The Hotel Where It All Began

by The Gideons International on September 11, 2013

An archival image of the lobby of the Boscobel Central House Hotel, where John Nicholson and Sam Hill first met.

An archival image of the lobby of the Boscobel Central House Hotel, where John Nicholson and Sam Hill first met.

On the evening of September 14, 1898, the Boscobel Central House Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin was packed. The air was thick with tobacco smoke and the noise from the crowd in the bar was spilling over into the lobby where guests were playing poker.

A traveling salesman, named John H. Nicholson, walked into the hotel at about 9 pm that evening. The hotel clerk working the front desk had checked Mr. Nicholson into the hotel as a guest on many occasions before. But on this night, he had to inform Mr. Nicholson that due to a convention in town, there was only one bed left in the hotel. That bed was in Room 19, which had two beds. The other bed in the room had already been booked by another traveling salesman, Mr. Samuel E. Hill.

Boscobel Central House Hotel

The Boscobel Central House Hotel where it all began.


Mr. Nicholson looked around the lobby and saw a drunk lying on the floor and another man passed out in the corner. He was relieved to discover that Mr. Hill was the clean-looking man who was writing up his sales orders for the day.

The two men were introduced and Mr. Hill agreed to allow Mr. Nicholson to spend the night in the spare bed. At that time, such a courteous gesture was fairly common in hotels. It just so happened that Mr. Hill’s room was one of only a few rooms in the hotel that had an extra bed.

So Mr. Nicholson proceeded upstairs to the guest room while Mr. Hill remained in the lobby. Inside the guest room, Nicholson worked on his sales correspondence. Some time later, Mr. Hill returned to the room and quickly fell asleep in his bed. When Nicholson finished working, he reached over and picked up his personal Bible and began to read. At that point, Mr. Hill awoke.

Concerned that the light might be disturbing Hill, Nicholson said, “Mr. Hill, will you pardon me if I keep the light on just a little longer, because I always make it a practice to read from the Word of God and have a little chat with Him before I retire?”

Twenty years earlier, at his dying mother’s request, Nicholson promised her that he would read his Bible and pray daily. He had been a Christian since the age of 13.
Mr. Hill jumped up in bed and said, “Come, read to me, I’m a Christian, too.”

Nicholson's Bible

The very Bible that John Nicholson read from that September evening back in 1898. Today it is on permanent display at the headquarters of The Gideons International.

Nicholson read from the 15th chapter of John, verses 1-16. The two men prayed together and then talked until 2 am. During this conversation, these two new friends began talking about the need for an association of traveling Christian businessmen. Perhaps this idea was inspired as much by the unruly scene in the hotel lobby as it was by their devotional Scripture reading. After all, the two gentlemen may have felt as if they were the only two men for miles around who were “shining as lights” that night as they held fast to the word of life.

Regardless of what inspired their idea for forming an association, the idea for such a group of traveling Christian businessmen would bring them together for future meetings.

After more meetings between Nicholson and Hill, as well as another Christian businessman named William Knights, the three men met on July 1 of 1899 and created a formal organization that would become The Gideons International.

The Boscobel Central House Hotel Today
Today, Boscobel has a population of about 2,500. And according to the town’s chamber of commerce president, Tom Richter, the hotel’s history with the founders of The Gideons International is the first story they share with tourists.

“This town is very proud of that fact,” says Richter. “I don’t think a person has to be a Gideon to care about that—you just have to be a human being. Just send ‘em up here and this community will take them by the hand and show them around. We have very friendly people who will go out of their way to make people feel happy and welcome.”

If you plan to visit, you can contact the hotel to arrange an appointment for a tour of the Gideon room, which is furnished in décor appropriate to its history. A commemorative plaque that Gideons presented to the hotel in 1929 hangs in the room as well.

The hotel was purchased in 2009 by Charles Griesel and his wife, Dr. Jean. It was actually Mr. Griesel’s great, great uncle who built the hotel back in the 1800s.

“The Gideon room is still available for tours by appointment,” says the owners’ son, Jim. “We’ve had a fair number of Gideons come through.” The restaurant is still open part-time, however the hotel is currently undergoing renovations and is not available for overnight accommodations.

According to Jim, the room also accommodated two more historic guests many years later. In 1960, then-Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, actually stayed in the Gideon room while campaigning in Wisconsin for the presidency. “He could have stayed in any room he wanted, and that was the room he wanted,” says Jim.

