Put-in-Bay Hotels History
The History Of One Of Put-in-Bay’s Hotels – The Victory Hotel The Largest of All
When visiting Put-in-Bay, you will probably make a list of important places to visit during your trip. This list will likely include the Battle of Lake Erie, Perry’s Monument, and the Hotel Victory. The Hotel Victory is now a historical site on the island and a huge conversation topic- even though it burned down 100 years ago. Before the fire, it was the world’s largest summer hotel.
Put-in-Bay Hotels History – Once the largest Summer Hotel in the World! – Hotel Victory
During the late 1880s, Put-in-Bay had two primary businesses- grape growing and winemaking, both becoming a growing tourist destination. A man from Toledo name John Tilloson, came to the island proposed to build a 625-guest-room hotel in the woods on the south end of the island and would name the hotel, Victory. On Sept 10, 1889, an anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie, he and the investors with 8,000 people in attendance witnessed the laying of the cornerstone.
Hotel Victory Construction
The location of the hotel was a 100-acre site overlooking Stone’s Cove, 21 acres would be used for hotel and grounds, and the rest was subdivided into small cottages. A Toledo architect, E.O.Falls designed the hotel with a Queen Anne style that was three-story-tall. It included multiple dormers, towers, and turrets. This design was created to make a big impression on the tourist traveling from the mainland on the steamers.
The main section of the building measured 600-ft. By 300-ft., three-story building with high corner towers creating an enclosed courtyard. Attached to the hotel was a large dining area, a kitchen, and employee housing. While building, workers installed 16.5 acres of flooring, 16,000 sq. Yards of carpeting, 7 acres of shingles, 7.5 miles of baseboard, 1 mile of wainscoting, 1,7000 doors, 2,500 windows, and a steam heating system.
The hotel had its own electric generating system, which provided the power for three elevators, call buttons for each room, and 6,000 incandescent light bulbs to light the hotels. George Feick, from Sandusky, was awarded the construction contract and the work started with a sawmill and planing mill on the site. The first guest arrived in 1892, while workers were still busy in some areas of the hotel.
In the end, the dining room (115ft. By 85ft.) could hold 1,200 people, which still holds the recorded on the island for being the largest of any restaurant. A 10-table billiard hall, an assembly room for conventioneers, a ladies’ lounge, a lobby, private parlors, a wine cellar, were popular options. The Hotel also offered shops, a greenhouse, a barbershop, a 30-ft long bar, a soda fountain, bellboy stations, a newsstand, and a photo darkroom.
Hotel Victory had hundreds of tables, chairs, nightstands, beds, and other furnishings. The kitchen had the most modern equipment for the time. Likewise, the hotel was heated by steam heat. The grounds had attractive landscaping, with a boardwalk with areas to stop and enjoy the view of Lake Erie. There was even a “Trysting Place,” which was a rendezvous for romantic couples. However, developers realized there was a need for transportation for the hotel guest. A trolley line was built from the docks to the front of the hotel. It featured a half-way stop at the caves.
Put-in-Bay Hotels History- THE HOTEL VICTORY OPENS
During construction, the budget was overshot by an estimate of $28,000,000 in today’s money, but that did not stop the hotel from opening on July 21, 1892. However, it was bankrupt by September and closed. A room with a courtyard-view for two on the third floor with a shared bath down the hall was $957. If you wanted a couple’s room with a lake-view with a private bathroom on the first floor, it would be over $2,500 for a week.
The hotel was reopened in 1893 but was closed by August for financial problems and reminded closed for the next two seasons. In 1894, a Toledo News’ reporter wrote, “The immense structure is not simply a hotel, but a home for bugs, rattlesnakes and June bugs. The windows are so thickly covered with June bugs that it is impossible to look through them, and Victory Park – J.K. Tilloston’s dream – is today a cow pasture. A match or cigar stub carelessly thrown near the structure could start a fire as was never seen before on the island.”
The hotel and its content were sold in late 1895 sheriff’s auction. The hotels grounds sold for over a half-million dollars. The furniture sold for over two hundred thousand dollars. Without the debt, the hotel opened again on July 20, 1896. With a more significant promotion to bring new customers and conventioneers. One of the guests was the window of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The interior work was finally completed, and the hotel officially entered its glory years. Two years later, a 30-ft wide and 100-ft long, covered, lake water swimming pool named the “Natatorium” was built. This pool became the first to allow men and women to swim together in the country.
However, in 1899, C.W. and J.W. Ryan purchased the Hotel Victory and brought in T.W. McCreary as the general manager, who revitalized the hotel. Before the purchase of the hotel, there was a smallpox outbreak. In 1898, five mild causes, along with one serious case, were discovered amongst the mainly “colored” help. John Bohlander, a doctor on the island, quarantined 200 guests and 250 employees at the hotel. This was successful, and it would only allow for 27 mild cases. Unfortunately, there was only one fatality, when an employee was diagnosed and ran off from the building and jumped off the cliff, and died on the rocks below.
