The American House

Undated image of The American House, Wellington, Ohio. From "Standard History of Lorain County, Ohio, Volume 1" (1916) by G. Frederick Wright, pg. 527.

Undated image of the American House, Wellington, Ohio. From “Standard History of Lorain County, Ohio, Volume 1” (1916) by G. Frederick Wright, pg. 527.

For seventy years, the anchor of Wellington’s downtown business district was a three-story brick building that served as an hotel, a tavern, and a meeting spot for the community. It was called several names over the course of its existence, but is most commonly known as the American House. I have written about the hotel before, in connection with its most famous incident, the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue of 1858. In this post, I will give a more complete history of one of the town’s lost landmarks.

A hotel was first erected on Public Square in the 1830s. Local historians Robert Walden and Ernst Henes both put the precise date at 1833, and Walden goes so far as to name it the first brick building constructed for commercial purposes in the village (Notebook, #A59). It was built by the Wadsworth family and operated by them for at least a quarter-century. The patriarch of the family was Lawton Wadsworth (1785-1876). He and wife Nancy (1785-1873) had seven sons, at least two of whom are recorded as innkeepers of the hotel in its early years. By 1844, the establishment was apparently called the Wellington House and was operated by son Jabez Lorenzo Wadsworth (1813-1869). At the time of the Rescue, son Oliver Sardine Wadsworth (1809-1877) was running what was then-known as Wadsworth’s Hotel or Wadsworth’s Tavern. And we have met son David Lawton Wadsworth (1825-1892), both at the hotel on the day of the Rescue and in later life.

Lawton and Nancy Wadsworth. From "History of Lorain County, Ohio" (1879), insert between pgs. 358-359.

Lawton and Nancy Wadsworth. From “History of Lorain County, Ohio” (1879), insert between pgs. 358-359.

Headstone for Lawton and Nancy Wadsworth, and one of their seven sons, Jabez Lorenzo Wadsworth, who committed suicide in 1869. The family built a hotel on Public Square and managed it for twenty-five years. "Pioneer" Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstone for Lawton and Nancy Wadsworth, and one of their seven sons, Jabez Lorenzo Wadsworth, who committed suicide in 1869. The family built a hotel on Public Square and managed it for twenty-five years. “Pioneer” Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

The testimony associated with the Rescue provides a fascinating glimpse inside the walls of the hotel. Reading through the eyewitness accounts, one develops a feel for the layout and daily uses of the building. Nat Brandt provides an excellent summary in his book, The Town That Started the Civil War: “A rambling wooden [sic] building with some pretensions toward architectural elegance, it was a favorite stopping place for traveling salesmen and had a sample room where they could display their goods…The building was on a rise in the ground and had a lower floor in back, where the kitchen, barroom, and dining room were located; a sloping pathway by the hotel’s north side led to their entranceway and to several outbuildings–a feed barn where guests could leave their horses for the night, an icehouse, a woodshed, and a chicken coop. A garden in the rear supplied vegetables for the hotel’s dining room” (pg. 66).

View of The American House, most likely taken from the window of the William Sawtell photography studio on Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue). Image must have been taken after the studio opened ca. 1875 and before erection of the current Wellington Town Hall in 1885. Note the monuments business operating in the level below-grade. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum.

View of the American House, most likely taken from the window of the William Sawtell photography studio on Mechanics Street (now East Herrick Avenue). Image must have been taken after the studio opened ca. 1875 and before erection of the current Wellington Town Hall in 1885. Note the monuments business operating in the level below-grade. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

The hotel had a veranda (likely not added until 1868) that was a popular gathering spot for locals in warm weather months. There were three retail spaces in the below-grade level fronting Mechanics Street–now East Herrick Avenue–that changed hands numerous times over the decades. Walden wrote that he remembered a barbershop and a butcher shop operating out of the storefronts in his youth (#A24). Perhaps he was familiar with the barbershop opened by black businessman Eugene T. Robinson “under” the building in 1881; Robinson also owned the O.K. Shaving Saloon on Liberty Street–now West Herrick Avenue–and in 1883 he opened a bath house in connection with one of the two locations, though I don’t know which. One of the best-known images of the hotel, most likely taken by photographer William Sawtell in the 1870s or early 1880s, shows a monuments shop labeled “Marble Works,” with a winged figure visible in its display window.

The hotel appears so frequently in The Wellington Enterprise that it would be impossible to include all the notices in full. Announcements about changes in ownership, renovations or expansions of the facilities, and any noticeable change in visitation all received lengthy coverage. The hotel was often profiled in a recurring feature called, “Business Interests of Wellington. Our Dealers and What They are Doing.” Here is a brief sample of typical mentions.

