February 3, 2023

Black Entrepreneur History

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William Roberson – Owner of Finest Bath Institute & Tonsorial Parlor in the World in 1800s

Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American man named William Roberson who became the founder of the “finest barbershop in the world” in the 1800s known as the Lindell Hotel Bath Institute and Tonsorial Parlor, as he was also credited with introducing the Turkish Bath to the USA.


William Roberson was born in Greenup County, Kentucky on February 19, 1836, and moved to St. Louis, Missouri in the year of 1841[1].

He moved to the city with his brothers which was when he, as a highly skilled barber, founded the well known barbershop under what was known as the Lindell Hotel, becoming known as the Lindell Hotel Bath Institute and Tonsorial Parlor in 1874, located at 615 Washington Avenue. It was noted in The Cincinnati Enquirer 1885 newspaper (his name listed as “Billy” and last name misspelled as Robinson instead of Roberson) that the barbershop had “walls and floor, with the French plate mirrors set into the marble walls, cost $13,000 and the furnishing of the whole cost more than $25,000[2]. Prior to the founding of The Crystal Palace (1902) in Atlanta, Georgia by Alonzo Herndon, William Roberson’s Bath Institute and Tonsorial Parlor was the most complete and best arranged Bath Tonsorial Parlors in the entire world[3]!

Of the Bath Rooms and their facilities, there is so much that might be said that no article of reasonable limit can compass the subject. Everything is arranged with a taste and completeness that would beggar the brightest mind of suggestions.[3]

There were baths, from steam and hot air to sulfur and iodine, to serve all the patrons, along with an electric bath used as a “sovreign” remedy for female patrons who had nerve issues and other complaints, and these electric baths were managed and operated by over by a practical electrician Dr. D.A. Kusel, who utilized his electrical expertise with or without the bath, both directly and indirectly[3].

William was known as one of the most enterprising African American men in the city, and he was also documented and credited as being the man who introduced the Turkish Bath into the United States of America. Not only were there Turkish Baths in Prof. Roberson’s facility, there were Russian Baths as well.

As far as civil rights and politics, he made it well known that he stood for equal and better education of his race of people. Roberson created much noise and took on leading the way for such movements, such as securing positions for African American educators.

William Roberson’s Death

On February 16 of 1878, William Roberson passed away at his home on 1235 Spruce Street[4]. He was only 42 years of age.

William Robinson was married to Lucy Roberson. They had children when he passed away, and he left them with much wealth. He is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery. At the time of his death, his real estate value was $12,000 (approximately $350,000 in 2022) and the value of his personal estate was $10,000 (approximately $300,000 in 2022)[5].

All the African American schools were closed the day of his death in the city so that they could pay their respects to this very influential African American man who pushed for better education for the race[7].


Sources

  1. St. Louis Globe-Democrat(St. Louis, MO) 19 Feb. 1878
  2. The Cincinnati Enquirer Cincinnati, Ohio 15 Feb 1885, Sun • Page 10
  3. St. Louis Globe-Democrat 03 Dec 1876, Sun · Page 6
  4. Missouri State Archives; Jefferson City, MO, USA; Missouri Death Records [Microfilm]
  5. 1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Minnesota census schedules for 1870. NARA microfilm publication T132, 13 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.
  6. St. Louis Globe-Democrat St. Louis, Missouri 19 Feb 1878, Tue • Page 3