The first people coming to Michigan Territory slept in their wagons or on the ground unless they were lucky enough to find a log cabin or, even more rare, a tavern where they could stay. In 1835 the members of the Hillsdale Company, which had platted the village of Hillsdale, hired Adam Howder to look after their land. Howder built a tavern on the site of the current Fairgrounds and welcomed those needing a place to sleep and a good meal. Finding its size insufficient to meet the demands on his hospitality, in 1838 he erected a new two-story twenty-eight by forty feet structure. In addition to the building, which was considered princely in its size, Howder built a "ballroom," where the earliest settlers could gather for a good time.
By 1840 the dense wilderness in the fledgling village was being replaced by businesses and private residences. Adam Howder relocated his hotel closer to where the action was. He first built a hotel at 66 North Street, and then another in 1841, which he called the Hillsdale House. It stood on the corner of Howell and North streets. After its demise in a fire, the Keefer House was built in the same place. Adam Howder, Hillsdale's original innkeeper (and two-time Sheriff), moved to Reading and continued offering hospitality to travelers at yet another hotel, the Howder House.
As the village of HIllsdale grew, so did the number of hotels to accommodate the businessmen, families and entertainers who passed through, many of them by train. The hotels ranged from the grand Smith Hotel on the corner of Howell and Bacon streets to smaller establishments. Their lobbies and restaurants provided gathering places for residents and visitors alike.
JoAnne P. Miller