Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Magnificent McHenry House Part 2 - Departures and Demises

A & GW Depot with McHenry House to the left in 1869
As with most establishments in the hospitality industry, success could not have been attained without competent management. The same holds true for the McHenry House, which appears to owe much of its heralded reputation to Superintendent, R. M. N. Taylor. (Mentioned in Part 1 of this series) Taylor had previously managed the Angier House in Cleveland, Ohio before being recruited away to Meadville. Given the accolades he would earn during his tenure at the McHenry, it proved to be a fortuitous move for all parties.

Under Taylor’s direction, the McHenry House more than delivered on its heralded reputation, and Taylor himself earned the respect of the city’s residents. Aside from the exceptional level of service Taylor provided, both he and his wife were cited for the care they provided to hundreds of “sick and destitute soldiers of the War of Rebellion.” One reporter later went so far as to say of the Taylors, “the exit of such character from our community is a public misfortune.”

Meadville, being no stranger to misfortune, would have to endure another when Taylor announced he would be returning to manage the Angier House, now fully remodeled and renamed the Kennard House after its owner, engineer Henry Kennard. While the departure was announced in December of 1865, Taylor and his wife would be on hand in April of 1866 to receive a gift of appreciation from the people of Meadville, an inscribed silver vase worth $800 and specially ordered from one of the country's top jewelers at the time, Messrs, Ball, Black, and Co. of New York City.

The sentiment touched Taylor who would respond by saying:

"It may be expected that I should say something in reply but this is so unexpected and at the same time so gratifying that I assure you we have no words to express properly our acknowledgement. We are indeed overwhelmed by the mark of confidence and esteem. We can never outlive the remembrance of this occasion, and can only say--we thank you." 

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth
Taylor also played a part in one of the McHenry House’s more peculiar tales, this one involving the assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Booth’s presence in Meadville would have been by no means an oddity. In early 1864, Booth, along with partners from Cleveland, formed the Dramatic Oil Company and purchased land near Franklin in the hopes of striking it rich. While the venture would ultimately prove to be a failure, Booth made several trips to the area from January to September which included confirmed stays at the McHenry House on June 10th and 20th.

Not much was made of Booth’s activities until his assassination of President Lincoln in April 1865, after which nearly every rumor and encounter fueled an unending string of sensationalized tales, making it difficult to sort fact from fiction. On April 25th, the Crawford Democrat relayed the tale told by, “a prominent citizen of Pittsburgh, Mr. Duncun, who alleged that Booth had stayed at the McHenry on June 4th and left a chilling prophesy for future guests to read using a diamond ring.

Etched in the window of room 22, read the words,

Abe Lincoln Departed This Life August 13th, 1864 By The Effects of Poison.

A maid noticed the message the following morning, but little attention was given to it at the time. Days after Lincoln’s murder, however, Talyor removed the pane and sent it, framed with a black velvet backing and Booth’s signature from the register, to James McHenry’s daughter in Philadelphia, Mary McHenry. In 1880, Mary passed the memento on to the Judge Advocate General in Washington DC along with an explanation of the circumstance behind its origin. In time, the dubious artifact would end up on display next to Booth’s pistol and fatal bullet at Ford’s Theater.

The inscription on the window
The truth of Booth’s culpability regarding the window has never been substantiated, leaving the matter open for speculation.  A comparison of Booth’s handwriting and that on the window was deemed a consistent match, while the mention of poison merits credibility with many given Booth’s close association with David Herold, a druggist's clerk with easy access to such means. A previous attempt to kill the President using poison can further be supported based on a letter by one of the conspirators referencing how “the cup had failed us and could again.”

On the other hand, Booth’s alleged stays at the McHenry both on June 4th or in August have been proven false. In a written statement to Secretary of War, Edward Stanton, the McHenry House cashier, S.D. Page, testifies to Booth’s presence on only June 10th and 29th, not the 4th, and furthermore, he asserts that Booth had never been assigned to room 22 on any occasion.  As far as Booth’s whereabouts during August, records show Booth to be in New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, all well beyond a stay at the McHenry or anywhere close by.

