St James Hotel, Redwing, Minnesota


This hotel is  family owned since opening their doors in 1875. With just three owners over 140 years.
Hotel Essence Photography

Hotel photography

Following Michelle Chaplow’s keynote speech on hotel photography at the Historic Hotels Worldwide conference at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, she and the team at Hotel Essence Photography were commissioned to complete a photography assignment for one of America’s leading historic hotels, the St. James Hotel in Red Wing.

The crew:
Photographer – Michelle Chaplow,
Production Management – Chris John
Digital Prodcution – Sarah Gatward
Assistant Photographer – Joaquin Alarcon
Stylist – Allan James Stuart

At all times, the crew were assisted by a member of the St. James marketing team, helping with the retrieval of props and operational matters.

The assignment covered all elements of the guest experience, starting with architectural photography; the main facade of the hotel was captured from the rooftop of an adjacent building. This ideal elevated spot provided a backdrop of the world-famous Mississippi river. The St. James has a strong culinary history, so a satellite food photography studio was established next to the hotel’s dining area, which incorporated studio flashes, continuous light and diffused natural lighting. The hotel food photography portfolio included everything from fine dining and cocktails to afternoon tea and event buffets.

Hotel Essence also produced extensive interior shots, including historic rooms, meeting rooms and event spaces, as well as executive portraits of the management team. Regardless of the subject, the focus of every shot was the fine details that capture the spirit of the hotel. The team used their expert lighting skills to ensure that the iconic Mississippi river is clearly visible through the windows of many of the bedrooms.

The history of the St. James is unique, since it is closely integrated with that of the Red Wing Shoe Company. Michelle and her crew recognised the company’s distinctive outdoor boots as an integral part of the St. James Hotel’s heritage, and used the footwear as a prop during the shoot. One such image, “These Boots”, went on to win an Honorable Mention in the Advertising category of the 14th Annual Black & White Spider Awards for photography.

The hotel experience

Beautifully located on the bank of the famous Mississippi River, the luxury St. James Hotel accommodates its guests with a choice of 67 unique Victorian rooms, each with its own story and unique interior design. Visitors can choose from a wide range of rooms, as well as private suites and mini apartments, many with spectacular views of the river. Each room is named after a current or former Mississippi riverboat, and guests will find accompanying historical information and pictures in their room.

Guests are given numerous dining experiences from gourmet to casual dining; Scarlet Kitchen & Bar serves New Age American cuisine in its breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus for guests and locals, who can enjoy their food while taking in the beautiful scenery of Mississippi. Ingredients are sourced locally, but many dishes are globally inspired. Meanwhile The Port offers a fine dining experience, with a menu inspired by global influences but rooted in the seasons of the Midwest. These meals are prepared by the hotel’s award-winning chef, and guests can choose from a variety of wines in the hotel’s Wine Spectator Award-winning selection.

St James Hotel history

The St. James Hotel is an historically emblematic property situated on the banks of the Mississippi in Red Wing, Minnesota. It is one of the main historical landmarks of the small city, which divides Minnesota and Wisconsin and was once the largest wheat market in the world. The hotel was originally born out of economic necessity to house the many merchants who travelled to Red Wing in the years after the American Civil War. Thanks to the proximity of the Mississippi River and the boom in the wheat business, Red Wing began hosting important Midwest businessmen during the 1870s. Due to this demand, architect Edward P. Bassford was hired to design a boutique hotel. Bassford used a brilliant combination of Italianate-style architecture in his designs, and the new business opened its doors as the “St. James Hotel” on Thanksgiving Day in 1875. Early guests marvelled at the hotel’s modern features, including steam heating, hot and cold running water, and a state-of-the-art kitchen. The St. James immediately became a hub of all the social activity in Red Wing and even the railroads adjusted their schedules to allow passengers the opportunity to dine in its restaurants. Perhaps the greatest symbol of its prestige was when US President Rutherford B. Hayes stopped by the hotel in 1878.

With the decline of the wheat industry, the local economy collapsed. As such, the entire city experienced a recession, including the hotel. It was at this time that Charles Lillybald bought the St. James Hotel, in 1909. In 1914, Clara Nelson moved to Red Wing from Fergus Falls and began working at the St. James. Soon, Nelson married Lillybald and they co-managed the hotel for years, Charles overseeing the finances while Clara took charge of the front of house. After Charles passed away in 1931, Clara became the sole owner of the St. James until she died in 1972. Her son, Art, became general manager, but decided to sell the business to the Red Wing Shoe Company five years later, which continues to operate the St. James today, striving to preserve the hotel’s history and the legacy of the Lillybald family.

The nineteenth-century character of the St. James is proudly maintained today, and it is one of the finest vacation destinations in all of Minnesota. It remains steeped in its own history; each room is named after one of the nineteenth-century riverboats that plied the waters of the Mississippi and delivered guests and diners to the hotel. The American Ski Jump Museum’s hall of fame is housed in the St. James, since Red Wing is considered the birthplace of the exciting sport, having hosted the first recorded tournament in 1887.

The St. James Hotel is today included in the US National Register of Historic Places and has been a member of Historic Hotels of America since 1994.