Immediately south of Farm and Home Hardware, on the western side of South Main Street, sits a lovely old brick home. Hemmed in as it is today by neighbors and trees, the house might escape the notice of casual visitors to the village. Little might they suspect that this was once Wellington’s foremost luxury hotel, and before that, the broken home at the center of a local scandal.
William R. Santley was born in New London, Ohio in 1839. He attended Baldwin University (as did Noah Huckins, born the same year); it was perhaps during his stay in Berea that he first met Mary McDermott (1842-1921). She was an immigrant whose family had come to Ohio (as had Huckins and John Watson Wilbur) from Whitby, Ontario, Canada. The couple were married on February 27, 1868 in Maumee, Ohio, when William was nearly thirty years old.
The Santleys moved to Wellington around 1870 and William opened a lumber mill and cheese box factory on the western end of Maygar Street in partnership with R.A. Horr. W.R. Santley & Co. was highly successful, soon operating mills in other states including Kentucky and Tennessee, and the mill owner became one of the wealthiest citizens of the village. He served on the Board of Education, the village council, and both William and Mary were prominent and active members of the Methodist Church. Santley pledged $5,000 to the church to construct an addition in the 1880s.
It was during this period of financial prosperity that the couple began to build a magnificent new house on South Main Street, “one of the most costly residences in town” (Wellington Enterprise, 9-7-1892, pg. 5) just across the street from their church. The newspaper reported on the steady progress of the project, from the family purchasing a new piano from local vendor William Vischer over Christmas 1880; to the installation of the slate roof in September 1881; to the completion of the landscape gardener’s work in summer 1882, which resulted in a “very artistic and beautiful appearance” to the grounds (8-23-1882, pg. 3). The family moved into the house in March 1882, and tax records show that by 1883, the property–listed under Mary Santley’s name, as was customary–was valued at $4,500, a huge sum. Also in 1883, the Santley house was one of the first private residences in the village to have a telephone line installed.
But the good times were not to last. Just five years after first occupying the house, Mary sold it to her brother, Michael McDermott. This was likely a protective legal move, intended to keep the house from being lost outright. We do not know precisely what happened to William Santley’s businesses, as there are no remaining issues of The Wellington Enterprise from mid-1886 until 1889. But we know from later writings that he suffered bankruptcy, and had to endure a very public and humiliating default on his pledge to the Methodist Church. Despite their efforts, the family did lose their beautiful home, which was sold in July 1888 to G.D. Foote.
William Santley began again, restarting his lumber business in 1888. The family erected a smaller, “less pretentious” house and William went into partnership with his brother-in-law Michael, under the name Santley Lumber Company (Enterprise, 9-7-1892, pg. 5). That enterprise eventually opened mills in Missouri and Arkansas, and Santley slowly began to rebuild his fortune and restore his reputation in the village.
In the fall of 1892, Wellington was shocked to learn that Mary McDermott Santley had filed for divorce from her husband of twenty-four years, on the grounds of infidelity. The revelation was especially jarring because while Mary Santley was considered “happy and friendly” by her neighbors, William “seems unapproachable and would be picked out by a stranger in a crowd as a clergyman, who looked upon all kinds of worldly amusements as wicked.” The Santleys were apparently already living apart, as Mary filed from her residence in Ashtabula County, while William allegedly committed his transgression at a residence in Cleveland, though he continued to officially reside in Wellington. The newspaper observed, “No one ever had a suspicion of discord in the family” (ibid).
The Santleys had two children, both marked in the 1880 federal census as “adopted.” Daughter Netta, born ca. 1869, married in the family’s “less pretentious” house in 1889. Son Fredrick, born ca. 1874, had several brushes with the law, including dismissed assault charges. Fred was later part of a gang that robbed seven stores in Oberlin in 1896 and spent several years in the Mansfield Reformatory as a result. Mary McDermett Santley attested in her divorce petition that she had no living children, but that is simply because Netta and Fred were not her biological offspring. (She also opted to describe herself as a “widow” on all future federal censuses, rather than the more shameful option of “divorced.”)
