by George A. Nye
For the facts presented in this article on the old Wright House I am indebted first of all to the old copies of the Northern Indianian which was founded in Warsaw 90 years ago and which was the leading weekly paper of the county for over fifty years. I have also consulted the old deed records in the recorder's office and the old records of the commissioners' court. Besides these I have talked with some people who remembered Benjamin Wright and some of the business places of the day.
Mr. Wright was a prominent man of the town, a heavy-set man. His brother, E. Rigdon Wright, also well known as a merchant, owned a farm northwest of town and lived in the large square house southwest of the present postoffice. He was champion checker player of northern Indiana. He was an excellent Bible student but had a strange religion. When he died Judge Haymond read the burial rites and there was no other. He and Caleb Hendee were both spiritualists.
Aside from Jack Shoup, George Loveday, Elmer Funk, Al Cuffel and Frank MacConnell, there are few people living today who remember much about the old hotel and its owners.
Loveday tells the story that when his father first came here in the early 80's they put up at the hotel. It was a very cold night and stormy. The room they had was so cold that his father went down to the office and asked for a warmer room. While the argument was on, Dr. J. M. Byler, who had his office over Gabner's hardware store, came in from making a country call at Deerwester's on Eagle lake. Doc was very cold. His great cowskin overcoat was all covered with frost. His whiskers were white with snow. When Tommy Loveday turned around and saw Byler he said: "Heavens man! What room up there did you have?"
A complete history of the hotels in this county would be interesting. In the papers for 1864 Ben Wright ran a card throughout the year. Below it was a card for the Empire House at Leesburg, ran by Joseph H. Lessig. Every village and town had its hotels. In connection there was usually a livery barn.
Wright built his barn in 1864 west of the parking lot north of The Daily Times building. He also had a pigpen south of the barn. East of Popham's Exchange on the corner was a barn operated by Chapin Pierce. In 1864 he sold it to Asa Pratt.
From the two hotels, stages ran every day to Goshen and back. Jacob Fogle was one of the drivers. From the Weirick hotel on the corner of Lake and Center streets, stages ran to the towns in the south-west part of the county.
This story is told of a Negro porter at the Popham hotel who was to go along one day to Goshen. It happened to be the day when there was to be an eclipse of the sun. He said that he guessed he would not go because he did not want to miss seeing the eclipse!
The Kirtley house livery barn on the northwest corner, Center and Indiana streets, burned in the fire of 1867. About three years later the Wigwam was hastily built on this corner. In it were held local theatricals and political meetings. During the 1890s this became Huffer's livery barn.
The Wright House for many years was the principal landmark of the town along with the Moon Block, the Cosgrove block, Chipman's store, and the White block, where the corner candy kitchen building has stood for 40 years. Miller's boot and shoe store, for example, was "opposite the Wright House" and Kelly's tailor shop was "next-door east of the Wright House."
On January 29, 1880, the old tavern received some free advertising. A man named Morris, who was a traveling stone-cutter, had been put to bed in the fourth story by the marshal. In his intoxicated state of mind Morris got over to the window and jumped out of the window, falling to the cobblestone gutter on Buffalo Street. He died after a short time. Many tales could be told of these days when hotels were real centers of hospitality both for man and beast.
The Old Wright House
A crew of workmen are now engaged in changing the top part of the Pottenger building on lot 45 east of the cigar store corner. This four-story front is all that remains of the old Lake View hotel which was a four-story building reaching to Buffalo Street.
Reviewing the history of this Lot 45, we find that it was first sold to George R. Thralls by Charles Sleeper for $150 on April 20, 1839. Thralls & Pottenger then were proprietors of a drug store just across the alley and north of the corner under study. Thralls was nicknamed "Old Watch" and was for some years the local editor of the Northern Indianian.
In 1839 Warsaw was a village of only a few families. The sale of lots which commenced in 1836 proceeded very slowly. The only records available for these early time of the 1830's are those of the commissioners' court. The Losure Tavern and the home of Matthew D. Springer were the only two places worthy of the name hotel during these trying times when people were not sure that Warsaw would survive.
Among First Hotel Keepers
In 1843 Michael Funk arrived in Warsaw with his son, Joseph. He drove through in a covered wagon from Wayne County, Ohio, where he had been a merchant, and brought with him some merchandise with which he started a store in the village. He purchased Lot 45 and placed his stock of goods in a frame building on the east and on the lot where Stevenson's store is now located. Leaving his son Joe in charge of the store, he went back to Ohio and the next year brought his wife and the other six children. He built a tavern on the west end of the lot and became one of Warsaw's first hotel keepers.
In those days when court was in session, attorneys came here from South Bend, Fort Wayne and other places and Funk's tavern was a busy place. Unfortunately, Michael Funk died of pneumonia on May 4, 1846, in the prime and vigor of life. His son, Joe, taught school. Bram Funk grew to manhood in Warsaw and became a prominent citizen.
About the time that Mr. Funk operated the hotel here, William J. Pope had a store on what is now the post office corner. It was made of tamarack poles. Jacob Losure had a tavern at the southwest corner of Lake and Center streets. Philip Lash had a blacksmith's shop in the village, John Giselman, a chair shop; and H. Higby a furniture shop. There were a few houses on Buffalo Street and a frame court house at Center and Indiana streets.
Early Pastimes in Warsaw
In 1845 Reub Williams as a boy came to the village of Warsaw and became playmate of Bram Funk. They skated on a pond just southwest of the old tavern. Some other boys of that time were Charley Chapman, Tom Bryan, Horatio Harvey, Hank Robinson, Lishe Frush, Dan Bratt and Mip Davis. They had many pastimes. Chicken and watermelon bouyas were common. For other amusements they had May-day festivals, wax taffy-pullings, log-rollings, barn-raisings, husking-bees, bellings, shindigs and spelling-bees.
