Sunday, May 8, 2016

We'll Leave the Lights On: Hotels of Crawford County

Hotel Conneaut with new south and north wings added - 1920's
What do the coming of the railroad, the discovery of oil, a major lakeside resort, the healthful promise of mineral springs and travel have in common? The answer lies in the role they played in the development of the hotel business in Crawford County. To list every hotel from the early days of Crawford County would be an exhaustive exercise; and thus we are limited to highlighting a short list of notables.


In the 1800s Crawford County was known as a stopping point on a traveler’s journey.  None other than the famous General Lafayette stopped in Meadville on June 2, 1825, visiting the Gibson Tavern.  It was on the east side of Water Street at Chestnut St.  The Gibson was a two-story frame house shaded by Locust trees, with vegetable gardens on the north and south sides.

It later was replaced by the Commercial.  There were other hotels in early Meadville that include the Barton House at the corner of Water and Pine, built by Livy Barton about 1820.  This was a three story frame building.  On the west side of Water Street above Walnut was the Washington House from about 1804 to 1811.  Another hotel which had some popularity was the Crawford House at the northeast corner of the Diamond and Chestnut Street.  Reportedly this hotel was heavily used by attorneys who came to Meadville on court related business and stood on the present site of the First Baptist Church.

It was not uncommon for one hotel to be located next to another.  The Colt House, a three story frame structure consisting of 25 rooms at 909-911 Water Street, adjoined the Commercial Hotel.  The Commercial occupied the second, third and fourth floors of the masonry Delamater Block and was at one time considered the premier hotel in Meadville.  It later became the Lafayette Hotel.

The Halsey and Lafayette Hotels
As the Railroad became a significant industry in Meadville, hotels were opened to meet the needs of individuals who passed through on trains.  The Occidental, at 171-3 Chestnut Street between Water and the Depot was a three story frame structure with 35 rooms.  Later its western portion became the Ries Hotel at 171 Chestnut.

Perhaps the most famous railroad related hotel was the McHenry House, considered a leading hotel in its heyday.  The McHenry House, it may be remembered, was located at the western end of the A&GW terminal, a block long structure that ran from Chestnut Street north to Center.  It is reputed that Horace Greeley, writing for the New Your Herald, once stayed there and described it as having the finest restaurant between New York and Chicago.  It closed in 1881.

However, the name McHenry continued on when the Occidental Hotel in 171-3 Chestnut was renamed the New McHenry House; it later became the Midland in 1902 and then the Ries.

Budd House
Some hotels had taverns that were operated independently of the hotel itself.  As an example, the Lion Tavern located within the Sherwood House.  It was purchased by Charles Gable in 1864 and remodeled in 1865, renamed the Gable House, and later became the New Gable House.  This was a three story rich structure with 30 rooms located at 985-7 between Arch and Pine streets.

Other Water Street hotels included the Central Hotel, at Center and Water streets, later known as the Rupp Hotel; the Saint Could Hotel with 20 rooms, on the northwest corner of Water and Chestnut streets which became the Savoy Hotel with 35 rooms often occupied by railroad crews.  The Budd House located at the corner of Water and Pine was built in 1875, a three story brick structure with 40 rooms.  Later it became the New Budd House, then the Columbus Hotel a.k.a the New Perry Hotel and closed in 1932.  Today Northwest Physical Associates occupies the site.  Further east on Pine Street at its intersection with Park Avenue was the Thurston House.  Like many hotels, with the coming of Prohibition it closed and re-opened as the Park House.

Kepler Hotel
Located one block east of Water Street on Market Street near the Market House was the Kepler House, a three story structure directly opposite the Market House.  In 1890 the Kepler Hotel was built just north of Market Square on Market Street. 

Contemporarily the Halsey and Lafayette Hotels operated on the corner of Water and Chestnut.  The Lafayette was distinguished by a portico entrance which extended southward over the Chestnut Street sidewalk.  This hotel was destroyed by a devastating fire on November 2, 1955. The Jamieson at 953 Market Street at Clinton Court, was another hotel destroyed by fire.  Next door was the old Irvin House.

