Huntington Hotels of Yesteryear

By James E. Casto

From Huntington’s earliest years, the city’s role as a gateway to and from the rich West Virginia coalfields guaranteed that its hotels would do a brisk business. The traveling salesmen of that era – generally called “drummers” – routinely made Huntington their headquarters, venturing forth to surrounding communities and then returning to the city.

Catering to the needs of the drummers and others who came calling were a number of busy hotels, most of them clustered along 9th Street. The Scrange, a two-story frame structure erected in 1872 on the southwest corner of 2nd Avenue and 9th Street, is said to have been the city’s first hotel. Numerous others followed, offering services and rates to fit most every pocketbook.

This selection of vintage postcards offers a glimpse of the Huntington hotels of yesteryear. Some were demolished years ago. The buildings that housed others still survive. But all of them checked out their last guests decades ago.

The Florentine / The Jones

When the Florentine was built in 1887, its location on the southeast corner of 4th Avenue and 9th Street was considered “too far out of the business section,” then largely confined to 2nd Avenue with only a few buildings on 3rd Avenue and even fewer on 4th Avenue. Nevertheless, the hotel prospered. It began small, with only a handful of rooms but a major addition later transformed it into one of the grandest hotels in West Virginia. The Flortentine dining room long was a popular eatery and the bar was a favorite watering hole for the young city’s political figures. It’s said that much of the city’s political history was written in the Florentine bar. But unable to compete with the new modern hotels that opened in the city, the old hotel saw its business steadily decline. It closed and most of the structure was demolished in 1933. A section of the hotel fronting on 4th Avenue was left standing and, renamed the Jones Hotel, survived until the 1980s when it fell to the wreckers.

The Carolina / The Adelphia

The white columns and green roof of the city’s old Carnegie Library at 5th Avenue and 9th Street can easily be identified at the lower right of this vintage postcard. Less recognizable is the four-story red brick building directly across 9th Street from the library. Erected in 1892, the building originally was home to the Carolina Hotel. When the original Adelphia Hotel, then located at 6th Avenue and 9th Street, burned, the owners elected not to rebuild at that location. Instead, they purchased the Carolina and renamed it the Adelphia. The renamed hotel would be a downtown mainstay for years and even survived a spectacular fire on Christmas Day, 1950. By that time, the Adelphia no longer lodged overnight guests but was primarily a residential hotel that housed tenants attracted by its cheap rates. In 1977, the building was demolished to make way for the new Cabell County Public Library.

The Frederick

Built at a cost of $400,000, Huntington’s grand Frederick Hotel welcomed its first guests in 1906. A newspaper account published that day hailed it as “the greatest building project ever begun in Huntington.” The statistics back up that claim. The hotel’s construction required 3.5 million bricks, 4,000 lights, 282 miles of electrical wire, 200 telephones and five railroad cars of glass for its windows. Once it opened for business, it automatically became the city’s premier hotel and long was said to be the finest hotel between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The hotel offered 150 guest rooms, 65 office spaces, two dining rooms, a bar, a billiard room, a Turkish bath, barbershop and a variety of retail shops on its first floor along 4th Avenue and 10th Street. The Frederick closed as a hotel in 1973. Today, the building houses offices, apartments and retail stores.

The Fifth Avenue

Huntington businessman Hansford Watts built the Fifth Avenue Hotel in 1910 on the southeast corner of 5th Avenue and 9th Street, originally the site of the city’s first church. The First Congregational Church was built in 1874, just two years after the city’s founding. In 1908, the old church was put up for sale when the members erected a new building two blocks to the west at 5th Avenue and 7th Street, where today’s congregation still worships. Watts bought the property, demolished the church and erected a 100-room, three-story hotel, with several shops on the first floor along the building’s 9th Street side “There was never anything fancy about the Fifth Avenue Hotel,” owner-manger Otis Hooper recalled in a newspaper interview on his retirement in 1979. By that time, a big part of the hotel’s dwindling business came from railroad train crews who bunked there between shifts. The hotel struggled along for a few more years after Hooper retired but eventually closed. Today, the building is home to the Fifth Avenue Apartments.

The Huntington

When the Huntington Hotel was built at 6th Avenue and 9th Street just before World War I, it was an elegant place with a popular restaurant, a ballroom, barbershop and fancy glass-enclosed balcony over the entrance. A.E. Kelley was the long-time manager. When the Prichard opened just across 9th Street from the Huntington he would manage it as well. Over the years, the hotel would be popular with business travelers, often hosted visiting ball teams and during World War II provided overnight housing for 200,000 inductees who came to Huntington to take their draft physicals. By the 1970s, the hotel was struggling. It was closed and demolished in 1976. Today, the hotel’s site is home to the Huntington C&O Credit Union.

The Farr/ The Governor Cabell

On Nov. 14, 1918, James Shaw, a pottery salesman from Philadelphia, became the first guest to register at the new Farr Hotel at 4th Avenue and 9th Street. Over the years, the Farr would be a favorite with business travelers. The hotel was planned to be 14 stories but soaring construction costs during World War I forced coal operator John S. Farr to stop work at seven floors. When the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company bought the hotel, it changed its name to the Governor Cabell. The hotel closed in 1965 and was leased to the federal government as a residential facility for the Huntington Women’s Job Corps Center. In recent years, the building has housed offices and a variety of first-floor retail tenants. A faded “Hotel Farr” sign can still be seen on the building’s south wall.

The Prichard

The 13-story, 300-room Prichard Hotel, built by real estate developer Fred C. Prichard and managed by veteran hotelman A.E. Kelley, opened on the southwest corner of 6th Avenue and 9th Street in 1925. Constructing and furnishing the hotel is said to have cost more than $1 million. The marble and walnut lobby was furnished in Italian Renaissance style and the dining room in a Georgian Colonial design. Prior to the hotel’s opening, Kelley proudly pointed out to The Herald-Dispatch that every guestroom had its own tub bath. This postcard view is undated but appears to be from the 1940s when, as the card boasts, six floors of the hotel had been “completely air conditioned.” Prichard also constructed the nearby Robson-Prichard office building. The Prichard ceased operation as a hotel in 1970. Today, the building houses offices and apartments.

The Park Lane / The Milner

Named the Park Lane when it was erected in the late 1930s, the high-rise hotel on the northeast corner of 4th Avenue and 7th Street later was acquired by the Milner chain and so was given that name. The Milner chain was once one of the nation’s largest, with more than 170 locations. But the death of founder Earle Milner and growing competition from new motels doomed the company. In Huntington, police long complained that the Milner was a haven for prostitution. The Huntington Urban Renewal Authority marked the Milner for demolition as part of the city’s downtown urban renewal project and, after a court battle with the Milner chain, acquired and razed it in 1980. A small office building was built on the site. Today, the building is home to a stockbroker, RBC Wealth Management.

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