Old hotel in New York

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York
Date added: January 28, 2023 Categories: New York Hotel Queen Anne
Historic photo (1925)

The Belmont Hotel, built in 1890, was Belmont's chief hostelry at the end of the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth century. Located immediately adjacent to the Allegany County Courthouse and other county offices, the hotel played an important role in the county's social, business, and political affairs. Designed by Enoch A. Curtis of Fredonia, New York, in partnership with William Archer, the hotel reflects the influences of the then-popular Queen Anne and Commercial Romanesque styles. The cast iron storefronts and arcaded loggia leading to the hotel lobby are particularly fine examples of architectural cast iron in Allegany County.

The lot on which the Belmont Hotel was built has been important geographically since the time of the Seneca Indians. Scores of villages were occupied by the Senecas and their predecessors along the Genesee River, and at least five such sites have been identified within the boundaries of the town of Amity. According to early records, the rise of ground behind the current hotel building called "Table Knoll" (now Court House Hill) contained traces of a fortification.

Amity, in which the village of Belmont is located, is an interior town located a little south of the center of the county. It is one of the twelve towns in Allegany County lying within the boundaries of the Morris Reserve, and is one of those in the celebrated Church Tract. Settlement of the town was slow at first due to the dense forests of pine, which, unlike hardwood trees, were difficult to clear and remove. The land was reserved and held off the market until about 1830. For this reason, the town did not become as populous as its neighbors. The first families settled along the slopes of the Genesee River. When outside parties began to realize the value of the timber in the area as well as the excellent source of water power and water transportation, settlers were attracted to the area. In February of 1830, an act of the State Legislature created the town called Amity.

The development of the village of Belmont is closely connected with and dependent on that of the Phillipsburgh Mill Reserve, whose growth came from the existence of fine water power offered by the Genesee River, which passed from the southeast corner of the town out through the northwest corner. It was this water power that induced pioneers to settle in the present village. In 1832 Phillip Church sold the Mill Reserve to John Norton, Ellis May, Benjamin Norton, and Timothy H. Burbank. These proprietors caused a village and twelve farm lots to be surveyed and plotted by Samuel Van Wickle in 1833. A piece of ground within the village limits was set apart for the use of inhabitants of Amity as a public square, and five lots to the north and south of this park were reserved for religious and educational purposes. Streets were laid out and "Table Knoll" in the center of the corporation was reserved as a location for public edifices.

Settlers were attracted to what was then called Phillipsburgh by reports of the enterprises and public spirit of its proprietors and lots began to sell rapidly, creating a thriving village. All the various branches of trade and industry common to the better class of country villages were represented here. Lots set aside for church use were taken up by various church societies, and a schoolhouse was built on Table Knoll. Newcomers were constantly arriving, setting up trades or lending a hand in building up the village, which became not only the center of Amity, but also a powerful influence throughout the county.

The present village of Belmont was incorporated in 1853 as Philipsville. It grew steadily from 1840 to 1847, and then quite rapidly from 1848 to 1855. The first cause of this rapid growth in population and importance was the construction of the Erie Railway through the Genesee Valley. The Erie Depot was located in the village and brought with it an influx of transient population, and the commerce reflected this in an increase of trade at stores, shops, and public houses. Businesses and new avenues of industry were firmly established. The three-story Greek Revival style American Hotel and an associated livery were built about 1848 on lots 22 and 23, the site now occupied by the Belmont Hotel. The establishment, located just below Table Knoll, was operated by a succession of owners including E. and J. S. Fowler, Gideon O. Crandall, and W. E. Smith.

A second impetus to the development of the village was the establishment of county offices in Belmont. In 1858 a special commission was appointed to relocate the county offices more centrally with Allegany County and at some point along the newly constructed Lake Erie and Western Railroad. Unwilling to relinquish the county seat, the town of Angelica unsuccessfully tried to have the Erie relocate its tracks within its borders. In 1858 the special commission moved the county seat to Belmont and in 1859 ordered the construction of a new courthouse on Table Knoll. The erection of the county courthouse, clerk's office, and jail, lent added prestige to the village and contributed to its development and beautification.

