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CHAPTER VII

THE HOTELS OF OLD WARRENTON


From the best information I can gather, the first tavern built in the town was what was generally known as the Old Cheek Hotel, called after the owner of the property, not after the proprietor, although the oldest resident of Warrenton, Cyrus Green, now more than eighty years old (who has since died), has written me that he thought the Bellamy Hotel was older than the Cheek. I think that the hotel, as described by Miss Ellen Mordecai, in her History of Hastings (Warrenton) during the period 1800-1820 is the same style of building, roof, porching and other features as the old Cheek Hotel, as I first remembered it.

It stood on the west side of Main Street, between the store on the corner of Main and Franklin streets, and the Brick Store on the north end of the block.
In the memory of our oldest citizens, the Cheek Hotel was two stories at the main and front entrance. A long dining room of a single story, was added to the rear, extending westward. There was a large room in the second story used as a ballroom. The wing, single-story, with the sloping roof, running from the cone of the house over the porch,' extending south, running directly on Main Street, was evidently there in the earliest days of the town, as Miss Mordecai so pictures it.

The grounds' attached to the hotel, at a very early period, comprised nearly the whole block. They ran westward across Front Street to the Foundry Branch, extending to the Somerville property.

At the corner of Louisburg Road and Front Street there stood a very old and large stable, which was probably used for stabling the horses that were
driven to the stage coach, as Warrenton was a relay stop. This stable has been removed in comparatively recent years. Several years before the war, Orrin Smith moved the dining-room, on rollers and skids, across' the Foundry Branch, to the hill beyond, opposite the old Sledge place.

Miss Mordecai, in her history, confers the fictitious name of "Heberdeen" on the proprietor. I am not positively sure that she refers to Col. "Jack" Green, one of the very early landlords of the Cheek Hotel, but it would seem so, as later on she gives the incident of the Colonel and Cad as connected with the rear of this hotel. She begins the story by telling that she and a party of friends were returning from a walk to "The Folly," and were coming up the street (Franklin) when they witnessed the amusing scene.

The Colonel had a restive young steer, that he had ordered his man Cad to put a yoke on, which Cad found no easy task. At length hie master, abusing him for his stupidity, and telling him that "he would teach him how to yoke a steer," snatched one end of the rope from his hand, the other being fastened around the animal's neck.

"Hand me the yoke," said the Colonel in his impatience. Cad obeyed. The master then tied the rope securely around his own waist. The animal meanwhile standing perfectly quiet, but no sooner did the Colonel take hold of his horn, to place the yoke around his neck, then off went the steer at full speed, pulling the old man after him, though resisting in vain at the full stretch of several yards of rope. On went the steer, and on went the old Colonel after him, bawling lustily for help from the much abused Cad. "Cut the rope Cad, cut the rope." Cad did so, assisted by many spectators, who ran laughing to the rescue. The whole village was in an uproar of laughter, while the crowd followed the discomfited old gentleman into the tavern.

Quite a number of years ago, Mr. William Watson, an old and very intelligent citizen of the county, standing near the old tavern pointed out the place to Rev. Mr. Taylor, the pastor of the Baptist Church of Warrenton, and told him of that incident.

Some years after this well known and amusing incident happened, Mr. William S. Ransom, uncle of the distinguished Confederate Generals Matt and Robert Ransom, .was writing something of the old town. Colonel Green heard that he was and sent him word that "he might write all he damn pleased, but if he told of that scene he would crush every bone in his body."

Colonel Jack Green and his most estimable wife, Mrs. Martin Green, were among the best connected, the best educated, and the most highly respected citizens of the county of Warren. Both had been possessed of large fortunes, but through their profuse hospitality and generosity had compelled them to move from their country home into the town and take charge of this hotel. However, in that day, the proprietors of a tavern never in the least lost their social position by making that a calling.

Another very amusing incident was told on Colonel Green; very indicative of his unbridled curiosity, that was known of and laughed about by the community. There came to the tavern, about night-fall, a man having wares of some kind to sell, and applied for a night's lodging. The Colonel told him, with much asperity, that he did not take such as he in his tavern. As the man was moving off, he said that he was sorry to receive such treatment, as he had a piece of information that he would like to give to the proprietor on his leaving in the morning, that would be of service to him. The old Colonel could not resist that, so he bade him come in and make himself comfortable for the night, telling the servants to give him the best there was in the tavern. On the morrow the old gentle-man hung around the guest all the while he was eating his breakfast, eager to know the secret that was to be told him. The traveller made ready to depart, the Colonel followed him to the door, still he was silent on the subject. As he said good-bye and moved away, the impetuous old man rushed after him and said: "You are not doing as you promised, what is it that you have to tell me I"


The traveller returned, went up close to the Colonel, put his mouth close to his ear and said, "If you ever have to walk in a tread-mill, lean close to the wall, you will find it much easier."

