The West House: From sumptuous menu to a cure for what ails ya

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

From the late 1870s on there were three major hotels in downtown Wilmington: the West House on Main Street where the Masonic Temple building is currently situated; the Midland Hotel, which was built by a Black man on South Street across from the current courthouse (it still stands there mostly unused); and the Martin Hotel at the corner of Main and Mulberry (it was demolished some years ago).

My impression is that the Hawley and the West House were most important to the city, but served somewhat different purposes.

I described the Hawley Hotel recently during Black History Month; this article will focus on the West House. Among the many uses the West House served was a meeting place for clients and as a place to provide services to the community. Possibly the most important of the latter was a location where physicians could meet patients.

Below are lists of such encounters as advertised in the local newspaper.

In August of 1879 a Dr. Ackleson of Dayton will be at the hotel for three days and he is a specialist in the treatment of Catarrh. From the Albert Medical Institute of Cleveland Dr. Albert will treat Nervous Debility, Epilepsy or Fits, Marriage Issues, Organal Weakness or Opium and Morphine Habits – one day at the West Hotel. Dr. Damon who brought about, “The marvelous restoration of Mrs. Vina Emerick, daughter of Mr. James Hart, of Port William, has created considerable excitement in this vicinity, and all her friends will be anxious to see the physician who brought about this wonderful cure.” (No mention of the malady!) Anyway, he will be at the West house for three days.

Dr. France will treat those who have: “… doctored for years, even until they have given up the cherished hope of a cure in despair, and resigned themselves to a miserable existence are speedily and permanently restored to health.” He will meet patients “… in the private parlor of the West House” for only one day. Then there will be Dr. E. J. Rose who will be visiting this county every month and he can treat the following: Catarrh and Lung Diseases, Diseases of Women. Blood and Skin Diseases and provides Free Examination of Urine. Beyond these he advertises Manhood Perfectly Restored – “Quick, painless and certain cure for Impotency, Lost Manhood, Decayed Facilities” and much more!

Also visiting Wilmington for one day will be Dr. J. J. McClellan who can treat, “Cancer, Tumor, Malignant Growth, Lupus & all Skin Diseases” and they will be “Cured Without the Use of the Knife.” If these doctors cannot satisfy your needs and you seek another approach to whatever your malady might be: “Madame E.A. White, from Cincinnati, the celebrated Clairvoyant and Fortune Teller.” She will be at the West House from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and for 10 days. “She tells you the past, present, and future, informs you about stolen or lost property, family business, love affairs, &c. Terms reasonable.”

The West House also has an outstanding restaurant and according to a note in the Wilmington Journal, “It is said by the traveling men that the West House is doing the largest business between Cincinnati and Columbus.” (June 10, 1896) An especially elegant Leap Year dinner/party was reported in the WJ in 1880. (Just 140 years ago!) “No less than two hundred and fifty invitations were sent out, and at least one hundred fifty accepted. The hotel parlor and dining room were thrown open to the invited guests. The ladies appeared to vie with each other in the matter of their toilets, and a more elegantly dressed assemblage has not been seen in Wilmington for years. The elite of the town was present besides a great many from a distance. A string band had been secured from Lebanon, to furnish the music.”

Among the sumptuous offerings on the meme were: Under “Roast” — “Chicken, Sage Dressing; Filet of Veal, Stuffed; Ribs of Beef; Loin of Pork, Apple Sauce; Mallard Duck. Onion Dressing; Turkey, Cranberry Sauce; Domestic Goose, Apple Sauce; Ham, Champagne Sauce”; and, under “Desserts” — “Fruit Cake, Apples, Sponge Cake, Cocoanut Cake, Jelly Cake, Oranges, Sliced; Coffee, Brazil Nuts, Almonds, Pecans, Tea.”

“Those who were in attendance unite in saying that it was an enjoyable affair … Every-thing passed off pleasantly, and the young gentlemen who engineered the whole thing made a complete success of it. This closed the festivities of New-Year’s day, and those who were present will long remember their enjoyment with pleasure.”

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist