Visitors to the city of Niagara Falls usually came by train in the early years when railroads were the main conveyance for tourists. However, you could not be in a hurry to reach your destination as travel by rail during 1800 for example was very slow. It probably took at least 10 days to get from New York City to Niagara Falls but this was almost cut in half by 1830. Imagine stepping off the train at the depot on Falls Street during the late 1800s and met by transport to your hotel , probably one of the notable hotels of the day. Ladies dresses of the day had a bustle and usually three of four underskirts. And her shoes would be what we now refer to as “high button shoes.” Gentlemen wore a frock coat and a top hat to look his best.
You might be staying at the Imperial Hotel built in 1893 on the northwest corner of Falls and Second. It was next door to the Temperance House. The Hotel Porter was at one time a part of the Imperial but was built in September 1890 and later burned. Many hotels suffered loss from fire and it was also the Imperial’s fate in 1905. It was rebuilt the following year on the same site which later became the Niagara Dry Goods and finally the J.N. Adam store.
The Temperance Hotel was featured in an article by Bob Kostoff in the Niagara Falls Reporter issue of June 22, 2004. He noted its location on Second Street near Falls Street, right across from the railroad station and was called the Henry Hubbs Hotel, named after the owner. Henry was born in the Town of Royalton in 1841, “worked farms, became a railroad man and moved to Niagara Falls in 1870 and opened the rooming house across from the depot,” according to Kostoff. “As business expanded he became full-time in the hotel business. Hubbs, a dedicated teetotaler, would not even allow alcoholic beverages served with meals in his dining room.
Kostoff referenced a story attributed to former City Historian Marjorie Williams of how the hotel came to be named. “Seems a couple of gentlemen, told by Hubbs they could not drink in his dining room, went elsewhere for food and refreshments. When they returned that night, they tacked a sign on a pillar of the long verandah proclaiming ‘Temperance House.’ Hubbs thought that was a good idea and made it the official name of his hotel.”
Across the street, next to what later became the Beir’s Department Store, was the Empire Hotel which became the Clarendon in October of 1855, then was changed again to the American Hotel in 1859. This one was lost to a fire also on Sept. 30, 1863 but a new hotel named the Spencer House replaced it on this site on April 3, 1867 and opened its doors on June 12 of that year. Hamilton Mizer’s book, “Niagara Falls, New York A City Matures,” made mention of the Spencer House and including it among the leading hotels of the day, namely the Cataract House, the International, the Prospect House and the Hotel Kaltenbach. Apparently the Spencer House, which operated year-round was known as one of the “best advertised American resort houses throughout Europe.” It stood on the site of the Gluck Building on the southeast corner of Falls and Second streets and was owned by Alva Gluck, father-in-law of Arthur Schoellkopf. It burned on the eve of the city’s birth, March 16, 1892.
The Watson House was on First Street opposite the First Presbyterian Church. Apparently it became a sort of permanent residence place as it was sold to its tenants in December of 1945. Hamilton Mizer’s book also mention of the Converse which was also on First Street just north of the church next to the YMCA.
The Edwards Hotel on Prospect Street, originally known as Mechanic Street, was in the oldest section of Niagara Falls. Owned and operated by David and Fanny Edwards since 1882 they were probably the seniors in that line of business when they retired in 1940. A story in the Niagara Falls Gazette in its March 28, 1940 edition noted their recent 60th wedding anniversary celebration during Christmas of 1939 and their “58 years of catering to Niagara tourists.”
The couple purchased the residence of Frank E. Giroux located at 342 Prospect St. in 1902. The property was one of the early residences on the west side of Mechanic Street, midway between Falls and Niagara streets. They did extensive remodeling and enlarged the premises which became the Edwards Hotel, one of the best known tourist homes in Niagara Falls.
The Gazette story told of “large numbers of people from the U.S. and abroad have been entertained in tourist homes” and referred to a party of people that came from London, England to the Edwards Hotel after seeing the advertisement of the hotel in London. The article listed several prized possession of Mrs. Edwards, some of which were being donated to the Historical Society and others were moving to their apartment following their retirement. Mr. Edwards had a long business and public career. He was a 33-year employee of the International Railway Company, as station master and ticket agent at the Falls View Bridge. He also served as supervisor of the First Ward of Niagara Falls shortly after the city was created. He was also a veteran of the Spanish American War.
The city of Niagara Falls — celebrating 125 years of history. Contact Norma Higgs by email at email@example.com.