Sunday, November 18, 2018

Old Economy Hotel, 14th and Merchant Sts.

"14th St. showing Old Economy Hotel, Economy Pa."
postcard circa 1907
photo circa late 1880s

This postcard shows the intersection of the streets that are now 14th and Merchant Sts. looking west, so towards the river. The large three-story building on the left is the long-gone Old Economy Hotel.

The postcard was never mailed, so there's no postmark, but a postcard like it in the Old Economy Village Archives was dated and mailed in 1907.

Built by the Harmonists, the hotel was one of the oldest buildings in the new borough of Ambridge.

Old Economy Hotel ad
Ambridge-Economy Citizen
December 16, 1904

In its day, the hotel was well-regarded by visitors to Economy and a stopping point for travelers and bicyclists. A number of famous people stayed at the Old Economy Hotel including Lafayette, Rudyard Kipling, and about-to-be President William Henry Harrison on the way to his inauguration. In Christiana F. Knoedler's book, The Harmony Society, she says, "The Economy Hotel was noted for its famous chicken-and-waffle suppers. It was also a haven for sleighing parties organized by young Sewickley people on snowy winter nights."

Oddly for a such a widely-known landmark building, exactly what happened to the hotel remains a mystery, even to the experts at Old Economy Village. Sarah Buffington, the OEV curator, told me that the hotel was either destroyed by fire or simply razed "perhaps in 1905."

But I found that as late as 1906, the hotel was fighting the loss of its liquor license in court. At the time of the court case, liquor could only be served in the Economy section of Ambridge--the area north of 8th St. The part of Ambridge south of 8th St. was legally dry. The court decision notes that until 1905, the Old Economy Hotel was the only licensed hotel in Ambridge. However, in 1905, two new hotels were built and given liquor licenses. Those were the Ambridge Hotel and the Grand Hotel. That decision rested on the fact that the Economy area only needed two licenses, and the public would be better served by giving those to the "modern" new hotels rather than to the more than 50 years-old Old Economy Hotel. (McCrory's License, Pennsylvania Superior Court Reports, Vol. 31)

I've wondered if the Old Economy Hotel's loss of its liquor license led to a drop in business resulting in its closing and eventual demolition.

In the late 1960s, the Pennsylvania Museum Commission proposed rebuilding the hotel on its original site. A photo identical to the above postcard's was published in a March 29, 1968, Beaver County Times article about the state's plan. The caption for the photo said that it was taken in the late 1880s. The plan to rebuild the hotel was never carried out.

I'm still hoping to find more information on what happened to the hotel and when it disappeared from 14th and Merchant.

At present, Elderberry Court, an assisted living facility, is where the Old Economy Hotel once stood.

Update November 21, 2018: Here's a scan of the reverse of the postcard, showing it has an undivided back. This type of postcard, which did not permit a message on the address side, was allowed by U.S. Postal regulations beginning December 24, 1901. Postcards with divided backs were allowed beginning March 1, 1907.

Reverse of postcard

The Old Economy Village Archives has at least three postcards with the same photo as the one at the top of this post..

Two are black-and-white. As mentioned in the article, one is dated and postmarked 1907; the other has an undated message on the front, but the address side isn't shown, so I don't know if there's a postmark or not. However, OEV gives the date of this postcard as 1906 - 1908.

The third postcard has the same photo, but it's been hand-colored. OEV says this postcard is also from 1906 - 1908.

In addition, the OEV Archives has an undated black-and-white photograph of the scene on the postcard. The only difference I can see is that the photo shows more of 14th St. above Merchant St. in the foreground. [End of update.]

[Update November 25, 2018: I don't know (yet) when the name of the hotel was changed from Economy Hotel to Old Economy Hotel. It might have been in the late 1880s, the era attributed to the postcard's photo by the Beaver County Times. However, I have found a series of ads in the Pittsburgh Press from the late 1890s promoting the Old Economy Hotel. Here's one of them:

"Notice to Cyclists"
Old Economy Hotel ad
Pittsburgh Press
September 2, 1896

The original print in the Press is very small, and enlarging it only made the text blurry, so here's what it says:
NOTICE TO CYCLISTS--Cyclists and others will find good roads and superior accommodations at the Old Economy hotel: for summer we offer to families pure air and home comfort, and to the tired business man, the delights of a country residence within a few miles of his business, railroad facilities unsurpassed; chicken and waffle suppers specialty.--ALF. M. McCashey, Proprietor
End of update]