The History Of Put-in-Bay’s Victory Hotels The Largest of All
When you visit Put-in-Bay, you will probably make a list of exciting places to visit during your stay. The plan will likely include the Battle of Lake Erie, the Hotel Victory remains, and Perry’s Monument, The Hotel Victory, now a historical site on the Island, is a huge topic of conversation- even though it burned over 100 years ago. It was the World’s largest Hotel before the fire.
Put-in-Bay Hotels History – Once One Of The Largest Hotels In The World!
In the late 1880s, the two primary businesses at Put-in-Bay were grape growing and winemaking, both becoming a growing tourist destination. A man from Toledo name John Tillotson, came to Put-in-Bay and proposed to construct a 625-guest-room hotel in the wooded area on the southern end of the Island.
He would name it The Hotel Victory. On Sept 10, 1889, while celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie, he and the investors witnessed the cornerstone’s laying with 8,000 people in attendance.
Construction Of The Hotel Victory
The 100-acre site overlooked Stone’s Cove and was to be the new home for the Hotel. The Hotels and grounds would occupy 21 acres, and the remaining area was subdivided into small lots for cottages. 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.
The design was created to make a big impression on the visiting tourist from the mainland on the steamers. The central section of the building measured 300-ft. By 600-ft. It was a three-story building with high corner towers creating an enclosed courtyard. Attached to the Hotels was a large dining area, a kitchen, and employee housing. When building, workers installed a steam heating system, 16,000 sq. yards of carpeting, 16.5 acres of flooring, 7.5 miles of baseboard, 7 acres of shingles, 1 mile of wainscoting, 2500 windows, and 1700 doors.
The hotels own electric generating system, provided the power for 6000 incandescent light bulbs, three elevators, and call buttons for each room,
The construction contract was awarded to the George Feick company from Sandusky, and the work began with a sawmill and planing mill on-site. The first guest arrived in 1892, while workers were still busy in some areas of the Hotel.
In the end, the 115ft by 85 ft dining room could hold 1,200 people, which still has the record at Put-in-Bay for being the largest restaurant ever. A billiard hall with ten tables, an assembly room for conventioneers, a ladies lounge, private parlors, a wine cellar, shops, a greenhouse, a lobby, a 30ft long bar, a barbershop, bellboy stations, a soda fountain, a newsstand, and a darkroom for photos.
Thousands of tables, chairs, nightstands, beds, and other furnishings filled the Hotel Victory. The most modern equipment of the time filled the kitchen. Likewise, the Hotel was heated by steam heat. The grounds had attractive landscaping. The boardwalk, complete with areas to stop and enjoy the view of Lake Erie, was famous.
There was even a popular “Trysting Place,” which was a rendezvous for romantic couples. Developers soon realized there was a need for transportation to and from the resort for the hotel guest. A trolley line was designed and built from the docks to the Hotel’s front, stopping at the caves halfway.
Put-in-Bay Hotels History- THE HOTEL VICTORY OPENS
While under construction, the budget was exceeded by an estimated $28,000,000 in today’s dollars. That did not hinder the Hotel from opening on time Jul 21, 1892. By September, it was bankrupt and closed. A room with a courtyard-view for two on the third floor with a shared bath down the hall was $9.57. If you wanted a couple’s room with a lake-view and a private bath on the first floor, it would be over $25.00 per week. The Hotel reopened in 1893 but was closed again by August for financial problems and remained closed for the next two seasons.
A Toledo News’ reporter wrote in 1894, “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 cigar stub or carelessly thrown match near the structure could start such a fire as never been seen before on the Island.”
The Hotel and its contents sold in late 1895 at a sheriff’s auction. Over a half-million dollars was bid for the Hotel and grounds. The furniture brought two hundred thousand dollars. The Hotel opened again on Jul 20, 1896, without debt.
With new promotions to bring new customers and conventioneers, the Hotel once more thrived. Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ widow was among the guests. The interior was finally completed, and the Hotel officially entered its glory years. Just two years later, a 30-ft wide and 100-ft long, covered swimming pool named the “Natatorium” was built using Lake Erie Water. The pool was 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 hotel purchase, there was an outbreak of smallpox. Five mild causes, along with one serious case, were discovered in 1898, mainly among the”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 one fatality.
An employee was diagnosed with smallpox and ran off from the building, jumped off the cliff, and died after falling on the rocks below.
McCreary was a genius at promotion and was also the “perfect host.” Advertisements for the Hotel ran that read “where dew is unknown” and touted “the hay fever sufferer’s haven.
