Nineteenth Century Hotels In The United States – Pt. 2


Between the years 1830 and 1850, distinguished visitors to Philadelphia usually were found registered at the United States Hotel, which, when it was erected in 1828, stood opposite the fine classic Doric façade of the second Bank of the United States, long since used as the Custom House in that city. As was mentioned in an earlier chapter, the hotel was opened by Benjamin Renshaw, who had managed and owned the old Mansion House Hotel in Philadelphia.

The centre of the financial and commercial life of Philadelphia at the time, the United States Hotel, was also in the midst of the newspaper publishing district. Not only did travellers from other parts of the country make the hotel a lodestone of interest, but the smart young men of the city were to be found in its corridors and at its bars. One of the first occasions in which the hotel became connected with a historic event was in the year 1830. It then figured from the fact that several letters which were passed before the fatal duel in which a midshipman of the United States Navy killed a young lawyer of Philadelphia were written in the hotel. The tragic occurrence put a stop to duelling in the United States Navy and aroused a great deal of protest generally.

While the story is a long and complicated one, it may be partly outlined here. The men who should have been the principals managed to slip out of the duel and thereby let in their seconds. From a contemporary pamphlet it appears that the duel between William Miller, Jr., a lawyer, and Charles G. Hunter, Jr., a midshipman in the United States Navy, took place close to the boundary line between Delaware and Pennsylvania, not far from Chester, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, March 21, 1830. An anonymous letter, long afterward discovered to have been written by a disreputable woman, started the tragedy, in which probably half-a-dozen or more persons became involved. The letter was written to a lawyer, R. Dillon Drake, and referred to the lady his brother had just married. He conceived it to have been written by one whom he had regarded as a friend, H. Wharton Griffith, and meeting the latter in a billiard saloon near the United States Hotel, chastised him without warning. Griffith challenged Drake, who refused to meet him. However, Griffith had selected a second, and Drake had a friend interested. While letters were passing between the principals or their seconds, some person in New Brunswick sent a letter to Miller about the dispute. That fact leaked out and he was waited upon and a promise exacted that he would not permit it to be published. The letter was printed in a newspaper, and Miller was accused of bad faith, and the challenge followed. Miller’s father advised him to accept it, and he met Midshipman Hunter, falling dead at the first shot from the latter’s pistol. President Jackson was called upon to take action in the matter and he dismissed from the Navy Hunter and four other officers who were involved. Hunter and one or two others were afterward reinstated, and Hunter distinguished himself in the Mexican War. One of these officers, Lieutenant Hampton Westcott, was stopping at the United States Hotel as the friend of one of the original seconds in the dispute, and this house seemed to be a centre of interest for a week or two before the fatal duel.

An English army officer, Captain Thomas Hamilton, R. A., stopped at the United States Hotel about this time, or a little later. On his return home he wrote a book about the United States entitled, “Men and Manners in America,” which was published in England in 1833, and reprinted in Philadelphia the same year. Captain Hamilton journeyed from Quebec to New Orleans, and his book coming so soon upon the heels of that of Mrs. Trollope, had the advantage of dwelling upon the more important features of the country and its people, instead of upon the trivialities. He wrote disparagingly of the first hotel in Philadelphia to which he had been directed, and then went to the United States Hotel, where he “found the accommodation excellent.” Hamilton was the author of several other books, but is best known as the author of a novel, “Cyril Thornton.”

Although the hotel was at this time the leading house in Philadelphia, President Andrew Jackson, when he visited that city in 1833, did not put up there, but at the City Hotel, on Third Street, north of Market. This was by no means a luxurious establishment, but the United States Hotel was directly opposite the Bank of the United States, in Chestnut Street, and if there was one thing more than another with which Jackson’s administration is inseparably linked, it is with his successful effort to suppress this financial institution. Of course, he could not be invited to a hotel where he would have been compelled to look upon the thing he was determined to put out of existence. General William Henry Harrison, the “Hero of Tippecanoe,” who visited Philadelphia in July, 1835, when he was being announced as a candidate for the Presidency, was not similarly prejudiced, so he was escorted to the United States Hotel, where he remained during his visit. President John Tyler, who had been elected Vice-President on the ticket with Harrison, and had succeeded to the office of the nation’s chief executive on the death of the latter, visited Philadelphia in June, 1843, on a tour said to have been in search of popularity. While the populace enthusiastically unharnessed the horses which drew the barouche in which Harrison was seated and hauled it with ropes to his hotel, there were no crowds to welcome Tyler when he was driven to the United States Hotel, where he was a guest during his stay in the city.

Charles Dickens, on his first tour of this country, made the United States Hotel his home during the few days he spent in Philadelphia, in March, 1842. The English novelist was made the victim of a few local politicians while in that city. They inserted a notice in the Philadelphia newspapers to the effect that “This gentleman (Dickens) will, we under-stand, be gratified to shake hands with his friends this morning between the hours of 10 and half-past 11 o’clock. He leaves for the South to-morrow.”

The effect of ‘his unauthorized and amazing notice was a veritable mob of curiosity-seekers who crowded the hotel and took Dickens by storm. The distinguished visitor had made arrangements for the day, which this “reception” completely upset. “Boz looked considerably distressed at first,” commented a newspaper the next day in its report of the levee, “as he had other arrangements which he considered more important, but being assured that such was the custom here, he put the best face upon the matter possible and suffered his arm to be almost shaken off with-out a groan.” Dickens afterward satirized the incident in his novel, “Martin Chuzzlewit.” At the time Dickens was a guest at the United States Hotel, David Dorrance was the proprietor, the Renshaws—Benjamin, who opened the house, and Richard, who subsequently was the owner-having withdrawn from the management. In 1856 part of the house was sold and on the site the Pennsylvania Bank was erected. In a short time all that remained of the historic hotel was the United States Restaurant, the building having been transformed into offices. .

Several Philadelphia hotels of the past whose structures have long ago given way to modern improvements were mainly historic by reason of having had one or two inter-national figures as guests. One of these was Jones’s Hotel, which stood on Chestnut Street, midway between Sixth and Seventh, where the great French tragedienne, Rachael, stopped while she was acting in Philadelphia, in November, 1855. A cold which the actress had contracted in New York was intensified by the unheated theatre in Philadelphia, and Rachael appeared only once on the stage of the Walnut Street Theatre during her company’s engagement, her physician having ordered her to bed in her hotel. She remained in her hotel during the week she spent in Philadelphia, and only once again appeared upon the stage. This appearance was at Charleston, South Carolina. The cold resulted in consumption of the lungs, from which she died in France early in 1858.

The Girard House, which stood on Chestnut Street between Eighth and Ninth Streets, was selected by Thackeray for his headquarters during his first visit to Philadelphia, in January, 1853. The hotel was opened in 1851, and some years later was extended to the corner of Ninth Street, a site now covered by the Gimbel Store. Thackeray remained there intermittently for three weeks, during a part of which time he was delivering a series of lectures on the “English Humorists.” Appleton’s Guide in 1855 described the Girard as “one of the largest and most magnificent hotels in the country.” On the novelist’s second visit to Philadelphia., in January, 1856, he registered at the La Pierre House, the newest and most western of the hotels then in Philadelphia. It was situated on Broad Street, south of Chestnut, and remained there until 1900. During the last quarter century of its career it was called the Lafayette Hotel. It might seem that Thackeray, like the majority of tourists, always hunted out the newest hotels wherever he went, for the La Pierre House was only opened in 1853, after the novelist had left the city.

The Continental Hotel, at Ninth and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia, which was opened in February, 1860, remained until 1925, when it was replaced by an even larger and modern hotel, the Benjamin Franklin. Not only was the hotel an historic one, but its site might be said to have been more or less historic. In 1837 Cooke’s Equestrian Circus was opened there, and the following year on the back part of the lot the Philadelphia Museum was opened. This latter building housed the first collection of Chinese art and manufactures, as well as of objects illustrative of Chinese customs and manners, gathered anywhere. This circus building, about 1840, was transformed into a theatre by William E. Burton, comedian and playwright, and the publisher of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. These buildings were destroyed by fire in 1854. In 1848 General Zachary Taylor was nominated for President by the Whig Convention, which convened in the Museum.

