American Hotel (Staunton, Virginia)
The American Hotel was a historic hotel located in Staunton, Virginia. It was built in the wharf district directly across from the railroad station. It is now painted red, and houses a business. Earlier in its life, it had a set of two pillars in the front of the building.
The American Hotel is located at 125 South Augusta Street, directly across from the Amtrak station in the downtown Wharf area of Staunton Virginia. In 2003, Emerald City L.P. transformed The American Hotel now making a home to Professional offices, Café and The Grand Banquet Room: For Wedding Receptions, Ceremonies, Rehearsal Dinners, Anniversaries, Civic Events, Meetings, Family Reunions, Party’s, and more. The Building now has a multi-door elevator for each floor along with other health and safety upgrades to the building. A two story parking garage was built during the renovation process with access from Augusta Street and the train station to the top portion of the parking deck. The lower parking deck is accessed via Mill Street or New Street.
In the late 1800s the Wharf area of Staunton was the site of the Virginia Railroad which crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains to Staunton thus completing its strategic route between the Shenandoah Valley and the state Capital in Richmond. The American Hotel was constructed by the Central Virginia Railroad in 1855; only one year after the Railroad had reached Staunton Virginia. At the time of its construction it was considered one of the most up-to-date and convenient hotels in the country. The American Hotel offered the ultimate in convenience to eager passengers. There was nothing like it between Richmond, Washington D.C and Cincinnati. Thick carpeting, gas lights, several bathtubs and its Grand Ballroom helped build its reputation as a traveler’s haven and attracted numerous dignitaries of the day.
In 1864, when Union General Hunter occupied Staunton and burned the station, the American Hotel was spared, probably because it was used as an officer’s quarters.
The hotel was the scene of an especially important historical episode in 1869. The Mountain Saxhorn band, founded in Staunton in 1845, had served as Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters band during the Civil War and had been renamed the Stonewalls Brigade band. The Band still exists and is now the second oldest band in the U.S. When Lee surrendered at Appomattox, General Grant had generously permitted the defeated Confederate officers to retain their side arms and had allowed the cavalry to keep their horses: he also let the Band keep its instruments.
In the first year of his presidency, Grant took a brief vacation trip to White Sulfur Springs stopping overnight in Staunton at the American Hotel. When the news of his arrival spread, the Stonewall Brigade Band assembled at the station opposite his Hotel room and serenaded him. Grant came out on hotel balcony and acknowledged the band by raising his hat. The incident is important because it was one of the first public acts of reconciliation after the war.
In 1890 the hotel was witness to a major railroad wreck when the main line train from Cincinnati to Washington had a brake failure. The line west of Staunton is a steep grade, so the train, trying desperately to stop, hurtled through the Staunton Station. The track curves in the station, beginning the opposite the hotel and the rear car of the runaway train was hurled from the track and dragged. Both the station and the wooden coach were shattered and, since the accident occurred at night, the kerosene lamps which lit the coach started a fire in the splintered wooden wreckage. The smashed coach was occupied by a theatrical troupe en route to Washington, and one of the singers, an 18-year-old girl from Kansas’s City named Myrtle Knox, was killed. The young woman was a member of organization of the Kings’ daughters, and the Staunton circle of that organization made effective use of the public concern about the wreck to get support for building the first hospital in Staunton. To this day the local hospital is known as King’s Daughters’ Hospital.
Staunton development Company was on the west end of the building in 1891 and the rest of the building was a shoe factory. Staunton Development Company wanted to renovate and update the Hotel in the Victorian style but went broke.
In 1894, the American Hotel became Bowling Spotts & Co, a wholesale grocery. They were receivers over all the railroad systems of the country, from the Gulf to the Great Lakes and from California to the Atlantic Coast. They specialized in the handling of Havana and domestic cigars, chewing and smoking tobacco, teas, spices, high grade canned goods and provisions of all kinds. They were distributors of goods far superior to that usually carried by wholesale firms in cities the size of Staunton.
Between 1921 and 1929, the front part was used as a Railway express office. As most downtown cities declined in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the building was no longer utilized.
In 1994, Restoration Concepts Inc. attempted to rehabilitate the hotel but the project was never approved. In 2003, Emerald City L.P. Renovated the building for Professional Offices, Café and The Grand Banquet Room The Balcony and Pillar entrance was reinstalled. A two story parking garage was built and an elevator was installed. The building was totally renovated with fire sprinkler systems, fire escape stairways, new HVAC systems, and a complete electrical renovation. Frazier Associates of Staunton, Virginia, was the architect that oversaw the 2003 renovations.
Many Thanks to The Augusta County Historical Society and James Patrick for Historical information and reports on The American Hotel and Downtown Staunton.