000 the building was insured for.  So I had to take them to court.  Which I won, but the insurance company still refused payment, so it went to the Wisconsin Supreme court.

A little over six months after the fire, my health started to fail in November of 1879.  I was fine one day, and the next I grew very weak. I died on November 26, 1879, surrounded by my wife and two sons and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.  My lawsuit against the insurance company was still pending when I died,  A year later, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in my favor and the insurance company paid my wife..