Newark Hostelries Opened Their Doors to Diverse New Worlds

History and Landscape
Published December 2, 1999

Newark Hostelries Opened Their Doors to Diverse New Worlds

| Published December 2, 1999

The Park House was originally the Frelinghuysen Mansion in Park Place, now the southwest corner of the PSE&G Park. It was used as an important hotel and a place for receptions in 19th century Newark. The Newark Public Library

The story of Newark's hostelries falls into three periods: a time of quaint 18th century inns and taverns, the Civil War era with its lack of sufficient facilities and the present century

Newark's founders settled here to escape the world in their tight, closed theocracy. They tried to hide in a 'wilderness of Zion' so that the outside could not corrupt their godly city. This simply did not work, in part because Newark found itself on the main road from Philadelphia to New York, so passengers were frequently stopping at Newark taverns, and coach drivers were changing horses at livery stables. The outside world and its influences could not be kept out. Puritan isolation was impossible. The earliest known inn was the Eagle Tavern, located north of William Street on the west side of Broad Street. At the time of General George Washington's visit, it was referred to as Josiah Pierson's Tavern. Later innkeepers included Samuel Sayer, Moses Roff, Zaphaniah Drake, Joseph Barton and T. Matthews, but it was only after Washington's visit that it became known as the Eagle Tavern. In 1822 Abby sold it for $9,500. At the end of the 18th century, a check of John Hammond's map shows other accommodations in town including the Traveler's Inn on Broad Street across from Military Park, the Farmer's Hotel at Central Avenue, the North Liberties Hotel next to the present Newark Public Library, the Cadel on the site of Peddie Church, the Market Street Hotel at the foot of Commercial Dock, the Park House on Park Place at the site of the present PSE&G Plaza, and the Mansion House at Broad and William streets.

Gifford's Tavern

By far the most popular inn in early Newark was Gifford's Tavern on the northeast corner of Broad and Market streets, on the spot where the Fireman's Insurance Building was built in 1912. This tavern was, outside of the town's two major churches, the most popular building in Newark from the 1790s until the 1830s, when it burned. Most public meetings not held in the churches or court house took place there. Stagecoaches coming to Newark brought passengers and mail, and its livery stable was used for the exchange of horses. Said one scribe: 'It was the royal place for feasting at times of popular celebration. Distinguished visitors stopped there and held receptions in the Long Bar Room.' On the corner of the inn was a sign swinging from a post bearing the tavern's name The Hounds and Horn with a painting of a fox hunt. Hunters on horseback held a fox up over a pack of excited hounds. A writer once called it 'the most ambitious work of art in Newark for many a day.' While George Washington lodged at the Eagle, President John Adams later selected Gifford's for his visit.

Roff Tavern

The Roff Tavern was another of Newark's earliest taverns, opened by Captain Jabez Parkhurst in 1796, and acquired by Stephen Roff. Like Gifford's Tavern, the Philadelphia and New York stagecoaches called there. On Feb. 8, 1812, the old State Bank of Newark was founded in one of its downstairs chambers. It was located on the west side of Broad Street, four buildings south of the Four Corners and was a three-story brick building with 14 rooms. Its stable abutted the old Burial Ground which you may remember was eventually excavated and sent to Fairmount Cemetery at the end of the last century. In 1836, the Revolutionary War era building was remodeled in the then-popular Greek Revival style. It was considered 'a tavern of the better kind,' for its front room was set aside as a parlor for women travelers. Its bar, with a grille which let down a portcullis to keep its contents secure in the innkeeper's absence, was filled with all manner of the popular drinks of the day including brown rum from New England, mimbo, toddy and sling and Potent Cyder for which Newark was famous. Potent Cyder is mentioned in the legend of the old Shoemaker Map of 1806.

