Ray Berg

Comings and Goings at the Manchester Hotel  (Part 3 of 3)

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By Ray Berg

This Part 3 concludes our history of the Manchester Hotel.

Changing Times

By the 1890s, the general tenants of the Goodyear House were more likely regular boarders than transient visitors, as the concept of “apartments” took hold in America. Some signs of gradual deterioration were beginning to show. In January 1892, the street lamp was removed. Mat Blosser, in his characteristic editorial sarcasm, noted “We miss the street lamp that stood in front of the Goodyear House. Why don’t the city fathers erect a tallow candle on Ann Arbor Hill and illuminate the whole town…”. Apparently effective street lighting was still a sore point in the village.

By October 1888, A. Freeman purchased the Goodyear House and renamed it the Freeman House, but it took some time for the new name to be accepted in the community. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map dated October 1888 shows a large, first-floor front office/bar/smoking room, with an interior large dining room with attached kitchen and billiards room, and an adjacent barber shop. The second and third floors were the residents’ rooms. Freeman undertook some renovations, including on November 22, 1895, when he asked council for permission to remove the windmill (which he called a “barn yard fixture”) from in front of the hotel. He offered to move the windmill to the rear of the hotel, and said he would pipe the water from the well to a stone watering trough in front similar to those in other towns. He also offered to keep the windmill in repair as long as it was worth repairing. It appears from other news articles and several photographs taken of the hotel that Freeman worked to keep the hotel current and lively through the 1890-1905 period.

Figure 7 - Manchester House Later Years

Figure 7 – Manchester House, later years

Figure 8 - Interior Lobby

Figure 8 – Interior of the Freeman House, 1890s

Near the End

The hotel was called the Manchester Hotel again by November 26, 1911, when the current owner, one J. J. Beagle of Wellsville, New York, was charged with hiring someone to set his hotel on fire, presumably for the insurance money. As reported, “an elaborate attempt to burn down the Manchester Hotel was made but failed because a passerby noticed the flames. The proprietor (William Lewis) was suspected of being the incendiary. On each of the three floors of the hotel, one room was elected and the windows heavily blanketed. Rags saturated with kerosene were stuffed in holes knocked in the walls, and lighted candles were placed close to the rags. Lewis left on the 10:00 train. Sometime later, Frank Koebbe, passing by, saw a gleam of fire in a third floor window. The fire department was summoned and little damage was done. Three girls were staying at the hotel when the fire was discovered but they had heard nothing. Lewis was caught in Toledo. The hotel was insured for $ 15,000. On March 3, 1913, Beagle pleaded guilty of the charge against him in Washtenaw County Court at Ann Arbor Michigan, and was sentenced to three months in jail and $100 fine, and if fine was not paid to serve an additional three months in jail. The case of William Lewis, occupant of the Manchester Hotel who made a confession and pleaded guilty, was sentenced to Washtenaw County jail for a term of three months and served his time.

The hotel/boarding house continued to operate through the 1920s with minimal staff and apparently minimal maintenance or upgrades. State of Michigan staff inspection reports in the 1920s, available on-line, show few employees (usually one) and some violation notices.

The front three-floor façade, the entire front bay, and the upper rear floors were removed in 1938, and the remaining structure converted into a Gulf gasoline and service station, operated by Grossman and Huber for more than 40 years until 1979. The structure is now operated as the Manchester Beverage Shoppe and Marathon service station.

Figure 9 - Manchester Street Scene by Manchester House

Figure 9 – View of Exchange Place from Manchester House, 1900s

The author thanks Jerry Swartout for the use of his Manchester photos (Figures 1 and 5), and Alan Dyer for the use of his Manchester Enterprise index.

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