McCreary not only had a genius for promotion but was also the “perfect host”. An advertisement for the hotel ran that reads “where dew is unknown” and “the hay fever sufferer’s haven.
When the 1900 season began, the change was noticeable. McCreary became the longest-tenured Hotel Victory manager, which experienced the peak of its success and popularity during his 1899-1907 tenure. McCreary’s unceasing publicity efforts established the Hotel Victory as THE PLACE to stay, making it worth the higher rates the hotel charged to meet its costs and offset the fact that it had a short season. He was also talented at attracting group meetings to supplement the usual crowd of tourists. McCreary also touted many activities, entertainments, and safety measures taken to ensure the comfort and entertainment of guests.
For the guest, the hotel had a house physician, a dentist, a tailor, a dark room for photographers, a manicurist, a ladies shop, an ice cream parlor, a barbershop, and public baths. Likewise, a livery with “pleasure wagons,” a telegraph office with long-distance telephone access, a stenographer, and a laundry room. For activities, the guest had the option to take a “constitutional” on the grounds, to go for a swim, to ride the water toboggan, to go on moonlight hayrides, Tolley p
McCreary hired Alfons Pelter, a German sculptor, to design the Victory Monument for Hotel Victory. At 22-ft high, the bronze monument featured a winged woman with a wreath in one hand and a staff in the other. The “Winged Victory” monument was surrounded by a stone balustrade. These ruins can still be seen today. At the unveiling ceremony, Vice-President of the United States, Charles W. Fairbanks, in 1907. However, in 1907, McCreary died in 1907, leaving Colonel B.G. Doyle to take over management. But in two years the hotel closed again.
Put-in-Bay Hotels History – The Final Years
In 1911, a Chicago newspaper reported that the hotel was a neglected, decaying “haunted” place. Meanwhile, rumors had started over the hotel being reopened under new ownership, but that was short-lived. There was a small remodeling effort, but it quickly went under because of money. During World War I, the E.M.T. Automobile Company in Detroit purchased the hotel and began the remodeling process before the Flanders Realty Company in Detroit brought it.
Flanders is reported to pay $40,000 for the hotel, and on top of that, a $100,000 on remodeling before it reopened in 1918. The new owners priced the rooms at $1.50 and above as it was marketed as a getaway for Army and Navy men on leave during WWI. This brought in new customers, and hopes were high until, in 1919, a Chicago group run by Charles J. Stoops purchased it and took out a $250,000 mortgage. But there was barely any increase in business with the post-war economic boom, and rumors of the closing came back.
Put-in-Bay Hotels History – The Famous Hotel Victory Burns
Shortly after the dinner hour on Thursday the 14th of August in 1919, a fire started in a corner by the northwest third floor. Less than 40 guests were able to escape unharmed. While the fire was happening, looters came and stole many of the personal items left behind by the fleeing guest, with some hotel furnishings and anything of value.
Within an hour, the entire building was an inferno, and the fire department decided to focus on saving nearby structures. The flames shot more than 75 feet in the air, lighting up the sky, and were seen as far away as Detroit, Toledo, and Sandusky. There are reports of the ashes landing on Kelley’s Island. By the next day, there was nothing but foundation ruins.
The hotels damage is estimated between $500,000 and $1,000,000 or in today money $7,400,000 to $148,000,000. There were rumors of it being set up to collect insurance on the building, but there was little insurance, and the fire was supposedly caused by an electrical problem. This was the end of Hotel Victory and earning its place in Put-in-Bay’s history.
Put-in-Bay Hotels History- The Last 100 Years
There is a lot of speculation of what could have been in the hotel had never burned down. Mackinac Island, in Michigan, has the Grand Hotel, which opened a couple of years before Hotel Victory. It, too, suffered some hard times, but it still proudly standing to this day from an era that started 130 years ago. Over many years, the hotel has been visited by Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, U.S. Presidents, and First Ladies, celebrities, dignitaries from all over the world.
There have also been movies filmed at the Grand Hotel. If the Hotel Victory not burned, would it have achieved glory? But with its history of financial problems, Prohibition, and the Great Depression, it may not have survived those events. It is nice to imagine the what-if of golf carts parked outside, while visitors tour the grounds or have lunch in its dining hall. It could have been a famous attraction for the Island just as the Grand Hotel has been for Mackinac Island.
For more information, there is a binder with photos and even more information about the Hotel Victory located at the office at the South Bass Island State Park. Likewise, you can always visit the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society Museum downtown behind the Put-in-Bay
Town Hall. Be sure to check out the unique display with Hotel Victory memorabilia, photos, furniture, and other items and Put-in-Bay Hotel History. This museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. There are also history books about the island that help tell the story, plus there are articles and photographs on the internet. Islander Barbara Allen Cooper also created a booklet about the Hotel Victory’s “Winged Victory” statue.