1876: Mr. Wilcox, current innkeeper, decides to retire. A committee of some twenty prominent citizens (including Sidney Warner, John Houghton, and David Wadsworth) is formed to plan a “farewell benefit” (3-16-1876, pg. 3). W. A. Woodworth takes over administration of the hotel.

1877: Woodworth is still hotel landlord. “This house under his charge, has been thoroughly renovated and newly furnished; and its rooms are made inviting by clean, sweet beds, and snowy linen. Its table is attractively spread with all the delicacies of the season, and with attentive waiters to serve, one always feels at home while stopping at this house…” (10-11-1877, pg. 3).

1878: By May, a renovation has transformed a former billard room into two spacious sleeping rooms. A “large and well lighted sample room” has been added to the front of the hotel. At the end of the month, it is announced that seven more rooms have been added “being the east half of the lower and all the second story of the Boutwell building, which has been rented and fitted up to accommodate the increasing business” (5-30-1878, pg. 3). By the end of the year, Stanley Wilcox is the proprietor. The hotel now has seventy rooms and can house as many as one hundred guests (12-19-1878, pg. 3).

1879: The hotel is expanded again during the summer, with the addition of a new wing on its east side.

1880: The hotel register shows an increase in both the amount of travel and overall numbers of guests, “especially the large proportion of wholesale traveling men that are visiting us” (12-12-1880, pg. 3).

Undated image of The American House, Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970226 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Undated image of the American House, Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970226 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the hotel was showing its age. But the town was still surprised to learn in 1902 that Myron T. Herrick (soon to be elected Governor of Ohio, later Ambassador to France) had purchased the building with the intention of removing it. The American House was demolished and in its place was constructed the Herrick Memorial Library, dedicated and presented to the village on New Year’s Day, 1904. According to a special centennial edition published by The Wellington Enterprise in 1964, lumber salvaged from the hotel was used to construct a barn then standing on “the Beckman property” on State Route 58 North.

UPDATE: Since publishing this post, I found the following notice in the December 5, 1883 edition of The Wellington Enterprise: “–Wm. Wadsworth second son of Sardine Wadsworth, stopped here for a brief visit on his way to visit his mother and sisters, from Gunnison Valley Col., where he has been four years. His father kept the American House here in 1834, being with his brother Lorenzo first proprietor of that hotel. It was built by the Wadsworths” (pg. 3).

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “The American House

  1. James Rallis

    It is probably a small point: but I am curious. It was referred to as a brick structure and later as a “rambling wooden building with some pretension toward architectural elegance”; wonderfully descriptive but…Any thoughts on that?

    Reply
    1. Armchair Historian Post author

      It is a wonderful question, James, and one to which I gave a great deal of thought as I prepared the entry. Here is what I know: 1) Local historian Robert Walden–who is pretty accurate in his writings but definitely not infallible–called the building the first brick commercial structure erected in the town. 2) Lawton Wadsworth and his sons are very likely the builders of the structure, and “The History of Lorain County” (1879) states that Lawton Wadsworth erected his brick house in the center of the town in 1833. His sons were later said to have “lived in” the American House, so I think when they refer to Lawton Wadsworth’s house, they are in fact referring to the hotel. 3) By the time the side view photograph of the hotel used in this post was taken, late 1870s to mid-1880s, the building is visibly made of brick. I have found no mention in “The Wellington Enterprise” of a wooden hotel being removed/replaced/faced with brick.

      How do I account for the discrepancy? Well, from the front view photographs of the hotel it is very difficult to tell what it is made of. The porch, etc., are obviously made of wood. So perhaps Mr. Brandt–whose main focus was on what happened in the hotel that day in 1858, rather than the physical makeup of the building–simply assumed it was wood-frame construction. Then again, perhaps he had access to information I have not seen. If I ever get the opportunity to meet him, I will certainly ask!

      Reply
  2. James Rallis

    At Your convenience; I’d like to show you a photo or two that I’m very proud of. My mother or grandfather secured a shot of the building on Dewolf …The Building on the Corner of west Herrick(not The Cheese Bldg.)across the street. Probably 19th century or very early 20th. It’s interesting as it is a group shot with everyone dressed up for Halloween. I would guess a few years after the end of the Civil War but I am easily off. Would love your input.

    Reply
  3. Armchair Historian Post author

    James Rallis, I found another mention of the American House in “The Wellington Enterprise” that confirms the brick. In an account of his sixtieth wedding anniversary, retired brickmaker Isaac Bennet reminisced about the early years of the village. His family moved to Wellington in 1834. At that time, he wrote, “there were but eight frame houses in the whole township. The American House was the first brick building erected in the township. The next was the old M. E. church, the brick for which was made by myself…” (12-26-1883, pg. 3).

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s