PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Best of Illinois has ranked Pittsfield's William Watson Hotel at the top of its "15 Coolest Hotels in Illinois."
Built as the Mansion House in 1838 by William Watson, the first probate judge in Pike County, the original hotel is said to have been a frequent stop for Abraham Lincoln and many of his contemporaries. The current hotel is the passion project of Jane Ann and Jonas Petty, whose company is called J. Petty&Co.
Jonas Petty said it's "the people and the town" that make the hotel the coolest in Illinois.
"It's the perfect combination," Petty said. "We have a beautiful building. Our staff is top-shelf and friendly. The town is just a quaint little Midwestern town. You put all those together, and you get a cool little stay."
The hotel features seven suites and seven standard rooms. From the north-facing room, occupants get a full view of Pittsfield's square and the historic Pike County Courthouse, which Petty said adds to the atmosphere. Each room intricately weaves historical decor into modern amenities.
"We bought a building on the square, our first building. We renovated it, and we were building an apartment above," Petty said. "At the time, we were living in Springfield. Jane Ann said, 'Why don't we live (in the apartment), and we will see what Pittsfield is like.' "
For Jane Ann Petty, the move from Springfield was unfamiliar territory. For Jonas Petty, who grew up in Pittsfield, it was a homecoming.
"Pittsfield is a combination of freedom and security. The kids can go outside, ride their bikes and play around, but you also know there's a community there that keeps their eye on everything," Petty said.
As the Pettys continued to expand their business, they bought their third property in 2008, and it included the William Watson Hotel.
"This was totally dilapidated at the time. We bought the building next door as an investment, and this came with it," Petty said. "It took us about two years to renovate. We took our time and did it when we could. A lot of family worked on it."
Jane Ann Petty designed all the hotel interiors.
"There's the theme of how cool it feels and how well the guests are treated," Petty said, referring to the response from customers. That's the common theme that runs through all of our (online) comments."
Petty lauded staff members as playing an integral role in making the William Watson a cool hotel.
"From my standpoint, as a person in Pittsfield, they've really breathed life back into the square," said Kelsey Lehr, the William Watson Hotel's University of Illinois at Springfield intern and Pittsfield native. "They've really brought an awesome flair to it. They just have a way of making everyone feel welcome."
William Watson Hotel employee Laura Chamberlain said she cannot see herself working anywhere else.
AmericanTowns Media is behind Best of Illinois, connecting "brands to local consumers with dynamic, hyperlocal content at unprecedented scale," according to its website. Hotel Nauvoo in Nauvoo ranked 11th on the list.
"It's absolutely awesome, but as the owner, it's just verification. We didn't set out to be an average hotel," Petty said. "Our employees don't expect you to have an average stay."