The Park House

The Park House was originally the Frelinghuysen Mansion in Park Place, now the southwest corner of the PSE&G Park. It was used as an important hotel and a place for receptions in 19th century Newark, but was razed for construction of the Terminal Theatre of F. F. Proctor, who was a vaudeville producer. In its prime, the old Park House responded to the excitement of such famous visitors as Louis Kossuth, the Marquis de Lafayette, Daniel Webster, Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay.

Stuart's Hotel

The conversion of Stuart's Hotel into old City Hall marks the beginning of the middle period of inns, taverns and hotels in Newark. The building at the northeast corner of Broad and William streets was actually built as a hotel by the 'Builder, The President, Directors and Company of the Mechanic's Hall Association,' a rather clumsy name for a capital stock company with $75,000 worth of capital. Shares were sold for $100 each for 'the purchasing of a suitable site in the town of Newark for a public house, and erecting a suitable building or buildings there, to be used for such purposes, and the furniture for the same.' In 1864, the old hotel was sold to Newark. For almost 40 years, it served as Newark City Hall. Before its sale, it was also known as the McGregor House. A sample menu discovered from Sept. 2, 1864 includes: Vermicelli soup, boiled striped bass, roast beef, pig, veal, lamb, turkey, goose, duck and chicken. If you wanted broiled meat, you could have chicken, ham, corned beef, or leg of lamb and tongue. Chicken and beef pie were also kitchen specials, and vegetables included potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions, lima beans, corn, hominy rice and beans. Desserts included apple, lemon, plum and peach pie. Ice cream as well as rice and bread pudding were served with coffee, peaches, almonds, raisins, watermelon and figs. Not all that different from today's diners, was it? When the city moved there in 1864, it added a station-house and jail to the rear along William Street, and had the interior extensively remodeled to suit the needs of various city departments. The three-story building was also used for concerts, public receptions and by the Presbyterian Church before it completed its new building in Washington Street.

Old Stone House

An interesting building used for sporting events was the Old Stone House Inn. According to several newspaper accounts, it was located at Morris Park, a stretch of Bloomfield Avenue near present day 10th Street and slightly east of the Silver Lake section of Belleville. However, it was in Newark, and had the distinction of being the city's oldest sports landmark. Built about 1842 the house was the site of pigeon shoots, cock fights, road trotting, swearing and drinking. It was built by an Englishman, Dicky Harrison. Later proprietors included John Erke and Henry Morris. Like Harrison, Erke was English. Members of the old Smith Gun Club were constantly blazing away at clay pigeons on the site and the local Association Football Club requested that they shift their target practice across the road. Today, the site is lost, totally forgotten, a victim of progress.

Edison Hotel

In the 1850s, a series of brick community buildings served as Thomas Alva Edison's laboratory and factory. In 1872, Edison moved his expanding telegraphic research and manufacturing enterprises into what was later to become the Edison Hotel. Several years later he moved to Menlo Park. In 1910, the first floors of the Newark building were occupied by stores. The upper stories were converted into inexpensive hotel rooms for farmers who brought fresh produce to the nearby market area and spent the night. By the 1940s and 1950s, the site had badly deteriorated. The site became a notorious flophouse, where sleeping cubicles could be rented for 60 cents nightly.

By the middle of the 19th century, there was a dearth of hotel accommodations in town. This point was made by the Newark Daily Advertiser on three occasions in the 1860s. On July 30, 1863, it thought the closing of Newark's major hotel, Stuart's, crystallized the need for such an enterprise. It stressed '…we are again without adequate hotel accommodations for strangers who visit the city either for business or pleasure; and the interests of our people, whether manufacturers, property holders, or mere quiet dwellers who are liable to occasional visits from personal friends, are damaged by the apparent inhospitality to an extent that cannot be computed in money.' The editorial also noted that the government provided public buildings for the courts, the sick, and for handling of the mail, and it concluded that '…a first class public house has become an unavoidable necessity…' A second article appeared in the Advertiser on April 22, 1869, upon the occasion of the visit of the National Sunday School Convention with more than 1,000 expected to attend. The press noted that it was … humiliating to confess that we have no hotel that can accommodate them, no public establishment that can even attempt to supply a meal.' It is perhaps the first public demonstration of an absolute need of a first class hotel, but that has been neglected too long for this impending emergency, and we can only hope that it will awaken sufficient interest to provide for future calls of a similar kind.' The following day the Advertiser carried another article about a citizen committee established to help create such a facility, chaired by William H. McClave, whose job was to raise $400,000 through subscriptions. Henry W. Duryea Esq. was appointed chairman of the Newark Board of Trade Hotel Committee to make the proposal a reality. Additional money was to be raised through the building's storefront rentals and commissions from a large meeting hall.