In February 1893, a judge dismissed the Santley divorce suit “without prejudice.” But the proceedings must have been finalized soon thereafter, because by the fall of 1894 William Santley remarried Ruth Poer or Poore in Indiana. He brought the new Mrs. Santley back to Wellington in November. (The former Mrs. Santley, meanwhile, moved to Maryland to work for the Women’s College of Baltimore.) Four years later, in 1898, William Santley and his second wife relocated to Columbus, Ohio, where he died and was buried in 1922.
But what of the beautiful house? We briefly encountered George Dellraine “Dell” Foote (1836-1904) in a previous post. He operated a stable on Liberty Street–today’s West Herrick Avenue–from at least the late 1870s. Dell purchased the Santley house in July 1888, as we have seen. The extended Foote and Santley families had a long history of working in each other businesses and engaging in real estate transactions; in this instance, the relationship may have been even closer, as Dell Foote’s daughter married into the McDermott family. The first mention I have located for Hotel de Foote, the business he opened within the Santley house, is September 1892. The hotel continued to operate under that name until 1910.
The Hotel de Foote was the premier, even luxury, hotel of the bustling village. Its arrivals list was routinely published in the Enterprise, and all visiting dignitaries stayed there. (Remember that the American House was six decades old when Hotel de Foote opened, and reportedly showing every year of its advanced age.) The facility boasted “water and gas supply, although there is neither system in the town–in fact, it is essentially a metropolitan hotel” (Commemorative Biographical Record, pg. 753). It also served as a local function space, hosting banquets, club meetings, and receptions. Numerous traveling physicians advertised when they were visiting Wellington that services could be obtained by application to the Hotel de Foote.
In 1897, a review of the hotel was published in the Enterprise that is worth quoting at length: “I found but one hotel really entitled to rank under the nomenclature of ‘first-class.’ This house is the Hotel De Foote. It is a modern structure fronting the park square, stands removed from the street walk, in the center of pleasant grounds, beautified with grass lawns and flower beds. The prospective to the house is charming. A wide walk and roadway leads up to the front entrances, where a broad flight of steps is the approach to the veranda, which extends from the office door. The lawn and walks are shaded by fine trees and the whole aspect is most inviting and restful. The house is elegantly furnished throughout and is fitted with modern conveniences. The dining room is a well appointed apartment, pleasant to dine in and seating all who come. All the rooms in this house are modern, large, well ventilated and supplied with every convenience. Nothing is lacking which refined and cultured people consider necessary for comfort and correct living. Commercial men who come to Wellington patronize this hotel, for as a rule they are a luxury loving class of men, well dressed and well-bred, and they demand the best hotel accommodations. Nothing less will satisfy them. Said a prominent traveling man to me, whom I met in Cincinnati a short time ago: ‘When you go to Wellington, stop at the ‘Foote.’ Its [sic] the only place–everything the best and right up-to-date.’ Mr. G.D. Foote, the proprietor, is an ideal host, one of the old regime of gentlemen bonifaces” (6-30-1897, pg. 6).
Dell Foote certainly understood his clientele. He maintained a widespread reputation for being a generous and gregarious host, while catering to his guests’ every need. In 1894, for example, he opened a railroad ticket broker’s office inside the hotel, to “buy, sell and exchange tickets…quite an accommodation to the traveling public” (Enterprise, 11-28-1894, pg. 5). As late as the summer of 1897, he continued to personally manage the livery stable while also running the hotel. When he died in 1904, his front-page obituary noted that he “was known far and wide as a genial landlord and an energetic, big hearted fellow citizen. He was an eccentric character and a man of versatile talents” (Enterprise, 1-13-1904).
In 2010, I submitted a nomination to This Old House Magazine and was delighted when they selected Wellington as the Best Old-House Neighborhood in the state of Ohio for that year. Out of the dozens of images I sent, the one they elected to use to represent Wellington was a photograph of the Santley house. Divided into multiple apartments over the course of the twentieth-century, since 1990 it has once again been used as a single-family private residence. Time may have roughened its edges a bit, but its former grandeur is evident even now.