A note here about the name of the village in discussion: it was incorporated in 1853 as Phillipsville; the area east of the river was known as Miltonville, while the Erie Depot and post office were called Belmont. After nearly 20 years of confusion over the village name, a local referendum of 70 all-male voters gathered at the American Hotel in 1870 and decided in favor of the village being called Belmont, a French word which when translated, accurately describes the natural characteristics of the region: "beautiful hills."

With the increase of population due to improved roads, waterway transportation, and the railroads came also the need for accommodating travelers: visitors, businessmen, salesmen, circuit preachers, attorneys completing transactions at the county buildings, and legislative officials on the local, county, and state levels. The American Hotel met these needs until destroyed by fire in 1888. For two years, Belmont was without a hotel, although many businesses rented out apartments and boarding houses on their second floors.

In January of 1889, the American Hotel lot was sold by W.E. Smith for $2,000. to the State Bank of Belmont for use as a building site. In June of that same year, the property was resold to the Belmont Hotel Company. In 1890 this group of prominent businessmen formed a corporation to rebuild a hotel on village lots 22 and 23. Charles S. Whitney, L. F. Willetts, Isaac Willetts, Henry Wier, William P. Clark, E.I. Davis, and W.J. Richaradson engaged Enoch A. Curtis, in partnership with William Archer to design the hotel, estimated to cost $15,000. Curtis, known locally as Captain Curtis, had established a strong reputation in New York's Southern Tier and western Pennsylvania. Buildings known to have been designed by Curtis include the Pleasantville Opera House, a fireproof building for Standard Oil, the Columbia Hotel, the Fredonia Village Hall, the Fredonia Opera House and the Aaron O. Putnam House, a Victorian showplace in Fredonia. Curtis and Archer designed the new building to incorporate several commercial spaces in addition to the hotel proper. The hotel was configured along the lines of a main street business block and used a cast iron supported recess or loggia to identify and embellish the hotel entrance. Stylistically, the architects composed a building with references to the popular late Victorian Queen Anne style and the Commercial Romanesque style. Their design remains largely unaltered and still represents one of the finest examples of commercial architecture of this period in the county.

More land in addition to the old site was bought, and the capital increased to $30,000. Work was begun by contractor Charles S. Whitney and as it progressed, it became apparent that $45,000 was needed. The "Belmont" was ultimately finished and furnished at a total cost of $57,000. Before completion however, a mortgage was placed on it to secure the necessary money. Isaac Willetts furnished the funds, took the security, and his estate became owner of the property. The Belmont Hotel was immediately recognized as the best hotel building in the county, featuring electric lighting and the most up-to-date hotel conveniences and appliances.

The hotel was divided into two parcels, the major portion serving as a hotel, bar, and dining area, and the other as a commercial enterprise. The location of the Mills & Green drugstore, the post office, and the bank made it a place of prominence in the town and county. The stockholders of the bank, Mark W. Pike, Miles E. Davis, William J. Richardson, and Elmore Willetts, were men of great energy and business experience and gained their wealth in extensive lumbering and oil operations throughout New York and Pennsylvania. Elmore Willetts, the only son of one of the Belmont Hotel corporators, Isaac Willetts, attended Alfred and Yale universities, and returned to Belmont, where he became very active in the Democratic party and was the county's delegate to the Democratic Conventions in 1888 and 1892.

