Reporting Mike Binkley
MANTORVILLE, Minn. (WCCO) — For a town of just 1,200 people, Mantorville has had a lot of famous visitors.
For example, Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, has been there a couple of times in the past five years.
He’s part of a long list of dignitaries — including a couple of American presidents, who’ve stopped by the Hubbell House. The limestone structure is one of the state’s oldest buildings in one of its oldest cities.
In the 1850s when settlers were heading west through the Northern Plains, there weren’t many hotels in this area.
So Mantorville became an important stopping point.
“It was on the stagecoach run which was the only mode of transportation, said Hubbell House general manager Dick Jensch. “That was 50 years before the railroad went through.”
The Hubbell House was built in 1854, four years before Minnesota became a state, with gas lamps and candles to provide light and a barn out back for the horses.
“It was big news when it got running water, hot and cold running water in each room upstairs,” said Jensch.
Now, nearly 160 years later, the Hubbell House is not only a dining destination. It’s a history lesson.
The restaurant’s guest register includes signatures from two U.S. presidents.
“President Ulysses S. Grant stayed here in 1876,” said Jensch. “Eisenhower was here during the Plowville event (in 1952).”
They’ve had prominent Minnesota names like Senator Alexander Ramsey and W.W. Mayo, athletes like Mickey Mantle and the entire Minnesota Vikings team. (They stopped several times while scrimmaging with the Saints in nearby LaCrosse).
The Hubbell House has been in the Pappas family since the 1930s. Current owner Don Pappas appreciates “the regulars” as much as the celebrities.
“What really makes me feel good is when someone will come in and say we had our first anniversary here, and now we’re having our 50th,” Pappas said.
People are still “heading west” to visit the Hubbell House. It’s less than 20 miles away from Rochester, where Mayo Clinic patients often hear about it.
In 2007, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani stopped by after having knee surgery, and left a hand-written message of thanks.
“The translation says we had a good night and delicious food. It’s a good restaurant and good service,” said Pappas, reading the president’s words.
The Hubbell House has gone through many changes over the decades, but the owners have worked to maintain that early-American hospitality.
“In this part of the country, old places like this they tend to knock ‘em down,” said Jensch. “There aren’t a lot of them saved like this place.”
The Hubbell House is named after one of the town’s co-founders, John Hubbell.
The other founder, Frank Mantor, got the town named after him.