About 1858 the Continental Hotel Company purchased the property, including that of the Museum, and after clearing the ground began the erection of a hotel which was six stories in height on the Chestnut Street front, and after-wards carried to eight on the back part of the lot. It was built of brownstone, then becoming a popular building material in the eastern United States. The size of the hotel was so unheard of that the wiseacres were predicting failure even before the house was opened for guests. It was not only the largest hotel in the United States in 1860, but had no superior in the world.

Such a hotel quite naturally attracted persons of importance visiting the city. A mere list of these would be so extensive as to be prohibitive in any book. A few of them may, however, be mentioned, as giving an idea of the general character of its clientele. The first year the house was opened it had as guests the Prince of Wales, afterward King Edward VII, and his suite, and the Japanese Embassy visiting the United States, of whom one cheerful little man, always referred to as “Japanese Tommy,” made the most lasting impression. On February 21, 1861, President-elect Lincoln stopped there.

While Philadelphia showed no popular enthusiasm on election day when Lincoln was elected, owing to a feeling that it was a foregone conclusion, it turned out in thousands to welcome the “Great Emancipator” when he arrived in that city on the eve of Washington’s Birthday, 1861. He was escorted to the Continental Hotel, where he was to stay during his brief visit, by a monster procession, and after he entered the hotel, the crowd poured into it in such numbers that it was necessary to close the doors and station police at each entrance to keep the house from being completely overrun. Lincoln soon appeared on a balcony over the main entrance, and bowed to the crowd while a band played. Then he was presented with the hospitality of the city by Mayor Henry, to which he responded briefly. Later Mr. Lincoln held a kind of informal reception at the head of the grand staircase of the hotel. The following day he delivered his historic address at the raising of a flag over Independence Hall.

The Continental Hotel was rented to Paran Stevens for a period of twelve years, at $40,000 a year, which figures, like everything else about the hotel when it was opened, astonished those who had not been trained to think in such large amounts. Despite the predictions of failure, the hotel kept right on being successful. During the Civil War it was much in evidence. Meetings were held there and banquets and receptions innumerable.

Prominent visitors to Philadelphia in those days invariably registered at the Continental. It was to the Continental that “Coal Oil Johnny” Steele came, after he had struck oil and sold his well for a mere pittance that seemed like a fortune to him. For the short season he remained there in his new character of the world’s greatest spender, he was daily the centre of attraction for curious crowds.

In 1868, on his second visit to America and his second time in Philadelphia, Charles Dickens stayed at the Continental. He always had his meals in his apartment and was seen but little by the guests of the house. P. T. Barnum and “Buffalo Bill” Cody always stopped at the house while their shows were in Philadelphia. During the Centennial Exposition in 1876, Dom Pedro, Emperor of Brazil, and his suite, stayed at the hotel, which flew the Brazilian flag from the hotel flag-staff while the Emperor was in residence. The Grand Duke Alexis and his party were guests during their visit to Philadelphia in December, 1871.

George Augustus Sala, who was in Philadelphia in December, 1879, when General U. S. Grant was welcomed back from his triumphal trip around the world, registered at the Continental, where the General and Mrs. Grant stayed during their visit. In his book, “America. Revisited,” he wrote, “so far as my observation up to this present writing extends, I should certainly say that the most wonderful caravanserai that I have yet beheld in the United States is the Continental Hotel, Philadelphia.” And this was written twenty years after the house was opened. Sala, however, added a footnote, written after he had travelled westward, in which he wrote, “as a matter of fact, the most magnificent hotels on the American continent, and, perhaps, in the whole world, are the United Palace and Grand Hotels, at San Francisco.

Sarah Bernhardt, Joseph Jefferson, Richard Mansfield, Melba, and Lillian Russell were among the theatrical stars who were guests at the Continental.