The Willetts were a generous and public-spirited family, which promoted the prospects and prosperity of Belmont. They were large contributors to many worthwhile projects: the Civil War Memorial, the town hall, the park fountain, and the WWI Memorial Park. Along with his brother-in-law Dr. William Paul, Elmore Willetts managed the family enterprises at the Belmont hotel, creamery, and Willetts Oil Company. Dr. Paul's only daughter married William A. McKenzie during WWI, and Mr. McKenzie joined Dr. Paul in the management of the Willetts and Paul interests in the Belmont area including the bank. Mr. McKenzie's main career, however, was in the New York State Legislature, to which he was elected in 1935. He served the county with great distinction for over three decades, one of which was on the Ways and Means Committee. Not only did he effectively represent Allegany County and Belmont in Albany, but he also was widely respected by men of both parties, achieving harmony between the legislature and governors. He was on intimate terms with every governor from Thomas Dewey to Nelson Rockefeller, and often entertained them and their staffs in Belmont.

In 1911, the hotel part of the building was sold to Myron Walsh, and the remainder held by the stockholders for business reasons. Prior to 1911, the township of Amity had endorsed prohibition, making it illegal to sell alcoholic beverages. When this act was repealed, Mr. Walsh did a flourishing business for two years. The town then voted to resume its former dry status. Mr. and Mrs. Walsh continued to operate the hotel with one floor being rented to singles, both men and women. Upon Mr. Walsh's death in 1933, Eldyn Champlin, a lawyer acting on behalf of Mrs. Floyd Sortore who held the mortgage, conducted a sealed auction to dispose of the property. Felix Serio won the bidding, and when the Prohibition Act was repealed, he put in a full bar for the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Henry Schulte, a master tailor had his shop in the building, and was named president of the reformed Belmont Hotel Corporation, managing the business block. Felix Serio sold the business to Gordon Cartwright, who eventually became the proprietor of the now-famous Cartwright's Inn in Henrietta, New York. When Mr. Cartwright moved, Felix Serio repurchased the hotel. He was followed by a succession of others owners: Anthony Nigro, John Davie, Earl Irelenad, Robert Costello, Emanual Paxhia, Fred Sankner, and Barbara and Edward Cloude. Many businesses and offices occupied the commercial section, including a dentist, hairdresser, craft store, sports emporium, the Draft Board, and The Housing Action Corporation. In February of 2000 the property known as the Belmont Hotel was sold to the Fountain Arts Center, Inc. with plans for restoration.

Building Description

The Belmont Hotel is located at the northeast corner of Schuyler Street and Wells Lane in Belmont, a village in southwestern New York State. The three-story brick building is situated at the center of Belmont's business district one block south of the Allegany County Courthouse. Built in 1890, the hotel is essentially square in plan with an irregular light court and alley separating the main block of the building from a two-story wing along the north side. The hotel was configured to include a lobby and dining room on the first floor with guestrooms on floors two and three. Storefronts on Schuyler Street historically accommodated a bank, a drugstore and a post office and a basement-level storefront in the areaway below Wells Lane served as a barbershop. The design of the hotel reflects the influences of the popular Queen Anne style and the Commercial Romanesque style. Materials include cut limestone foundation walls, bulkhead walls and lintels, load-bearing brick exterior walls, cast iron storefronts and loggias, and pressed metal parapets. The interior consists of wood-framed floors and partitions and is finished with wood flooring, wood casings and plastered walls and ceilings. Roof sections pitch inward toward the light court and are currently surfaced in asphalt composition.

The Schuyler Street facade is asymmetrical in composition. The western half of the facade consists of decorative cast iron loggias at the center of the first and second stories, and a projecting pedimented window bay at the left-hand margin of the second and third stories. The hotel lobby was approached through the arcaded and pedimented lower loggia. Simple rectangular windows fill the third story above these open porches. A pressed metal parapet, detailed with two rows of deeply recessed square panels is interrupted above these windows with a heavily framed rectangular tablet bearing the words "THE BELMONT" in raised letters. The eastern third of the facade consists of three storefronts at the first-floor level and two projecting pedimented window bays at the second and third floors. Simple rectangular windows are located between them. Fenestration consists in most instances of original two-over-two double hung sash.

