NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: From Gothic Hall to The Ritts

The location of the first Gothic Hotel (Gothic Hall) is identified on this 1852 Niagara County map. "Lockport-Cambria Plank Road" is the road with lines in it on this map.

A few weeks ago Niagara Discoveries looked in on the Steele family, particularly John W. Steele and his son, William Wallace Steele. In doing that research, another name kept coming up, that of Enos Steele and his connection with the building of the Gothic Hotel.

Enos Steele was born in Connecticut in about 1806 and came to Royalton with his family before 1820. He was an older brother to John W. Steele. Like his brother, Enos worked at various jobs related to the Erie Canal but he was most remembered in Lockport as a general contractor whose specialty was building hotels.

In 1850, Steele built the Gothic Hotel on what was then called the Lockport-Cambria Plank Road, which had been charted in 1849 and constructed a year later. It was maintained through the charging of tolls at various places along the road. The road began at the Lockport village limits at West Avenue, turned west at Upper Mountain Road and went down the escarpment at what is now Gothic Hill Road. It continued west on Lower Mountain Road then turned north on present day Plank Road to Molyneaux Corners at Ridge and North Ridge roads. It continued on North Ridge, into the town of Wilson, until it reached the outskirts of Ransomville, where it ended. Enos Steele was a director of the road company and perhaps thought that a hotel on the Plank Road at Upper Mountain and Gothic Hill roads would be a profitable venture.

The Gothic Hotel (on some maps identified as “Gothic Hall”) opened to great fanfare on July 4, 1850. It was estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 people attended the celebration, which included local fire companies and military units. Dinner was served to the multitudes in an adjacent grove and there was a brilliant fireworks display that evening. This set a precedent for future Independence Day festivities at the hotel for the next 30 years.

Enos Steele passed away in 1857 and the hotel was operated by a series of proprietors until it was bought by the Tenbrook family in the 1860s. The Tenbrooks were well-known hotel owners in the Lockport area and immediately began repairing and upgrading the hotel to make it more comfortable for guests. It was owned by Andrew Tenbrook but was operated at various times by two of his brothers, William and Lewis. In 1867, the Tenbrooks allowed the use of the hotel for a Sabbath School meeting every week, which one paper termed “quite remarkable.”

The hotel was leased in 1879 to Edward Howell who reportedly also made “extensive improvements.” Two years later, under yet another proprietor, Daniel Wynkoop, the hotel was destroyed by fire on July 22, 1881. It was suspected the fire was arson and Wynkoop’s wife and young child barely escaped. Wynkoop lost $400 in personal property and had no insurance. The Tenbrooks, who still owned the property, were insured for $2,000. The hotel was not rebuilt and the property was sold to Frederick Bower, who operated a fruit farm there for many years.

But like the mythical Phoenix, a new Gothic Hotel arose, albeit about a mile east of the original. It was built by Michael Carr, a boxer from Lockport who hosted matches for the Gothic Athletic Club at the hotel. The boxing events drew both participants and spectators from all over the state and other areas. The exact date of construction of the hotel is uncertain, but notices of matches appeared in regional newspapers as early as 1893.

Carr later moved to Buffalo and the hotel was taken over by Charles Spencer who promoted it as a dance hall rather than a boxing ring. After much remodeling, the grand reopening was held on May 31, 1898 with a “first class orchestra” and free “carryalls” (multi-passenger carriages) from 5 to 11 p.m. leaving from the Erie Depot.

The hotel changed hands again in 1904, this time advertising “choice liquors, wines and cigars” and “the best of attention paid to sleigh ride parties.” That same year a band of gypsies camped across the road from the hotel were welcomed to hold a “horse-swapping convention” (more than 20 years later, another band were ordered to move from that same location by the Sheriff). The hotel remained a popular gathering place but in 1916 was the scene of an incident involving “six young men conspicuous in the leading business and society affairs of the city” who broke into the bar and caused extensive damage after being refused service after hours. The proprietor at the time, Wilbur Rutherford, was later awarded damages for the destruction.

The start of Prohibition in 1919 began another chapter in the history of the Gothic Hotel. The hotel ceased selling liquor that year but over the next 15 years or so the property was repeatedly raided by prohibition officers for the operation of an illegal still and brewery on the premises. During these years, several different proprietors were named as being in charge of the hotel and it was sometimes referred to as the “Mountain View Inn.”

In the 1950s, the hotel was purchased by Reginald Clack who operated it as a restaurant/tavern for 25 years under the name “Reggie’s.” With its close proximity to Harrison Radiator’s new plant, Reggie’s, and its successor, The Copper Penny, became popular with the employees there.

The last business to occupy the old hotel was The Ritts, which was doing a good business until a fire in 2007 destroyed the building and it was torn down.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

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