Pioneer Profiles – March 2017
The small, relatively plain, headstone in the Catholic section of the Jacksonville Cemetery simply reads Jane Holt—an ironic “grand finale” for Madame Jeanne DeRoboam Laugier Guilfoyle Holt, one of the larger-than-life characters in 19th Century Jacksonville.
Born in Bordeaux, France around 1820, some stories portray Jeanne with an aristocratic heritage. Other tales say she was of middle class plebian origins. We don’t know when she emigrated to America, but she appears to have arrived in San Francisco in 1852 on the S.S. Lewis. After leaving the United States, (then only 30 eastern states were within the country’s borders) many western adventurers used the opportunity to reinvent themselves.
Jeanne was established in Jacksonville by the late 1850s with Charles Laugier, probably her Italian common-law husband. They opened the Franco-American Hotel sometime before 1858 since the U.S. Treasury covered a $48 hotel bill from Laugier that year. The Franco-American stood on the southeast corner of California and Main streets, now the site of the Jacksonville Inn’s cottages. It soon became the leading hotel and stage stop in Jacksonville, noted for its “table d’hôte.” Light biscuits and tender steaks undoubtedly attracted a regular clientele of miners, residents, and travelers.
The story of Jeanne’s aristocratic heritage may have been true since it appears that Jeanne was the one holding the purse strings. In 1859, she filed under the “Married Woman’s Property Act” for ownership of the Franco-American in her name alone. Laugier was apparently the chef who established the hotel’s initial reputation. Charles Laugier and “Jennie” were still together in 1860 census, but parted sometime thereafter. There are no records of a divorce.
Laugier surfaces as a merchant in California in 1873 when in receipt of a consignment of goods on a ship that docked in San Francisco. From there, he appears to have moved to Nevada and returned to his former occupation. His name appears in the Eureka, Nevada, death census as Charles Laugier, Italian, hotel cook, died December 1880.
The 1864 Oregon Sentinel’s ads for the Franco-American list the proprietress under her maiden name of DeRoboam. That Christmas, she announced she would give two magnificent holiday balls on Christmas day and on the day after New Year’s. The balls were to be “in every way worthy of the patronage of epicures and connoisseurs.” Tickets cost $5 and included breakfast after a night of dancing.
In 1865, Jeanne married an Irishman, John Guilfoyle. Reverend Moses Williams performed the ceremony. In its report of the wedding, a local newspaper blessed the occasion: “May they be condemned to everlasting success in life and when a Good God summons them to the land of their fathers, may the happy smiling faces of many sons and daughters mourn the loss of kind and affectionate Mother and Father.”
The Irish blessing proved ineffective and no children were the product of their marriage—possibly having something to do with their age difference. At the time, Jeanne was about 45 and Guilfoyle was 12 years her junior. Whether or not Guilfoyle was aware of the age difference is open to question, since Jeanne was somewhat vain and habitually lied about her age. In the 1860 census, she reported her age as 28 when she would have been 40.
After her marriage to Guilfoyle, Jeanne again filed for sole ownership of the Franco-American Hotel under the “Married Woman’s Property Act.”
Guilfoyle died after seven years of marriage from the “dropsy,” today known as “edema,” or swelling, and often attributed to heart failure. One year later, Jeanne married George William Holt, a bricklayer by trade. It was rumored that she married him for the sole purpose of realizing her dream of owning a fine brick hotel. When out in public, so stories tell, Holt was made to walk behind his wife.
Shortly after her marriage to Holt, Jeanne set about realizing her expansion plans. First she rented the Oliver place adjoining the Franco-American and spruced-up the rooms for “two bit” rentals. Then in 1876 she purchased the property at California and Third streets that would be the site of her U.S. Hotel.
Holt built Jeanne’s “dream hotel,” the “grandest hotel on the West Coast.” He began firing the bricks in the summer of 1878, built and plastered the first floor that winter, added a second floor and roof in 1879, and began finishing the interior in 1880. Every room downstairs had a fireplace, and rooms could be combined to make two and three room apartments. The second floor ballroom had a stage for light theatricals.
By September, sufficient rooms had been completed and furnished for the U.S. Hotel to accommodate President Rutherford B. Hayes and his party of seven for a night’s stay. The Presidential party enjoyed the hospitality for which Jeanne was famous. As the story goes, the next morning Madame presented them with a bill for $75, or over $10 per person. Noting that the Palace Hotel in San Francisco only charged $6 per night for its bridal chamber, Gen. W.T. Sherman, a member of the party, allegedly protested, “We don’t want to buy your hotel.” Madame supposedly responded, “Well, I thought the President could afford to pay a little more than the common people.”
The bill was paid, although President Hayes noted in his diary that “a sizable army of active bedbugs inhabited the fancy suites.” Hayes, a Republican, closed his observations with the remark that he did not mind the excessive bill so much as he did “sleeping with the entire Republican party.”
In December of 1880, Jeanne also obtained a contract for keeping “state patients in the County Hospital.” They were to be housed in “building number 2, two doors south of the old Franco-American Hotel.” Her nephew subsequently became proprietor of the Jackson County “Poor Farm.”
Jeanne was unquestionably an astute business woman. However, she was definitely not popular with Jacksonville women. Perhaps it was Jeanne’s three “husbands” (although she did bury her “second” before taking a third). Perhaps the women resented Jeanne’s alleged “aristocratic” birth, her successful career, or their husband’s preference for the “table d’hòte” at Jeanne’s hotels. During a period when there was also an active Temperance movement, Jeanne was reputed to say, “A glass of wine and small white lies doth not a harlot make”—although many town residents questioned the harlot denial.
Jeanne operated the U.S. Hotel for the next four years until her death in 1884. She left the hotel to her brother, Jean St. Luc DeRoboam, who operated it until his retirement in 1909.