A few weeks ago I wrote about the Headington House Hotels, once located in Portland, Indiana, and Celina, Ohio. Soon after I was asked about the hotel that was in Willshire years ago.
I remember that old hotel building. Our Willshire School sixth grade class took a field trip there in 1963 and our class was photographed outside the building.
I also remember when Mary Stetler had her ice cream parlor there. Some very good ice cream, I might add. The old hotel was torn down in 1964.
Willshire is celebrating its bicentennial this year. 1822-2022. There is a focus on the town’s history and Willshire’s Bicentennial Committee is planning events throughout the year.
We attended one of those events a few weeks ago, which featured Darrell Groman, who portrayed Willshire’s founder, Captain James Riley. Riley platted the town of Willshire in 1822.
There were also some historical displays about Willshire at that event. Sondra displayed a nice collection of old local newspaper clippings about the history of Willshire’s hotel. Sondra is a true Willshire historian and had originally provided most of the information for the news articles. She graciously allowed me to photograph the news clippings and to share the information here.
From those newspaper articles, here is a brief history of Willshire’s hotels:
Willshire has had several hotels over the years. William Case built a hotel in Willshire 1836. Solomon Hartzog reportedly started a mercantile and hotel in Willshire in the spring of 1848 but died later that same year. The Oregon House, later known as the Straubinger Hotel, the building many of us remember, was built in 1850. Another, the Thatcher Hotel, was located on the west side of State Street, across the street from the Straubinger Hotel. A 1908 fire destroyed the Thatcher Hotel and several other buildings in the village. Moses Foreman was the proprietor of the American Hotel, location unknown. The Depot Hotel was built by the railroad in 1884 and it burned down in 1906.
The most well-known Willshire hotel, the Straubinger Hotel, survived the longest, operating over a century and standing even longer. The structure was built in 1850 for Dr. J.W. Pearce, although it is believed that he never resided there. Such establishments were known as taverns at that time. The hotel was first called the Oregon House and was located on the southeast corner of State and Simpson Streets. Although the hotel faced west, facing State Street, Simpson Street was the main business section in Willshire at that time and most businesses faced Simpson Street.
The hotel was built with hewn timbers, was neatly boarded, and had hand-made roof shingles. The interior trim was said to be black walnut. The rooms were described as spacious with ceilings that were not lofty. A tavern was located in the south room and contained two long sturdy tables for diners. There were 12 guest rooms on the second floor. A livery for the horses was located on the east side of the building. Travelers came on horseback and at one time it was the only hotel between St. Marys and Fort Wayne. It was a well-traveled route and many travelers stopped there for a meal or a night’s stay.
A rowdy celebration just after the end of the Civil War damaged rooms and furnishings on the first floor. Mr. Alberts, the hotel’s proprietor at the time and reportedly a Southern sympathizer, invited soldier boys and their sweethearts to an open house and dance. The event included free food and drinks. Things got out of hand and riot broke out. A new cookstove and dining room furniture were reportedly thrown out of the windows and the north side of the first floor caved in. Women and children were smuggled out and were taken across the river in small boats. One of the children who was smuggled out, a four-year-old girl, became the wife of Judge Merriman of Decatur years later. In the 1930s the Merrimans returned to the hotel to celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary and stayed there overnight.
The hotel had several names over time, changing as the proprietors came and went. These names included Oregon House, Lamb House, Pearce House, Willshire Hotel, and lastly, the Straubinger Hotel.
Adam Straubinger (1840-1917) was born in Germany in 1840 and settled in St. Marys in 1861. He moved to Willshire in 1874 and worked as a miller there for several years. In 1877 Straubinger decided to go into the hotel business and purchased the hotel. He and his family ran the Straubinger Hotel for nearly 75 years and lived there as well. He and his wife Matilda had 12 children and several of the children were born in the hotel. Three of their children died in infancy but John, George, Ben, Russell, Anthony, Flodeltha (Mrs. A.F. Passwater), Anna, Lucy, and Katherine grew up in the hotel. One of Adam’s granddaughters was Virginia Painter (1916-2012), daughter of Flodeltha (Straubinger) & A.F. Passwater.
At one time the hotel was the social center for refined parties and receptions. A guest once left $3000 under his pillow and the money was promptly returned to him. During the oil boom in the early 1900s the hotel housed oil field workers.
The hotel was still in operation and open to lodgers on its 100th anniversary in 1950, although meals were not served there anymore. Dining room service was discontinued about 1948. In 1950 it was run by three of Adam Straubinger’s unmarried children, Kate, Lucy, and Ben.
Kate, Lucy, and Ben Staubinger carried on the business until Dale Jones purchased the building in 1953. Mary Stetler rented space for a cream station and her Frosty Zip ice cream parlor was located there for 10 years.
The remaining Straubingers moved into the former home of Emma (Buchanan) Lautzenheiser, across from the village park.
The 114-year-old hotel was razed in 1964. A small cement block building was built on the lot and it housed the Frosty Zip for several years.
Many of the Straubingers are buried in Willshire Cemetery.
Thank you to Sondra for collecting, saving, and sharing all this information about a part of Willshire’s history.