We have had some recent news about the former Rieger Hotel in downtown Sandusky, which reminds me about some of the hotels that have been in Sandusky in the nearly 200 years since its founding. Of course we have many hotels and motels in the area today, along Route 250, Cleveland Road, and elsewhere, but here we will discuss the old-style hotels and inns, primarily in downtown Sandusky, that hosted a variety of travelers and prospective residents who arrived by boat, train, and, later, automobile.
As mentioned previously, Portland Township was founded in 1816, with just a few settlers, becoming “Sandusky City” in 1818. One of the first buildings to go up in this new settlement was a hotel, constructed in the Fall of 1817 by Cyrus W. Marsh, called the Steamboat Hotel. This building was at the corner of Water and Wayne Streets for more than a hundred years, operating under several different names in its century of existence, including the Verandah Hotel, Scott’s American Hotel, and the Hotel Laural. (The owner of Scott’s American, Voltaire Scott, brought the Boy with the Boot to Sandusky in 1895, and placed it in a park he built across the street.) Unfortunately, this pioneer building was demolished in 1923. Citizens Bank is on the site today.
Another early hotel, across Wayne Street from the Steamboat Hotel, was one that you might have heard about (at least indirectly), or maybe even remember. It was another building with a long life and many names. Built in 1837 by Martin Eldis, who was said to be the first German immigrant in Sandusky, in 1842 it was the Exchange Hotel when Charles Dickens spent a night there on his trip through America. It later became the St. Lawrence Hotel, and for much if its life in the twentieth century it was known as the Hotel Wayne. It also was known for a time as the Porterhouse Hotel (and, no, the Porterhouse steak was not invented here). This building was taken down in 1985.
There were several other small hotels and inns in early Sandusky, including the Townsend House at Market and Decatur Streets, and the Portland House, but there were a few grand hotels in Sandusky that we should talk about. Sandusky’s first “high-rise” hotel, the West House, opened in 1858, just in time for the Ohio State Fair, which was held in Sandusky that year. The West House did well in its early years, helped by its prime location near the Columbus Avenue docks, where most travelers arrived in Sandusky. The Civil War also brought the hotel some business, as it was a common way station for soldiers and officials on their way to and from the Johnson’s Island prison camp. This hotel went out of business in 1914 and the building was razed in early 1919. The lot is now the site of the State Theater.
Competition in the large hotel market arrived for the West House in 1881, when the Sloane House Hotel opened on West Washington Row, under the ownership of Rush R. Sloane, Mayor of Sandusky, who was perhaps more famous for assisting enslaved men’s escape to freedom in 1852. The Sloane family owned the hotel until 1920; the ornate building was demolished in 1948 for the construction of LaSalle’s department store.
Of course, Cedar Point has been home to several hotels since its beginning as a resort, but arguably the most popular has been the Hotel Breakers, built in 1905.
And we will end where we started, with the Hotel Rieger, the latest of the high-rise hotels in downtown Sandusky. It opened in 1912 on Jackson and Market Streets; by 1926 the Rieger underwent its second expansion, doubling its capacity, to 120 rooms. Many retail businesses operated on the ground floor, including Bamberger’s Hat Shop and a barber shop. But the age of the downtown hotel in Sandusky was reaching an end in the 20th century, and despite an attempt to reopen the building as the Sanduskian Hotel in the 1990s, the former Rieger Hotel was the last hotel in business downtown. The automobile and the interstate highway helped to change people’s tastes in overnight accommodations.