When the Continental was built, it was so high that it was necessary to install an elevator, which was a novelty in those days. After a disastrous hotel fire in a western city in the early eighties, the Continental erected what probably was the first fire tower to be built anywhere. It also about the same time or a little later sunk an artesian well, which for a good many years furnished a large part of the hotel’s water supply.

While the Aldine Hotel, Chestnut Street between Nineteenth and Twentieth in Philadelphia, and lately abandoned for a modern building, always was what is called a “family hotel,” it occupied a building that was historic. The original mansion, which was of brick, was built about 1850 by Dr. James Rush, a son of Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and a brother of the Hon. Richard Rush, who had represented the United States at the court of St. James during President Monroe’s administration, and whose letter to the President was the inspiration of the document generally referred to as “The Monroe Doctrine.”

The wife of Doctor Rush was a daughter of a very wealthy Philadelphian, Jacob Ridgway, and was a very brilliant woman. She maintained one of the few intellectual and fashionable salons in this country. It was always an honor to be invited to one of her affairs, and the honor never was offered unless the guest was a person of distinction. She is said to have preferred the society of intelligent men to that of the average woman, although her balls were memorable functions and beauties were not lacking.

Authors, musicians, soldiers, statesmen and distinguished foreigners sojourning in Philadelphia were always to be found at her matinees or her evening balls. The latter usually were splendid affairs, for there was a large conservatory connected with the first floor apartments, and in it were liberated numerous song birds, which amused the guests and gave a decided touch of opulence to the entertainments. Mrs. Rush died at Saratoga, in the. year 1857, and early in that year, while the snow was on the ground, gave her last ball, which furnished a mysterious robbery for Philadelphians to talk about. During the night, or early morning after the ball, someone, evidently a person who belonged to the ménage, entered Mrs. Rush’s apart-ment and stole her diamonds from her jewel caskets and some money she had left in a bureau drawer. The jewels were valued at more than twenty thousand dollars. An investigation was made but the mystery of the theft never was solved.

Among the guests who had been entertained by Doctor and Mrs. Rush were President Martin Van Buren, Henry Clay, Charles Dickens, Miss Harriet Martineau, George Bancroft, and J. Fenimore Cooper. Longfellow, when a young man, was a visitor, but of course not in the mansion that became the Aldine Hotel.

After Mrs. Rush’s death her husband became more or less a recluse, and at his death, about ten years later, he left a large sum of money with which to build the Ridgway Library, in Philadelphia. This building is of granite, Greek Doric in design, and by provision of the founder’s will contains the sarcophagi of Doctor and Mrs. Rush.

The mansion after the Doctor’s death was purchased by the publisher, Joshua B. Lippincott, who did not dwell in it many years. Then the building was altered, many stories added to it, and as the Aldine Hotel, was opened in 1877.

It was for some years a favorite house for the theatrical stars playing in Philadelphia, having had as guests Dame Ellen Terry, Ada Rehan, and Minnie Maddern Fiske, among others. It was usual for Judges of the State Superior Court to stop there while the court was in session in Philadelphia. Latterly baseball stars sought the Aldine while in Philadelphia, and the names of “Ty” Cobb and “Babe” Ruth were often on its register.

The Bellevue Hotel, which stood at the northwest corner of Broad and Walnut Streets, Philadelphia, was one of those houses that was ,historic and made its own history, for its site was not one of even local importance. It was a small house, but a most select one, without anything that savored of snobbery. It was the germ from which sprang the Waldorf-Astoria and the Bellevue-Stratford hotels, all of which were children of the brain and genius of George C. Boldt.

When the Petry Brothers-Charles and Nicholas—took the large dwelling house that stood at the corner mentioned, about 1875, and opened a hotel on the European plan, they were expanding their business which they formerly had conducted in the old financial district of Philadelphia. They had managed successfully for many years a restaurant business, and this they now, in their new home, were transforming into a hotel. Their’s was a Delmonico’s on a somewhat smaller scale than the famous New York restaurant. The Petrys were restaurateurs, and consequently did little hotel business. It was not their specialty because they never had been hotelmen. However, they continued until 1882, when the house was leased by George C. Boldt.

