Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Maxwell House Hotel and Coffee

By Michelle Shocklee

This post is dedicated to all you folks who can't start the day without a cup of coffee. I'm a chocolate milk kind of girl myself, but hubby enjoys a cup of hot, black coffee every morning. Maxwell House--that "good to the last drop" coffee--was one of his favs a few years ago. 

When we moved to the Nashville area last year, I was surprised to learn Maxwell House coffee has its origins here. And not only that, it was named after a famous hotel. The story goes...

Maxwell House Hotel, 1925
Back in 1859, Colonel John Overton Jr. began building an enormous hotel in downtown Nashville. The outbreak of the Civil War delayed construction, although the unfinished hotel was commandeered by the Union Army who used it as a barracks, prison, and hospital. Five stories high with 240 rooms, it would become Nashville's largest and most famous hotel in its day.

Named for the Colonel's wife, Harriet Maxwell Overton, the Maxwell House Hotel eventually boasted a main lobby featuring mahogany cabinetry, brass fixtures, gilded mirrors, and chandeliers. There were ladies' and men's parlors, billiard rooms, barrooms, shaving "saloons," and a grand staircase leading to the large ball and dining room. Famous guests to the hotel included seven U.S. presidents as well as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Buffalo Bill Cody, and many other celebrities. 

Maxwell House Hotel fire, Christmas 1961
From the 1890s into the twentieth century, the hotel was at the center of Nashville's social and political life. It was well-known for its holiday feast featuring delicacies such as Calf’s Head, Leg of Cumberland Black Bear, and Tennessee Opossum. Sadly, on Christmas night 1961, the hotel caught fire and was destroyed. It was never rebuilt, although a new hotel bearing the same name was built in a different location some years later.

But what about the coffee? How did that come about?

In 1873, Joel Owsley Cheek, a 21-year old man from Kentucky, moved to Nashville to seek his fortune. He worked as a traveling wholesale grocer for a while then set up his own wholesale grocery firm. During this time he and his business partner, Roger Noelly Smith, a British coffee broker, began experimenting with different coffee blends to come up with their own unique flavor. In 1892 Cheek approached the food buyer for the Maxwell House Hotel and gave him 20 pounds of the special blend for free. Guests raved over the new "Maxwell House coffee." When the free coffee ran out and the hotel went back to serving its usual brand, customers complained and wanted Cheek's coffee. From that point on, the hotel bought Cheek's blend exclusively, inspiring Cheek and Smith to name their coffee Maxwell House. By 1925, the brand was cited as the most well-known coffee in a study of consumer goods.

Who claimed it was "good to the last drop?"

For a while, legend had it President Theodore Roosevelt, while dining at The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson's home, tasted Maxwell House coffee and declared it good to the last drop. Maxwell House began using it as a slogan, at times attributing it to Roosevelt. However, Coca Cola used the same slogan in their ads around the same time, shedding doubt on the legend. Maxwell House eventually admitted the famous words had not come from Roosevelt, but "good to the last drop" is still a registered trademark of the coffee brand and appears in its logo today.

And that, my coffee-drinking friends, is the history of Maxwell House, the hotel and the coffee. The Maxwell House hotel makes an appearance in the new historical novel I'm currently writing, so stay tuned for a future publishing date.

Are you a coffee drinker? What's your favorite brand and how many cups a day do you drink?

Michelle Shocklee is the award-winning author of The Planter's Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill. Her historical novella set in the New Mexico Territory is included in The Mail-Order Brides Collection. Michelle and her husband of thirty-one years make their home in Tennessee. Connect with her at


Widowed during the war, Natalie Ellis finds herself solely responsible for Rose Hill plantation. When Union troops arrive with a proclamation freeing the slaves, all seems lost. How can she run the plantation without slaves? In order to save her son’s inheritance she strikes a deal with the arrogant, albeit handsome, Colonel Maish. In exchange for use of her family’s property, the army will provide workers to bring in her cotton crop. But as her admiration for the colonel grows, a shocking secret is uncovered. Can she trust him with her heart and her young, fatherless son?


  1. So sad that such a landmark succumbed to fire. Interesting post. I prefer Irish Breakfast Tea.

  2. I never drank coffee until we got a Kuerig and I started drinking French Vanilla. I still had to add a half cup of milk before I could drink it. :) We had a Maxwell coffee plant here in Houston and I loved the smell of coffee whenever we drove by it. Loved your post about the hotel and the past with the coffee.

  3. Interesting! I love the smell of coffee, coffee ice cream, etc, but I only drink one cup per day!

  4. Estevan, it's good to learn new stuff! Glad my post fulfilled that for ya! =D

    Paula, it IS sad. I would have loved to tour the hotel! =(

    Thank you, Martha! I didn't know there had been a MH plant in Houston. I can imagine the coffee aroma in the air as you drove past.

    Susanne, I hear one cup a day is beneficial as far as getting the antioxidants, etc. so you're doing well!

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments! Have a terrific day!

  5. Thank you for sharing your very interesting post. I am a coffee drinker and prefer it black with no sugar. It's a great way to start the day.

  6. I love coffee. I've had many favorite brands over the years, but the current is Maxwell House. Thank you for the interesting post! I would have loved to visit that hotel.

  7. I loved learning that Maxwell House coffee originally came from a Kentucky man! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Melanie, Connie and Connie, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for your comments!

  9. I'm a Cheek and related to them! :0)