The town of Navasota was founded in 1854 and the tracks brought the railroad by 1859. One of the first buildings built here was a hotel, built by Mrs. Louisa Loftin. She was quite the ambitious widow for a woman during the late nineteenth century. Conflicting research shows the hotel was either built as early as 1860 or as late as 1872. At first, the railroad brought a great number of patrons, but, unfortunately, the Civil War brought the economy of Navasota as well as the success of the hotel, down, after only a few years.
Philip Aurene "P. A." Smith was a New York born, Illinois schoolteacher, who was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln. Being that Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865, no one knows for sure whether or not he slept here. When the War Between the States broke out, Mr. Smith had sympathies with the South and joined the Confederate army, serving in Parson’s Partisan Rangers. As a Yankee, “Copperhead” Smith was obviously an independent thinker, having rejected the persuasions of his Republican friend and president. After serving in the cavalry in Texas, he ended up in Navasota by 1869, where he purchased the silent presses of the "Texas Baptist" publication in Anderson, TX, Grimes County Seat, and established the Navasota Weekly Tablet. Later he also bought out widow Loftin's interests in her husband's newspaper, The Texas Ranger. Smith also owned a furniture store, a cotton business and invested in Real Estate. Besides being a devoted Democrat and journalist, P. A. Smith also built and managed the Navasota Opera House, which stood where the City parking lot at the intersection of Farquhar and Washington are today.
After building up her trade for several years, Mrs. Loftin started a larger project on neighboring lots 5 and 6 of Railroad Street. Around this time, she met and married P. A. Smith, a man with considerable abilities and designs himself. As they joined visions, a huge edifice was erected on these lots, constructed by men known to us as Misters Wiley. Built of native sandstone, (rubble: not quarried), the name was changed to P. A. Smith Hotel, as the new Mrs. Smith graciously allowed his name to be put on the business. Some sort of trade must have been agreed upon, as John Wiley was given a permanent residence on the third floor, from the very beginning of the hotel. This towering stone landmark, which became the centerpiece of downtown Navasota, was finished in 1876, and turned out to be the grandest structure ever built in town, only eclipsed recently by the reconstruction of the old 1903 City Hall.
The Hotel only served as such for a little over a decade. After Mrs. Smith died in 1890, the upstairs became the Smith family residence and remained so for many years. P. A. Smith died at age 74 of typhoid fever in 1903.
"In the over hundred years since then, the hotel had been somewhat lost in who she was. "
Local folk, old and not-so, remember stories of off-and-on residences, early A&M student housing, a pool hall, and even rumors of a brothel in the years immediately following Mr. Smith’s death. Such rumors, which remain to be verified, also whispered of underground tunnels from the hotel to the other side of Washington Street, to protect the identity of her patrons. During the US Bi-Centennial celebratory years in the 1970s, there were high hopes and major plans to restore and utilize the P. A. Smith Hotel as a community cultural center with historical exhibits and events. P. A. Smith Hotel Restoration, Inc. was incorporated and became the official manager of the project, led by Gene Bouliane. Demolition and architectural & engineering studies ate up some of the funds that had been raised, then much of the stone was rechinked, windows rebuilt, and the roof repaired, until funds began to dwindle. The project proved to be a massive undertaking and since no work had been done on the building in decades, the neglect had created hundreds of lurking money pits. Sadly, after the enthusiasm about the 1976 American Bi-Centennial waned, so did the interest in the hotel. Fortunately, a new enthusiasm was moving in, shaping the town, making lasting contributions and commitments. According to Russell Cushman, local artist, historian and the source of much of this information, the hotel was sold off in 1979, at a loss, and the proceeds from the liquidation was divided, used to fund the Grimes County Historical Commission, (a county-focused historical and preservation information organization) and to jump start a new organization- the Grimes County Heritage Association. Most parties involved agreed that the purchase price for the P. A. Smith Hotel was less than that spent on its restoration, somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000.00. The building was later sold to Dean Arnold, who maintained and used the old hotel for a wood-working factory for a couple of decades, until he sold it. The buyer unfortunately did not take care of her, or the debt, for several years, and Mr. Arnold, who had since moved to the northeast, put her back on the market. Time passed, and the hotel patiently waited to be adopted once again, looking for a forever home, much like a lost jewel. She had been through burnings, seen everything from the Civil War, the Depression, World Wars I & II, to 9-11, failed attempts at restoring her, loss of interest, broken windows, and, finally, her roof caved in. Then the third floor. Birds and rodents moved in. She had been all but forgotten.
In 2017, Steve and Janice Scheve took a look, just a peek, to satisfy their curiosity. She had always been a lover of old things, he not so much, but something was different about this old, somewhat lost hotel. It was Mr. Scheve that convinced his wife to buy this heap of stone and history and make her new again. Almost three years in restoration, The P.A. Smith Hotel is in the heart of the “Railroad District” in Navasota, TX, and at last has found her forever home.