The Mansion House in Titusville


Related to the oil rush were the many Titusville hotels which included the Spring House, the Bucklin House the Germania, Lufts hotel, Farmers Hotel, Burton house, and Nutt House all of which were on Spring Street.  The Buffalo House was located at the Depot; the Mechanics Hotel was on Mechanics Street and Klines Hotel was located at Spring and Pine streets. On N Franklin Street the Erie Hotel could be found; the Mansion House at Franklin and Pine later became the Col. Drake Hotel.  The Centennial Hotel was on Water; the St John’s Hotel on Diamond Street and the Hepburn House was also at the Depot.


The Saegertown Inn
The Mineral Springs Spa industry contributed substantially to hotel building at the turn of the century.  Some very stately hotels were erected in close proximity to mineral springs.  One of the most famous was the Saegertown Inn.  Reportedly the development of French Creek as a transportation highway aided in the establishment of the Saegertown Inn.  As Saegertown became a milling community, two brothers, E A and C T Benner built a large ice house.  They proceeded to drill a well about January of 1883.  The water of the well had a “peculiar taste” and was subsequently analyzed Allegheny College and found to be rich in medicinal ingredients such as iron and magnesium.  As a result, the spring became widely known and people apparently came to the area from the surrounding countryside to take advantage of its beneficial qualities.  At the advent of commercial traffic, in 1886, Ira Fuller built a three story hotel known as the Arlington on Main Street.  It burned to the ground September 9, 1887, and was rebuilt the next year as the Grace Hotel.

The Benner brothers developed a larger hotel on the site for the spring which was subsequently developed into a winter resort as a summer inn and called the Saegertown Inn.  A note of local significance is the late Judge Herbert Mook worked as a bellhop there.

Cambridge Springs, Guys Mills, Spring, and Blooming Valley

The impressive Hotel Rider in Cambridge Springs
The Cambridge Springs area also had its share of fine hotels, principally dependent on the mineral springs industry.  It also helped that Cambridge was the mid-point between New York and Chicago on the Erie Railroad.  Hotel Bartlett, Hotel Rider, Vanadium Hotel and Riverside Inn were centrally located and well-known for their spas.  The Riverside survived severe damage done by a 1908 tornado and is today the only hotel still operating.

Almost every little community in Crawford County had its own hotels. Blooming Valley had the Hunter House, while Guys Mills had the Guy House.  Spring, in western Crawford County, had both the Booth House and the King House.  The Centre house was located in Cussewago Township and the National Hotel in Greenwood Township had 22 rooms and a ballroom on the third floor.

Conneaut Lake and Shermansville

The Hotel Virginia in 1924
Sadsbury Township at Evansburg (now Conneaut Lake) was home of the Lord House as well as the Lake House and the Sherman House which was to the west at Shermansville, then known as Tamarac and on the Beaver and Lake Erie Canal. 

Given Conneaut Lake’s status as Pennsylvania’s premier resort, an entire article could be dedicated solely to the lake’s hotels filled with guests from Cleveland, Pittsburg, and even New York City. For brevity’s sake, however, only a few can be mentioned. On the east side of Conneaut Lake stood the Oakland Hotel at Oakland Beach and to the south, the Midway Hotel, a noted favorite site for wedding receptions and proms in later years. On the opposite shore, passengers exiting the train of the Bessemer Railroad at Exposition, later Conneaut Lake Park could select from as many as 20 hotels of various sizes located within the park’s grounds such as the Hotel Virginia and the Elmwood Hotel. Today, both the Hotel Conneaut and the Lakeside Inn (formally the Mantor House) are still standing. 

Harmonsburg, Hartstown, Geneva, and Linesville

The National Hotel in Geneva, Greenwood Township
Athens Township, bisected by PA 77 in 1817, had the Hotel Chapman and the Drake Hotel. Venango Township had the Sherrer House and the Tarr House at Venango Borough. At Harmonsburg in Summit Township the Ford House and the Budd House provided accommodations, as did the National Hotel in GenevaHartstown, also on the Buffalo and Lake Erie Canal in West Fallowfield, had the Century Inn.  The tiny town of Turnersville, close to the Ohio line in West Shenango Township, had the Turnersville Hotel.  Linesville featured the Travelers Hotel, now known as the Knickerbocker Hotel and the Arlington Hotel.

With the development of the interstate highway system, there are few if any remaining examples of this once thriving hotel industry in Crawford County.  The development of clusters of motels around interstate off ramps and the ability to travel great distances in vehicles are the primary reasons responsible for the demise of our downtown and small local hotels.

Note: A number of the hotels listed above can be seen here

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