Many Recall Plush "Stratford Springs"
By Daniel L. Cusick
Wheeling News-Register, Reprinted with Permission
Some Wheeling old-timers were reminiscing with a photo album a few nights ago when one of them hit upon a picture which set off a chain of memories about the renowned Stratford Springs Hotel. The 84 guest bedrooms of the hotel housed, at one time or another during the hostelry's existence, most of the "400" of Wheeling and the surrounding area. The dining rooms and the ballroom still bring light to the eyes of the people who attended the fantastic balls and costume parties once held there.
A small article in the Wheeling newspapers of Aug. 13, 1903 gave no portent of the greatness and fame the hotel was to achieve in its short life. It said simply that there was to be a hotel built near the famed Stratford Springs at Edgwood Street. It was these springs that served as the reason for the building of the lavish living place. Waters from the springs were known from the Mississippi to the Atlantic and were reputed to have "certain healing powers." It was vague, but it worked and guests streamed in from all over the eastern half of the country to variously cure their arthritis, rheumatism, bad teeth and any one of a number of fashionable ailments.
For a while, the Stratford Springs Hotel gave the world-renowned Saratoga Springs a real bit of competition. In fact, one Wheelingite, unaware of the spa in his home town made the journey to the upstate New York baths and springs only to be told that he could have been better off staying in his home town for the cure of his particular malady.
According to Harry Briese, present owner-operator of the Stratford Springs Bottling Co., the hotel was nearly a block long and was entirely of wood. The present bottling works was an outgrowth of the hotel and is located in the building that served as a garage for the limousines of the era.
The building of the hotel looked to be an excellent venture since the only top notch hotel in the city was Shepherd Hall, on the location of the present Osiris Shrine in Elm Grove. In the first 20 years of the Twentieth Century, that was really "out the pike" in the true sense of the words.
On May 1, 1907 the hotel had its official opening. Mrs. L.D.C. List was listed as the president of the corporation, and John W. Adams was the secretary and treasurer. At one point in its career, the hotel received press notices of being "a most popular venue for Wheeling's fashionable functions." Its sweeping verandahs, well-appointed billiard parlor, large lobby, the intimate writing room and the three sun parlors were the meeting places for THE people of Wheeling.
At first, it was strictly a spa hotel, but when the novelty of the springs began to wane, many of the well-to-do Wheelingites found that the hotel, which was located near their National Road mansions, could provide a better life in the winter as they closed their own homes and moved into the elegant quarters of the Stratford Springs.
H.D. "Dewey" Quarrier, of 1358 National Road, remembers taking his boyhood dancing lessons there. He said the street cars stopped running fairly early in the evening, in those days, but the hotel's functions were so important that a special trolley was dispatched to take home the guests from dances. "It was all right if you and your girl lived in basically the same section of town," Mr. Quarrier pointed out, but said that if a fellow had a girl downtown, and he lived out near Elm Grove, he was pretty well out of luck for transportation. Elegance never was an easy thing.
R. W. Hazlett, of GC&P Road, remembers living at the hotel for a short while and relates that the most memorable events were the costume balls held for almost any occasion when an excuse could be found for them. "They had wonderful music at the balls, but I used to sneak away once in a while because I enjoyed the singing of the colored waiters in the basement. They used to get together and entertain themselves when things go slow upstairs. There was nothing better in the world than their singing," Mr. Hazlett relates.
He also recalls that the hit of most of these balls was to see either L. Woodward Franzheim, Sr., or the late Merts Franzheim come in the door with one costume on and know that they would be making at least two more changes during the course of the evening. "With them, you were just never sure you had them gussed for the right person," Mr. Hazlett said.
All indications are that the Stratford Springs was the most elegant single establishment to have existed in the city. Maybe it was too good to last. On Jan. 13, 1918, sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight, a fire started in one of the old motor rooms in the northeast corner of the once grand dame. Weather reports for the day indicate that Wheeling was in the midst of a record cold spell. The fire, which news reports say was caused by crossed wires, began in the side of the building which was away from the stiff winds prevalent that night.
The wind was credited with possibly saving the lives of guests in the fire. Flames had to eat their way westward against the blowing and, consequently, the fire worked more slowly. All the guests managed to get out of the building, including Mrs. Adams and her three-month old baby. There were no fire plugs in the area and the rustic fire fighting equipment had trouble even reaching the scene. One truck hit a shanty on McColloch Street and knocked it over the hill. Once there, there was very little pressure in the lines on the trucks, and what water they could get to the flames immediately created a glistening sheet of ice on the steep grade in front of the building.
In a valiant attempt to save much of the furnishings, the firemen pushed couches, grand pianos and huge mirrors out the front door, only to have them slide on the ice until they came to rest nearly a block away on Edgwood Street. Though there was no real panic among the guests, most of them came out into the bitter cold with little more than underclothing or robes as protection. A few had nothing on their feet.
Woodsdale residents rallied to the cause and quickly took many of the hotel's guests into their warm homes, giving them tea and sympathy. Those who remember the fire say that not one mishap occurred, even at the height of the blaze, which one person remembers as a "roaring furnace." So bright were the flames that they could be seen all the way to downtown Wheeling. That night there was a "monster comet" in the local skies. Many people thought it was the reflection of the fire on the night mist.
By morning, the flames had destroyed the building, burning it to the ground. Dawn found the safe and cash register lying on the ice-laden terrace, surrounded by heaps of frozen, charred wet furniture. The headlines in the Wheeling Register the following day read "Stratford Springs Hotel Burned to Ground, Entailing Loss That Will Reach $150,000." The building was partly insured for about $75,000 and Mrs. List announced tentative plans to rebuild, but the rebirth never came. The heat of the blaze was so great that the Register, in a photo caption explaining a fuzzy picture of the fire, apologized for the print quality but said the flames were so hot that the photographer could not stay near the building more than a few seconds at a time.
Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with and funded in part by the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation.