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.
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).
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).
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).