It has been a little over one hundred years since Hill and Nicholson first met in that hotel. And today The Gideons International has grown to over 300,000 members in over 195 countries. Each week more than 1.5 million Scriptures are placed throughout the world through The Gideons International. It is anticipated that the two-billionth Scripture will be placed in 2015.

As for that historic hotel in Boscobel, it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To contact the hotel for tours, you may call them at 608-375-4714.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Ward September 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm

It is a real blessing to see where this Association started…with Scripture reading and prayer by laymen in a public traffic lane of life.
It is a wonderful experience to actually visit The Central House.
We are still reading Scripture and praying daily for souls to be saved.
Some things never change, by God’s Grace!
Praise God for a simple, disciplined and well defined ministry!

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Kent Ryals September 12, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Hey, Bob! Keep reading, praying and witnessing. Your brother in Christ, Kent.

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LIONEL COMB September 11, 2013 at 5:51 pm

We have come a long way. with GOD ,nothing is imposable, for that is what he wants, the word to go out , and using someone that is willing and able.

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Dave Anderson September 11, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Great story and testimony to the power of God’s Word.

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Mrs. Ai Lin Tan September 11, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Amazing ! God at work as He always does through generations. Indeed, He who began this good work will see it to completion ! To God be the glory.!
Ai Lin Tan….auxiliary Launceston Csmp, Tasmania, Australia

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Len Murray September 12, 2013 at 8:14 am

Praise God for touching these men.

To give us the opportunity today to serve the ministry.

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P.Paul Thanka Raj September 12, 2013 at 9:18 am

God is great.He has used his men wonderfully to start the Gideons ministry.This is an inspiration for all Christians to work for the Lord.They have sown the seed and now we see the enormous growth.Glory be to God.

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Bob King September 12, 2013 at 12:34 pm

My wife and I are proud to be an active part of this great heritage. To God be the glory! Bob

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Adolfo Kiaty September 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm

We never know, just let God lead us.

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Ridwan naftali September 12, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Historical step to His Glory,Praise the Lord .

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Ken & Shirley Deal September 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Amen!

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cm smith September 12, 2013 at 3:17 pm

A great blesslng to be a part of this wonderful organization`

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Ken & Shirley Deal September 12, 2013 at 3:22 pm

We had the pleasure of visiting the Central Hotel in 1992. A nice lady named Sally left her Real Estate Office and came to give us a personal tour. We also visited the grave of John Nicholson near by. We also learned that Boscobel was pronounced
(Bos-co-bel) not Bos-cobel as we were calling it. A restoration effort was under way.
We showed our camp a video of our trip, they took a collection we sent to speed along the project.

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Robert Bash September 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm

It was great to review the history again. I have been an active Gideon for 52 years and God has blessed me in the work and I will continue as long as he gives me strength to endure.

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Bette Syth September 12, 2013 at 4:00 pm

My husband (Ron) and I toured the hotel and room while visiting in Boscobel, in October, 2000. The Gideon ministry was the best thing to happen to our marriage….we held hands and prayed….thanking God for His call on our lives.
God showers His blessings around the world through this awesome organization.

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Mary Cooksey September 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm

As as widow of a Gideon husband, I count it a privilege to continue as auxiliary member of this energetic and forceful Christian organization. God has and is blessing and accomplishing His goals through the Gideon ministry. It’s an honor to contribute money & other supports to spread the Good News of the gospel of Christ and Him Crucified.

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majemite onosode September 12, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I give thanks to God for the Founders of the Ministry of The Gideons International who were sensitive, willing and obedient to the call of God. Today, millions all over the world are eating of the good of the Word of God.
Unto God be all the glory

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James Miller September 12, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Give God and Him alone the glory!

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David Sunden September 12, 2013 at 10:01 pm

During my 74 years as a Gideon, it has been my privilege to see our “roots”…Room 19 at the Central House Hotel and meet the founders…John Nicholsen and W J Knights,
both of whom signed my Gideon Bible.

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Moses Bhooshi, Davie FL September 12, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Praise the Lord, It was a joy to see my Dad Late Major Wycliffe who was an active Gideon Member back in India since 1960’s. We met many traveling missionaries visiting India, dad had hosted them regularly. Thank God for the Legacy of Mr. Samuel E. Hill & Mr. John H. Nicholson as they been a Beacon of Hope to the Hopeless through the distribution of FREE Gideon Bibles & New Testament’s around the Globe. To God be the Glory as many great testimonies have been shared by folks who have found the new JOY reading the scriptures while in Hotels or Students who took them home to share with rest of the families. Let us continue to pray as Gideons, that many will be saved through this blessed ministry.