If not Booth, who then scratched such a message? Page, in his statement, mentions the names of the room’s occupants on that day in August and offers to provide Stanton with a list of all guests registered to room 22 throughout the summer. He further dismisses the notion of conspiracy, attributing it instead to drunkenness. Someone did eventually claim they and a companion were behind scratching the death wish for the President, a not uncommon sentiment in light of the county’s overall disdain for Lincoln. Even so, the confession was never proven to true. 

Fire and Demise    

A McHenry House chair at the Baldwin Reynolds
The rising number of travelers following the Civil War combined with the McHenry House’s success, demanded expansion, and a new, three-story wing measuring 125 x 30 feet was constructed in December of 1865 just in time for Taylor’s return to Cleveland. The popular manager’s departure at the height of the McHenry House’s popularity seemed an odd contrast of circumstances, and may have been an indicator of the hotel’s future.

An advertisement from January 1876 heralds the first-class accommodations and steam-heated rooms offered by the McHenry House, now under the management of A.J. Dobbins. Two months later the McHenry closed, with Dobbins named as the culprit for failing to pay expenses, and management was passed to John Harding. Any success by Harding was short lived. On a Saturday morning in May, a kitchen fire caused by a faulty chimney destroyed a portion of the McHenry.

Insurance coverage proved sufficient to repair the hotel’s damage, and by February 1877, a newspaper ad announced that, in response to the large public demand, the McHenry had re-opened under the direction of Col. John M. Clark. It seems, however, that Clark’s oversight failed in changing the hotel’s declining course when, less than three years later, the doors were closed for good in December of 1880. The following spring, the New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio Railroad gutted and dismantled the McHenry House and its landscaped grounds to make way for a new railway station.


The magnificence of the A & GW Depot and adjoining McHenry House, along with many other important structures before and after in our local history, demonstrates the area’s success and significance beyond the borders of our and county, our state, and even our country. While the demands of progress and the forces of natural decay make it impossible to save every one of these buildings, preserving the memory of their existence serves as evidence of what our community is capable of.   

Miss Part 1 of this series? Go Here.


Published Works
Stewart, Anne. Moore, William. Images of America: Meadville, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC. 2001
Ilisevich, Robert. Remembering Crawford County, Pennsylvania's Last Frontier. The History Press. Charleston, SC. 2008
Reynolds, William. (editors) Gifford, Peter. Ilisevich, Robert. European Capital, British Iron, and American Dream: The Story of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad. University of Akron Press, Akron, OH. 2002
Reynolds, John Earle. In French Creek Valley. The Tribune Publishing Company, Meadville, PA. 1938
Miller, Ernest C. John Wilkes Booth, Oilman. Exposition Press, New York, NY. 1947

Cleveland Daily Leader, 1863 - 1866
The Crawford Democrat, 1863 - 1865
New York Tribune, 1864
Democrat and Chronicle, 1880
Pittsburgh Daily Post, 1879
Syracuse Daily Courier and Union, 1865
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1864
The Record Argus, 1876 - 1881
Western Reserve Chronicle, 1866

About the Author

Ron Mattocks was born and raised in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania. Following high school he joined the Army to see the world (which he did) before a career as a construction executive in Texas. Eventually Ron switched to Internet marketing, consulting for companies such as GMC, ConAgra, Mattel, and others. During this time he also began writing regularly for the Huffington Post, Disney's Babble, and the TODAY Show. On a summer visit to Conneaut Lake Park, Ron became suddenly fascinated with the park's origins, a fascination that lead to a passion for the county's extensive history. Today Ron is the VP of Digital Strategy Development with an agency in Indiana where he lives with his three sons. He graduated from St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas with a degree in English Literature, and is a member of both the Crawford County and Conneaut Lake Area Historical Societies.

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