The Wells Lane facade consists of a three-bay recessed wall section at the center of the first floor, which corresponds with the hotel dining room. The recess is dressed with a simple cornice with two curved brackets. The north bay in this recess is a doorway currently covered by a wooden storm enclosure with a shed roof. Stone stairs connect it to the sidewalk. A mid-twentieth century neon sign adjacent to the storm enclosure reads "DINING ROOM." A basement-level areaway with stone bulkheads and stairs is located between the doorway and the sidewalk at Schuyler Street. It is surrounded by a ball and pipe iron railing. Fenestration consists of rectangular windows in all three stories detailed with simple lintels and sills. The paneled parapet described for the Schyuler Street facade continues across this elevation. A chimney rises from its southern end.

The north elevation is utilitarian in construction consisting of simple segmentally arched openings, corbelled brick cornices and an original iron fire escape with spiral stairs. First-story windows were altered into doorways in order to establish motel-style guest rooms in the north wing circa 1975. The east elevation and the elevations at the interior of the light court are also utilitarian in construction with simple segmentally arched window openings containing one-over-one double-hung sash windows. One original fire escape is placed at the east elevation at the alley. A ramp in the light court descends into a deteriorated basement-level vehicle entrance.

The interior of the hotel is remarkably unaltered although several areas are seriously deteriorated. The first floor contains a lobby, altered with plywood paneling and a dropped acoustical tile ceiling and used most recently as a lounge. The original grand stairway remains unaltered at the rear of this space. The staircase features multiple landings and turns and continues upwards to the third floor where it is surrounded by a balustrade. A flight extends down to the basement-level commercial space. Newel posts, stringers and wall sections are richly paneled, and molded railings are supported by turned balusters. The newel post at the first-floor landing is carved with leaves and decorated with a turned finial. Behind the lobby is the original and unaltered dining room. The room features a coffered ceiling supported by cast iron columns. Door and window casings feature molded architraves with cornices. The walls are plaster above a tongue and groove wainscot. The first floor of the north wing, altered circa 1975 for motel-style guest rooms has collapsed into the basement. The three storefront spaces on Schuyler Street are largely unaltered. The one adjacent to the hotel lobby was built as a bank and is currently used as an art gallery by the Fountain Arts Center. The original safe remains in place and is supported in the basement by massive stone walls.

The second floor is U-shaped in plan with a double-loaded corridor. Apartments are located at the front with smaller guestrooms in back. The apartments have individual bathrooms while the smaller guestrooms share bathrooms. Floors are wood and walls and ceilings are plaster on lath. Trim consists of molded wood casings with bullseye corner blocks, heavy baseboards and paneled doors with transom lights. Archways and beams in the corridors are detailed with rounded corners. The corridor and guestrooms of the north wing have experienced heavy water damage and are collapsing. The third-floor layout is similar to the second-floor but has no north wing.

The basement is largely unfinished with the exception of the commercial space adjacent to the Wells Alley areaway. Used as a barbershop, this area retains its original layout and its diagonally laid checkerboard marble floor.

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York Postcard photo postmarked (1908)
Postcard photo postmarked (1908)

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York Historic photo (1925)
Historic photo (1925)

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York Historic photo (1940)
Historic photo (1940)

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York South and west elevations from street corner (2001)
South and west elevations from street corner (2001)

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York West elevation (2001)
West elevation (2001)

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York North or rear elevation. (2001)
North or rear elevation. (2001)

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York Detail of main entrance looking northeast (2001)
Detail of main entrance looking northeast (2001)

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York Main entrance and adjacent storefront (2001)
Main entrance and adjacent storefront (2001)

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York Interior light court (2001)
Interior light court (2001)

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York Dining room interior illustrating ceiling (2001)
Dining room interior illustrating ceiling (2001)

Belmont Hotel, Belmont New York Main staircase at first floor (2001)
Main staircase at first floor (2001)