In 1915, two hotels for working girls and women were established, one in Belleville Avenue (Broadway) and the other in Mulberry Street. The former, Loretto Hall, was founded as a 'non-sectarian home for business girls' under the auspices of the Sisters of Peace of St. Joseph. According to a Newark News account of July 24, 'the building has been in the hands of masons, carpenters, plumbers and painters during a long period and has been completely remodeled, renovated and decorated, with the result that a modern cozy boarding-home has been developed. Rev. Felix M. O'Neill, pastor of St. Michael's is to bless the house tomorrow.' Mother M. Teresa was in charge of the facility, and five sisters were assigned to receive visitors. Across town at 226 and 228 Mulberry Street a 'hotel for self-supporting women and girls' was scheduled to open in May. It was established by the Woman's Housing Association, whose president was Miss Alice Kirkpatrick. The purpose of the association was '…to combine the freedom of a hotel with the sheltered atmosphere of a home, and a chaperone if desired.' The rates were designed to be within the means of working women and ranged from $3.50 to $6 a week, which also included three meals daily and laundry privileges. Accommodations included private rooms or a semi-dormitory environment with no more than three occupants per room. Bedrooms were furnished with natural oak furniture, white enameled individual beds, chiffoniers and mirrors, and painted floors with individual rugs at the side of each bed. Each tenant was to have an individual closet and stationary wash stands—the entire facility was to accommodate between 85 to 100 occupants. Guests could be invited for a mere 15 cents for breakfast and lunch and 25 cents for supper. The list of the organization's officers read like a Newark social register and included Mrs. Robert F. Ballantine as chairwoman, along with Mrs. Robert Young, Mrs. Wallace M. Scudder and Mrs. Felix Fuld. Male support came from Felix Fuld and Leopold Meyer as well as members of the Clark, Morgan and Bamberger families.

One of the last hostelries to be constructed in the 19th century was the Continental Hotel (1872-1919), later the Berwick (1919-1954) and finally the Benzell. The once-grand hotel stood at Broad and Division streets on part of the site of the present Bears baseball stadium. When it was built, it was one of the state's finest and most prestigious addresses, and early advertisements in the Newark City Directories pointed out that the Continental was in direct contact with European cities via international cable. During its nearly a century in Broad and Divisions streets, the hotel underwent vast changes in the city streetscape. Located across from the old Morris and Essex Railroad of the 19 century, which later became the DL&W, many western passengers traveling east frequently stopped there. It might be remembered that Buffalo Bill Cody stayed there on his eastern trips because he found it comfortable and homey. That may explain why his portrait hung in the lobby for many years. Perhaps because of Cody's association with Newark, the hotel was also popular with other western horsemen coming east. But over the years the exclusiveness of the hotel slipped and in later times it reverted to a boarding house.

If you are in your 50s or older and familiar with downtown Broad Street, you would certainly remember Eddie Dwyer's popular Elbow Room with its prime beef, ample drinks and rich desserts and his personal salutation of 'Welcome to My House,' which was accompanied with a smile and hearty handshake. It was impossible to get near the place on St. Patrick's Day because everybody turned Irish. But the lights went out on an era with Eddie's death and the fire that destroyed the century-old landmark.