When the 1900 season began, the changes were noticeable. McCreary became the longest operating manager at the Hotel Victory, which experienced the top of its success and popularity during his 1899-1907 years of service. McCreary’s publicity efforts marketed the Hotel Victory as THE PLACE to stay, making it worthy of the premium rates the Hotel charged to meet its overhead and offset the fact that it had a very short season. He was also successful at attracting group meetings that supplemented the usual crowd of tourists. McCreary also promoted many activities, entertainment, and safety measures taken to ensure guests’ comfort.
The Hotels Amenities
For the guest, the Hotel had a dentist, house physician, a tailor, a dark room for photographers, a manicurist, a ladies’ shop, an ice cream parlor, a barbershop, and public baths. A livery with “pleasure wagons,” a telegraph office with long-distance telephone access, a laundry room, and a stenographer all served guests.
For activities, the guests could take a “constitutional” on the grounds, go for a swim or ride the water toboggan. There were moonlight hayrides, Tolley parties, sunset watch areas, and fishing. You could have what you catch cooked for you on the site. Many guests touted the benefits of “Strontium Spa Water” available directly at the spring in the lobby. The water from the spa was claimed to be the greatest of the Hotel’s attractions as it was supposedly the best remedy for bright’s disease and helped with Paddock disorders.
The Victory had its own symphony orchestra and bands of musicians employed throughout the season. Likewise, there were children’s parties and dances in the ballroom. The Hotel also had the option to get a “behind the scenes” and visit the hotel kitchen, pantry, storeroom, cold storage, and wine cellar or investigate any of the other workings. The guest was also able to leave the grounds and enjoy the rest of the Island had to offer.
Put-in-Bay Hotels History – The Winged Statue
A German sculptor named Alfons Pelter was hired by McCreary to design the Victory Monument for Hotel Victory. The bronze monument stood 22ft tall and featured a winged woman embracing a staff in one hand and a wreath in the other. The monument was named “Winged Victory” and was surrounded by a stone balustrade, the ruins of which can still be viewed today.
Vice-President of the United States, Charles W. Fairbanks, attended the unveiling ceremony in 1907. McCreary died in 1907, and Colonel B.G. Doyle took over management. Two years later, the Hotel closed again.
Put-in-Bay Hotels History – The Final Years
A Chicago newspaper reported in 1911 that the Hotel was a neglected, decaying “haunted” place. Rumors were flying that the Hotel was being reopened with new owners, but that proved short-lived. A small remodeling effort took place, but it quickly went under because of a lack of money.
E.M.T. Automobile Company in Detroit purchased the Hotel During World War I, and again began the remodeling process before selling to the Flanders Realty Company in Detroit. Flanders is reportedly paid $40,000 for the Hotel, and on top of that, spent $100,000 on improvements before it reopened in 1918. The new operators priced the rooms at $1.50 and above as it was marketed as a getaway for Navy and Army men on leave during WWI.
New customers arrived, and hopes were high until in 1919 when a group from Chicago run by Charles J. Stoops purchased it and took out a $250,000 mortgage. There was barely any increase in business with the post-war economic boom, and rumors of the hotel closing began to swirls again.
Put-in-Bay Hotels History – The Hotel Victory Burns
Shortly after the dinner hour on Thursday, Aug 14 in 1919, a fire started in the third floor’s northwest corner. The less than 40 guests were able to escape without harm. As the fire was happening, looters came and stole most of the personal items the fleeing guest left behind. Some hotel furnishings and just about anything of value was taken. The entire building was an inferno in less than an hour, and the fire department decided to focus on saving structures nearby.
The flames, more than 75 feet in the air, lit up the sky and could be seen as far away as Sandusky, Toledo, and Detroit. Ashes reportedly landed on Kelley’s Island. By the next day, there was nothing but foundation ruins. The damage was estimated to be between $500,000 and $1,000,000. In today’s money that would be $7,400,000 to $148,000,000. Rumors circulated that it was set up to collect insurance on the building. 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 Hotels history.
The Last 100 Years of Put-in-Bay Hotels History
There is a lot of speculation of what could have been in the Hotel had it never burned down. The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, in Michigan, opened a few years before Hotel Victory. It, too, has suffered some hard times, but it still proudly stands to this day from an era that started 130 years ago. Over the years, the Hotel has been visited by U.S. Presidents and First Ladies, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, celebrities, and 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 Put-in-Bay golf carts parked outside while visitors tour the grounds or have lunch in its dining hall. It could have been a glorious attraction for the Island, just as the Grand Hotel has been for Mackinac Island.
There is a binder with photos and even more information about the Hotel Victory located at the South Bass Island State Park office for more information. You can always visit the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society Museum downtown behind the Put-in-Bay Town Hall, where there is an impressive display with Hotel Victory memorabilia, furniture, photos, 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 island history books that help tell the story, plus there are articles and photographs on the internet. Islander Barbara Allen Cooper also wrote a booklet about the Hotel Victory’s “Winged Victory” statue.