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Bill Bowne September 13, 2013 at 7:53 am

Praise God! Tears of joy flow as I read this.

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Jeff Sells September 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm

It is a joy for me as a newer member of Gideons to know the roots of our great organization,I know we are rooted in Christ but to know who the folks were and where and how they got started is a blessing. I want to thank every man and women before me who have helped carry on these guys work, Glory to God for with out Him we are nothing . Jesus is the Light that shines the way,showing us the path to ever lasting life . Lord Bless in Christ name Amen and Amen

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Brent Begalka September 13, 2013 at 9:18 pm

“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” I suddenly realized why we are called Gideons. Gideon defeated the Midianites with only 300 men, with only his faith in the Lord to carry him through. Nicholson and Hill were able to recruit only one other man when they organized the next year, 1899, but they believed that they would succeed despite their small number.

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Robert September 14, 2013 at 8:25 pm

To God be glory!

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Ron Devine September 15, 2013 at 6:03 am

Thank God that these early Men of America seen the need and had the strength to pray together giving God all the glory. Power in Prayer! Pray without ceasing.

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Eileen Hessling September 15, 2013 at 11:05 am

My husband and I joined the Gideons many years ago, and it is such a blessing to us to see Gods Word {the Bible/New Testaments} handed out to the elementary and college students here in our community. We went on a cruise and there were bibles in all of the cabins too, Praise the Lord!! May God Bless the Gideon Ministry. Sincerely, Eileen Hessling

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Funn, Mrs. Malcolm /Annette Jones September 15, 2013 at 9:40 pm

My husband Malcolm joined the Gideons International in 1976 when we were both in our late 20s and I followed by joining the Auxiliary. Malcolm has served the Lord as an International Chaplain and in other positions as well as traveling for the Gideons which has been a blessing. I am a past State Auxiliary President. We are still active members today in 2013 and love the Lord and this ministry. To God be all the Glory! Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, USA

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Ken & Shirley Deal September 26, 2013 at 6:52 am

We are in the same Gideon camp and I can attest to Annet’s statement.

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Dr Rod Estonilo September 16, 2013 at 7:51 am

Very inspiring, spirit filled indwelling for my devotional and Gideon recommitment. Praise to our Lord Jesus Christ and Gideon ministry!

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Scott Porter September 16, 2013 at 10:07 am

Its very inspiring to read this during a slack time of giving Gideon Bibles to students at MSU. A very rewarding experience. Thank you churches and brother gideons for making it possible.

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manuel santiago September 16, 2013 at 8:44 pm

From Puerto Rico with love to all my brothers and sisters that have been inspired by the word of God through the Gideon’s International ministry. We still have a lot of work to do until our Lord comes…Praise our Lord

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Tom Walmsley September 19, 2013 at 10:53 am

An article titled “The Traveler’s Bible” by Carla Davidson adds more information about our ministry’s beginnings. It appeared in American Heritage in April 1991. I reprinted the article in the October 1993 issue of The Colorado Lamp.

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lou krause September 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I have been abundantly blessed in my 30 plus years being a Gideon. We are part of the family of God. We moved to Florida from Iowa in 1997 and found a Christian family in the Gideon ministry. God has allowed us to minister in Florida and we praise Him for that. God continues to grow the ministry and brings men and women, boys and girls to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ day by day. I trust that Gods promise in Isaiah 55:11 will undergird the ministry in the days ahead. PTL
Lou Krause

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Helen Titiriga October 5, 2013 at 11:10 am

I’m sure, that as each person reads the history of the Gideons , their heart must leap for joy and grow more abundantly in faith as it did for me!
Thank you, Gideons, for sharing that historic event!
God’s blessings upon each of you.
Helen Titirigta

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Anil Bansode November 29, 2013 at 2:53 am

I have a privilege to see that very Bible at Gideons International Head Quarters at Nashville on 17th October 2013.
Anil Bansode, Pune, India

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Anil Bansode November 29, 2013 at 2:53 am

I had the privilege to see that very Bible at Gideons International Head Quarters at Nashville on 17th October 2013.
Anil Bansode, Pune, India

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Ponce N. Uy April 21, 2014 at 8:14 pm

May life share the many blessings with you, and may the burdens ever be light.

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