The Conway Hotel was one of the first hotels to be established in Conway and was, of course, located near the railroad depot. Andrew Horton purchased a lot on Railroad (Parkway) Avenue at West Main from Col. Asa Robinson, Conway’s founder, in late 1874. Horton built the Conway Hotel there and operated it until 1878, when he sold it to William Clifton.
One of the most famous guests to stay in the Conway Hotel was the notorious Belle Starr. According to an article in the February 24, 1921, Arkansas Gazette, she and her daughter stayed at the hotel for about six months in 1876 while visiting a cousin who lived in the Holland area.
William M. Lea built a new two-story structure on the location in 1882, calling it the Lea Hotel. The chimney for the hotel was built by J.W. Firestone. Isaac Francisco, the next owner, owned the hotel for about 10 years and named it the Francisco Hotel in 1887. It was said he catered exclusively to travelers.
In 1900, Francisco sold it to W.B. Hines who had been traveling the area for a Memphis firm. He renamed it the Hotel de Hines. It was described as a rambling two-story white frame building with a wide veranda across the east façade. It is often visible in the background of old depot pictures.
Traveling salesmen, whose main mean of transportation was the railroad, would walk across Railroad Avenue for a “large, airy room” at the Hotel de Hines. They would sit on the veranda and demonstrate their wares to customers. In the evening, they would sit in the rocking chairs on the porch and swap stories of their travels.
Around 5 p.m. Wednesday, January 16, 1924, a fire was discovered by workmen unloading railroad cars across the street from the Hotel de Hines. Apparently, the blaze was a sight to behold. Many locals gathered to watch it burn just as the locals gathered decades later to watch the Hotel Bachelor burn.
Mrs. Hines, who had continued to operate the hotel after her husband’s death, had, only a few minutes earlier, walked across the street to the train station to wish some of her guests goodbye as they departed. She was able to gather only a few personal belongings before the building was destroyed.
Among the hotel guests who lost their personal belongings were L.L. Boyer of Atlanta, director of the Hendrix College gymnasium campaign, and W.J. Waggoner of Lonoke, the prosecuting attorney.
Little Miss Emily Belle Harrison, a daughter of C.A. Harrison of North Little Rock, was rescued from the burning building by Albert Lachowsky. He was working on the plumbing on the second floor of the hotel and heard the child scream. He found her in a bathroom completely filled by fire and smoke. She was crouched in a corner.
Lachowsky braved the intense heat and pulled the little girl out. She was taken to a Little Rock hospital for treatment. He was burned on the face and hands.
The wood of the hotel was very dry, and the fire spread quickly. The hotel’s heavy timbers made the resulting heat severe and the volunteer firemen could not get near the structure as they had no mobile fire ladders. They concentrated instead on keeping the fire from spreading to adjoining buildings. Insurance covered about $5,000 of the estimated $18,000 loss.
The buildings of the Conway Lumber Company next door were scorched and blistered by the intense heat but escaped material damage. Manager Amos Halter said the damage was less than $100. He thanked the fire department and others who had worked hard to prevent the fire from spreading to his business.
Cindy Burnett Beckman is a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history. She may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.