Batavia’s location, midway between Buffalo and Rochester, has always made it a popular stop for travelers moving across Western New York. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Batavia’s Main Street and downtown were lined with various hotels and inns for travelers of all persuasions to take a load off. Foremost among those was the Hotel Richmond.
The history of a hotel on the corner of Main and Court streets can stretch back to 1823 when Horatio Gibbs built a three-story brick building, known as the Eagle Tavern. This first iteration burned down on May 30, 1834. The second version of the tavern was rebuilt quickly and reopened on Christmas 1835. It continued on in that capacity for another 30 years, under the management of Erastus Smith for much of that time.
In 1869, the hotel came under new management when a group of three men purchased it: Albert Collins, Andrew Andrews, and James White. They chose to rename the building to the Hotel Richmond, seemingly oblivious to the important family already with their name all over Batavia.
The name change caused an uproar in the community, as many felt it in bad taste so soon after Dean Richmond’s death a few years earlier. As a result, the hotel was renamed to the Hotel St. James.
Collins would become the sole owner by 1884, and began a process of remodeling the hotel, including, adding a fourth story and shopping space on the ground floor. However, the new structure had a short lifespan as a second fire destroyed it in 1886.
The name Richmond officially became involved as a third hotel was built on the lot in 1889 by a stock company, in which the Richmond family was a chief stockholder. However, the company defaulted in 1896 and the Richmond estate took full ownership. It remained under their ownership until 1905, when it was purchased by William Watson and his son, George. It was the Watsons who made the Hotel Richmond into the premier lodgings in Batavia. They made a large number of improvements to the building, including converting the billiard room into a dining and banquet hall. They also added steam heat in every room, hot and cold running water, electric bells, and even private baths for their most luxurious rooms. In addition, the lobby remained with expensive furniture and a coffee bar, as well as private dining rooms and a more modern kitchen. Watson also hired the best staff he could find, such as a professional chef, baker, and laundry staff.
It was at the Hotel Richmond that the members of President Grover Cleveland’s cabinet stayed when they dedicated the Holland Land Office as a museum in 1894.
In 1931, the hotel was leased to Russell and Ann Morton to run. Many of the prominent businesses and organizations held their functions at the Hotel Richmond at this time, and all of the well-known dignitaries stayed there when in Batavia. The Mortons continued running the hotel until 1940, but returned in 1950.
It was at this point that the building began to show its age, and improvements became fewer and fewer. For instance, the owners were never able to bring the building up to fire code, and the number of travelers dropped off significantly, as many began to stay outside of town instead of downtown.
In 1958, Watson was ordered by the courts to suspend the renting of rooms due to the deteriorating conditions. The building was sold off in 1961 and was demolished by the end of the year.
The long history of the Hotel Richmond was gone from that corner for the third time, but this time for good.
Ryan Duffy is executive director of the Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia. His “History with the HLOM” column appears twice a month in The Daily News. To read past columns, go to thedailynewsonline.com.