The Petrys conducted their establishment in a very quiet, unostentatious manner, and there were no visible signs that a passer-by might recognize that it was a public restaurant. In a short time Boldt, in his daring way, transformed the place into a real, if small, hotel. The house next to the corner was combined with it, a new entrance constructed on Broad Street, and a mansard roof added.

In April, 1882, the Clover Club, one of the world’s well-known dining organizations, held its monthly dinner in the Bellevue for the first time. It, too, was a new organization, having been formed only in January of the same year, but the character of its members and of its distinguished guests soon placed it in the class of social clubs to be remembered. Since that time the club dinners always have been held at the Bellevue and, since its removal, in its successor, the Bellevue-Stratford. A list of the guests at the Clover Club’s board would include sufficient great names, many of them of international fame, to make any hotel historic.

In December, 1883, the Club gave its only breakfast to Henry Irving, the great English actor. It was a notable occasion, especially as the eminent guest was presented with a watch that had been owned by Edwin Forrest, America’s greatest tragedian. The following year Mr. Irving, for he was not Sir Henry then, entertained the Clover Club at a supper—the guests sat down at half-past eleven o’clock in the evening—which he gave at the Bellevue which always was his residence while playing engagements in Philadelphia. Constant Coquelin, the greatest French comedian of his time, also was a guest at a Club dinner held in the same hotel; but the list is too long to be continued.

President McKinley, at the Jubilee celebration in Philadelphia at the close of the Spanish-American War, was a guest at the Bellevue, a part of the hotel having been al-lotted to him so that he could be properly guarded by a force of United States secret service men and local detectives and police. While he was a guest admission to the hotel was not easy to one unknown to the staff.

When the new Bellevue-Stratford Hotel was erected on the opposite corner, on the site of the Stratford Hotel which Mr. Boldt had taken over and managed for a good many years, the Bellevue was abandoned. It was sold to the Manufacturers’ Club of Philadelphia in 1910, and the present Manufacturers’ Club House on the site was opened in 1914.

In its early days Washington, the capital of the country, was not very happy in its hotels. When the city was laid out, John Francis, who had managed private hotels in Philadelphia, was bargaining for two large houses, which General Washington was erecting in the new capital city in 1799, for hotel purposes. It was with some such idea that the former President was erecting the houses. They were to be boarding houses, for hotels such as were known in the middle of the nineteenth century had not then been dreamed of. Early foreign visitors to the new capital did not find anything to commend in those buildings which were erected as hotels.

Brown’s Hotel, at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and West Sixth Street; Fuller’s Hotel, corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and West Fourteenth Street; and Gadsby’s Hotel at the Northeast corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and West Sixth Street, were the leading houses in 1841. Brown’s was a large house, and the principal hotel in the capital at the time. Its full name was Brown’s Indian Queen Hotel, and its proprietor was Jesse Brown, who purchased the house and made extensive additions to it in the early thirties. A little later Fuller’s was opened and there Charles Dickens stopped on his first visit in 1842. On his second visit, in 1868, the novelist would not stop at any hotel there because he had been told he would not have a moment’s rest from callers.

“Accordingly,” he wrote to his eldest daughter, “here we are on the first and second floor of a small house, with no one else in it but our people, a French waiter and a very good French cuisine. Perfectly private, in the city of all the world (I would say) where hotels are intolerable, and privacy the least possible, and quite comfortable. `Wheleker’s Restaurant’ is our rather undignified address for the week.”

Fuller’s Hotel became the Mansion House a few years after Dickens’ first visit, and this, in turn, became Willard’s Hotel a few years before the Civil War. It bore that name in 1854. It was a favorite hostelry for distinguished visitors to Washington in the period just prior to the Civil War, and during that struggle it became historic from two circumstances.