No streets were graded at that time. Due to the fact that Peter Warner had a dam in the river west of town to furnish power for his mills, the water in Center Lake sometimes came up almost to Horn's chair factory which was north of the public square. In 1854 we find that the tavern on lot 45 was owned and operated by L. W. Sandborn & Company. The name of it was the Tremont house. It had a competitor a half a block east called Popham's Exchange.
In 1855 Ben Wright came to the fast growing town of Warsaw. The next year he and his brother Rigdon Wright bought the hotel which they kept for twenty-seven years. It was known then as the Wright house and the editor used to say that Ben Wright was the right man in the right place.
Shortly after the Civil War closed Mr. Wright remodeled the place and enlarged it. Then on June 8, 1867 the old Wright house caught afire and, being a frame building, was completely consumed. The fire started in a warehouse near Captain Curtis' saloon east of the hotel. In spite of good work by the fire department, the blaze spread east to the Kirtley house (located then on site of the Eagles' building) and to Berst's livery barn and north to Lathrop's saloon, which was saved by tearing down an old frame building just south of it. The new Baptist church on the northeast corner of Indiana and Center streets was saved with wet bedding and canvas.
The fire department then had a hand-pumper and pumped water from cisterns. The old hose would not stand the pressure and had to be reinforced with anything which could be found to wrap around them.
Fire Loss Heavy
The loss in this fire of almost 80 years ago was $42,500, distributed among Wright, Kirtley, Curtis, Berst, and Lathrope. In 1870 on the side of this block was built the Wigwam. Hotels then had a livery barn in connection. The barn for the old Wright house was located at the alley intersection between Center and Markets streets. Afterwards this became the saloon site of Wall Street Exchange and the Little Casino adjoining, operated respectively by Frank Breading, Frank McCauley and Eli Snyder. The new Kirtley house was the first to open after the fire. It was fittingly dedicated on June 18, 1868, with a grand ball.
The New Wright House
The new Wright House opened its doors to the public on Aug. 12, 1869. Ben Wright and Dan Shoup built the hotel part; Thralls and Grabner built a part and Haymond another part. Sam Weirick was the architect, Levi Zumbrun and William Grimm the bricklayers, Eugene Sheffield was the painter, Hank June, the grainer, and E. S. Blackford, the plasterer, on the new hotel. The hotel occupied the three top floors. There was an entrance from Center street which led up to an office. East of this office was a lobby and north of the lobby was a spacious dining room.
It was the day of oil lamps or candles, the day of straw ticks and rag carpets. Stoves and fireplaces were used for heating. There was no running water, so water was placed in the rooms in large pitchers. Guests could stay in the best room of the hotel and eat three good meals for two dollars a day. Rates at cheaper hotels were as low as 75 cents a day.
The new building was an imposing structure with a balcony on the south and west sides. The lower floor was rented out to various concerns, George Pringle's saloon was on the corner. Ed Hinds also had a watch-repair shop in one room. North of the hotel on the alley was a one-story frame building with a frame awning over the board walk. This was Lathrop's saloon. North of it was a row of frame buildings.
Becomes Lake City Hotel
On April 19, 1882 Ben Wright died. The hotel was taken over by Mr. Kirtley and was called the Lake City hotel. These were busy days in town, for the court house was being built, a new block south of the public square was going up and also four fronts opposite the hotel on the south.
On the evening of March 21, 1883 the Wright house was discovered to be on fire. The fire started in the lamp room. There was a strong wind blowing from the west. Bob Shaw arrived with the steamer and Perry Brown was on hand as fire chief. William Conrad was foreman. After pumping all the cisterns dry within a radius of two blocks, the firemen telegraphed to Fort Wayne for help.
Fort Wayne sent equipment down on a special train which made a record run to Warsaw, arriving here about 7:40 p.m. the firemen brought with them 1000 feet of hose which, attached to our 600 feet, made a line that reached to Center lake. They now had a cistern that could not be pumped dry in a few hours. The fire was brought under control.
Grabner Building Saved
A firewall saved the Grabner part of the building which is now being remodeled. The morning after the fire both streets were littered with bedding, beds and hotel furniture. A stone fell and broke a window across the street in Edson Spangle's watch-repair shop. Jack Lee worked at the fire, caught cold and died a few days later at the home of Mrs. John Dineen.
The Wright house fire was one of the biggest that Warsaw ever experienced. The blaze could be seen from distant points round about the city. The city council immediately began to plan for better fire protection.
It was not many years until the water works was built at the foot of Buffalo street and water mains placed throughout the uptown district. To prove that there was force behind the water, four streams were thrown over the top of the court house.
After the fire, the corner was rebuilt by Dan Shoup and the Masonic lodge. The building stands there today. Reub Williams called it the Temple block. The Masons occupied the first floor until the present Masonic temple was built about 1924. No longer was this corner to be used as a hotel cite. C. W. Chapman and Charles L. Sieloff started the corner cigar store there in September 1883. An Indian statue stood at the corner for perhaps thirty years.
In 1884 the Hotel Hays was opened to the public for the first time. There were forty-four rooms. The Kirtley house continued in business until about 1915 when it closed up as a hotel and part of it was used as a depot for the Winona interurban lines. In the 1890's it was called the White House, and was operated by William S. Forler.
And so we leave the story of the old Wright house. Much more could be written about the Wright family and the other owners of the place. A great deal could be written about the customs of the day and about some of the men who stayed there, including the Immortal J. N., James Whitcomb Riley and others. It would be interesting, too, to write about the different places of business that surrounded the old hotel, but we leave this for another unpublished article of greater scope entitled "History of the Taverns in Kosciusko County."
Warsaw Daily Times February 23, 1946
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