Editor’s Note: With the recent sale of the General Denver — which will remain in local hands under General Denver Investments with members of the Sodini and Roberts families — Clinton County History Center Executive Director Shelby Boatman has researched and written on the history of the iconic venue in downtown Wilmington.
A popular community staple, the General Denver Hotel, has occupied the corner of Main and Mulberry Streets for over 90 years. The Tudor Revival building’s future continues to be as hopeful as when Molly & Mark Dullea purchased the vacant structure in 2004.
Originally built in 1928, the General Denver Hotel was the result of active community members seeing a need for hotel-style housing as visitors to the area were growing. A Wilmington News Journal “General Denver Hotel” special edition from June of that year states the hotel “serves city and transients in a way that necessitates its being… it will stand as a monument for years to come”.
We can all agree this statement is still true 92 years later.
The Commercial Club of Wilmington, as they were called, announced on February 16, 1927 in the Wilmington News-Journal they were launching a campaign to build a modern community hotel to meet the needs of the city and county. Hockenbury System Inc. of Harrisburg Pennsylvania were selected to perform a “thorough and scientific” survey of the local hotel situation.
Their report concluded with a recommendation for a “first class modern hotel of 40 rooms to be constructed, with the capability of doubling the number of rooms”.
The press release mentioned the company would be incorporated for $150,000 of Common Capital stock – at a value of $100 per share – and sold in units of two. The Commercial Club planned to issue 1,450 shares of stock. As the group began to look for available properties, the northeast corner of West Main and Mulberry was presented for its plot of over 45 feet x 173 feet. At the time, this property was called The Brindle Property and was owned by Wade Hampton.
Before the Denver
From records available at the History Center, the property was originally utilized as a Tavern from 1811-1815. By 1818 the plot became an office and residence. In 1834 it was the home of the Brindle Tin Shop and in 1871 it was transformed back into the Brindle’s residence and doctor’s office.
By 1927, the buildings occupying the lot were razed to make room for new construction of the hotel.
Almost a year prior to its public opening – on March 7, 1927 — 134 local representatives of business and industry pledged an entire week to selling stock in the proposed hotel. At a dinner hosted in March, it was announced that $157,300 in stock had been sold. By April the very first meeting of stockholders was help at the Commercial Club.
The group, which was supported by the Commercial Club, needed an official name. At the meeting, the organization was given the name “Wilmington Community Hotel Corporation”.
A naming contest was also being hosted for the community’s input on what the Hotel should be called. The winner would receive $10. The chosen name was announced in May by the News Journal. Mrs. Marietta Walker, a clerk in the County Auditor’s office, was selected for her submission of the “General Denver”.
The new hotel would “be named for Wilmington’s most distinguished citizen, General James W. Denver, who had a national reputation and for whom the city of Denver Colorado was named.”
Constructing a landmark
Cincinnati architect John Atkins’ preliminary plans were selected by the corporation. His plans called for an Old English Inn style – such as the Tudor Revival we see today. As soon as County Engineer Howard Collett completed the survey of the lot work was scheduled to begin.
Grenoble Hotels, Inc. of Pittsburgh was awarded the contract for hotel operations. The contract mentioned that Grenoble would not make a profit from the building until stockholders were reimbursed.
By July of 1927 it was announced that A. P. Eveland, a Wilmington Contractor who had worked on other popular local sites, was selected to build the structure. The finalized plan called for 45 rooms, a mezzanine floor, banquet hall, dining room and coffee shop. Eveland was confident that with god weather the General Denver Hotel would be completed in seven months. It officially opened on June 7, 1928.
All of the structural steel, 80 tons to be exact, used in the construction was also manufactured locally by Champion Bridge Co. – still in business today!
The General Denver Hotel’s grand opening was hosted on Thursday, June 7, 1928. It had been in operations for two weeks prior to the formal opening.
A reception and banquet was held that evening and included speeches, dinner, a program, and dancing. Music was provided by the Harmony Four Orchestra of Dayton. Meals cost $4.00 for attendees and featured honey dew melon, vegetable soup, olives, pickles, almonds, lobster, and pineapple sherbet served as the appetizers. Stuffed chicken, potatoes, peas, asparagus, and bisquit tortoni was the main course.
For dessert, assorted fancy cakes and coffee were served, along with cigars, cigarettes, and mints. Mathew Rombach Denver was the toastmaster after serving as the corporation’s chairman. The city’s mayor, VP of the Commercial Club, President of the Ohio Hotelmen’s Association (Cincinnati), President of the Grenoble Hotels, and a representative of the Hockenbury System were in attendance.
As popular at the General Denver Hotel was at its opening, between 1947-1965, no dividends were paid on the hotel’s stock. Once a main thoroughfare on US 22 and SR 3 from Cincinnati to Columbus, with construction of I-71 visitors to the Hotel began to diminish.
Below is a culmination of research on the former owners of the General Denver Hotel after selling in 1965…
In 1965 eight businessmen purchased the failing building for $80,000 in an effort to revive the historic landmark. Its name was changed to the Denver House, but it continued to lose profits. The lone investor, Cedric Stanley, closed the building in Fall of 1978.
Shopping Center developer Barry Martens purchased the building following the closure for $200,000 and embarked on restoring the former county jewel. According to records at the History Center, Martens invested over $1 million in renovations.
An approximate 25 tons of plaster were used, 368 gallons of paint and stain, 8 new air conditioning and furnace units, 22,000 hours in repairs, and a new plumbing system installed.
Sometime later, Paul Herdman purchased and reopened the property. By October 1997, the hotel changed hands again and was managed by a family partnership which assumed payment of the mortgage. By 2001, the late Mr. Herdman’s wife, Virginia, purchased the property back at Sheriff’s sale.
In 2004, Molly and Mark Dullea, then living in Dayton, acquired the property with the hopes of restoring its 1920-1930s charm.
As this popular historic destination prepares to transfer hands once again, may we reflect on the passion and effort previous owners have invested in both the General Denver Hotel and the community’s local history.