The first of these was the residence there of the President-elect, Abraham Lincoln, when he went to Washington to take the oath of office as Chief Executive, in 1861. The other was that while Julia Ward Howe was staying at the hotel she wrote her immortal “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Mrs. Howe accompanied her husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, visited Washington in December, 1861, and stopped at Willard’s. During their stay there was to have been a pageant of military a few miles from the capital, and the Howes went out to see it. A small Confederate force, however, put in an unexpected appearance, and a skirmish followed, and the spectators hastened—or tried to hasten—back to Washington, but the roads were filled with marching troops which somewhat impeded their progress.

As the soldiers swung along many of them kept step to the strains of “John Brown’s Body,” which the majority of marching men were singing. Mrs. Howe seemed to be impressed with the value of the tune for a marching song. The Rev. Dr. James Freeman Clarke was in the Howes’ party, and noticing Mrs. Howe’s lively interest, he turned to her saying :

“You ought to write new words to that.”

She said she thought well of the suggestion, but the subject was not pursued then.

Mrs. Howe returned to the hotel and said she slept as well as usual that night, but when she awoke in the morning the words of her “Battle Hymn of the Republic” came to her mind almost without effort. She sat down at a table and began to write. The words flowed so freely that the hymn might be said to have written itself.

Willard’s was the most prominent hostelry in Washington during the Civil War, and almost everybody of consequence in the government -offices there was in it at one time or another, but even before that Presidents Taylor, Fillmore and Buchanan had made it their Washington residence before or after their term of office. Indeed, it is one of the proud boasts of Willard’s—including the New Willard, which supplanted the original on the same site in 1901—that there never has been a President of the United States, since the hotel was erected, who has not been a frequent diner there. It was the home of Presidents Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson during their frequent visits to Washington before or after their presidency.

The New Willard has carried on the tradition of the original hotel, and when President-elect and Mrs. Harding went to Washington after their visit to Panama, they occupied the Presidential suite in the hotel. When they came back to Washington on the eve of President Harding’s inauguration, they again occupied the Presidential suite.

But a greater distinction than this was the New Willard’s, after President Harding’s death. President and Mrs. Coolidge took up quarters at the hotel for nearly a month, during which time it was the executive mansion, probably the first time a hotel in this country has enjoyed that character. It was no novelty for Mr. Coolidge, for he and members of his family had made the Willard their home before he became President, and there too Vice-President and Mrs. Thomas W. Marshall lived while the former was in office.

Prince Henry of Prussia, during his stay in Washington, elected to reside in the German Embassy, but for the accommodation of his party an entire floor of the Willard was reserved. The Prince of Wales paid a formal visit to Vice-President Marshall in the Willard, during his hasty call at Washington.

Marshal Foch, of France; General Diaz, head of the Italian Army and hero of the Piave, have stopped at the Willard. During the Disarmament Conference the French delegation, including former Premier Briand, Rene Viviana and Minister Sarraut made the Willard their headquarters, occupying an entire floor. Signor Tomasso Titoni, President of the Italian senate; General Fayolle and General Niville, of the French army, were other noted guests, who included, also, Mr. Carlos Aramaz, foreign minister of Argentina, and Mrs. Aramaz; Dr. Belisario Porras, former President of Panama; Lord Shaughnessy, of Montreal; Albert Einstein, author of the “Einstein Theory” of the relativity of matter; John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, Sr., and Elihu Root.

In the ballroom of the Willard the United States Chamber of Commerce was organized, and at a dinner given there by the Geographical Society Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary first told of his exploits in connection with the discovery of the North Pole. There, also, at a dinner given in honor of former President Roosevelt after his return from South America, he told of his discovery of the River of Doubt.

In January, 1927, the Egyptian Government established its legation in the Willard, where the New Egyptian Minister, S. Yousry Pasha, and members of his family, make their home. Ten rooms on the third floor was set aside for them. This was the first time the Egyptian Government had been represented by a legation in Washington.

From Lincoln’s time the Willard has been the head-quarters of the Republican National Committee; it also has for many years been the headquarters for the Daughters of the American Revolution.