Miss Mordecai also tells of the enterprising spirit of one of the early tavern keepers. Before the ground at the back of the tavern had been appropriated for a fine alley, a hogshead of tobacco had been grown there, this tobacco was prized in the courthouse grove, and there, several years after its body had been pierced through the heart by the beam which formed the tobacco prize, drooped the fine oak tree, gradually to decay. There it stood for a time, putting forth a few leaves and a great bunch of mistletoe.

Miss Mordecai's description of the old tavern is as follows :


It is doubtful whether or nor the tent-like looking building has yet been struck by lightning, or time, on the spot which was for many years the scene of not only Peter Fagin's (fictitious) famous dancing school, but of all the balls, as well as the treats which followed the consummation of legislative elections; where all the travelers from north to south found entertainment, which they seemed little desirous to prolong, though offered under the auspices of General Warren, whose figure in full uniform, rather faded, by sun and rain, swung on the sign, stiff as the staff which held it. The tavern was nevertheless head-quarters, and so to speak, the Astor House of the village. It was a low roofed building, standing immediately on the street, with a sort of a shed, a porch back and front, the eaves of the latter not more than ten or twelve feet from the ground. Two small rooms were partitioned off at each end, while in the part left open, only barred off by two hand rails and no door, stood two wooden benches, on one of which was a wash-basin, over it hung a "jack" towel, near by a shelf, just large enough to hold a pail of water. Before the bench on the opposite side, stood, in pleasant weather, a small table with a backgammon board on it, and a chair beside it. Here might be found from morning to night, some two or three of the many men of leisure, who resided in the town. They seemed to have no occupation, unless it were to play whist, in the oak grove, which fronted the Dutch-roofed courthouse. Here not only the lawyers, who figured at the bar, but the judge who pre-sided on the bench (court being adjourned) as well as other dignitaries of the village, would sit of a summer's afternoon and play cards.

During the war William Harris and his wife lived in the main part of this old tavern. Several families occupied and kept house in the various rooms, most of them refugees from Virginia. After Mr. Harris gave up the tavern, as a public house, the long single story on the street was used as offices and for various purposes of trade. Mr. Draper succeeded E. C. Waddill in the use of the two-story section, as a furniture and undertaking establishment.

The entire old building has been torn down and removed, and handsome brick stores have been erected on the site.

THE COFFEE EXCHANGE

There was a very old hotel on the corner of Front Street and the cross street running on the north side of Courthouse Square. It is on the spot where now stands the home of Mrs. Van Williams, formerly built and owned by Dr. T. E. Wilson, later owned by J. Y. Christmas. It had been used as a hotel some years before 1832, for in that year a deed was made and registered from Dr. Stephen Davis to R. N. Verell, in which the property is de-scribed as "The Coffee Exchange," which had been kept by Robert Ransom and Thomas Johnson as a house of public entertainment.

The first postoffice in the town, that I have any knowledge of, was kept in an annex of the Coffee Exchange. The premises were sold to my father, Dr. Wilson, in 1849, and the old house was demolished to make room for the present house, except that part used as the postoffice, which was moved to the rear of the lot and wed as a servants' house. The letter box was still 'to be seen, when I was young and living in my father's home. The stage coaches going north from Charleston, and south from Richmond, delivered their mail at this old postoffice.

THE BELLAMY HOTEL

The information I have been able to obtain does not extend further back than 1840, as regards this old hotel. Some people consider it the oldest of all three of the hotels that were open for patronage when I was a child. It stood on the corner of Main Street and the cross street running from Main Street to Bragg. It fronted on Main, extending south to an old store building, used as the postoffice before and during the war, when Thomas Reynolds was postmaster. It was built of wood and was very ancient looking. It was quite a large house with upper and lower porches running across the entire front. The stables stood on the north-east corner of the lot, the present site of the town hall. I remember, as a child, that it was in this place that the drovers from Tennessee and Kentucky stabled the large droves of horses and mules when they brought them each spring to sell to the farmers of Warren and adjacent counties.

In 1842 this hotel was kept by Mrs. Ann Bellamy. Her family consisted of her husband and three sons, George, Tom, and John Bellamy. George died during the war. John never married. He was a graduated physician, but I never remember that he practiced his profession. He was a very handsome man, always well and carefully dressed. He was a lonely man after his mother's death, and died alone in his room, upstairs in the small building used as a photograph gallery, immediately back of Hyman's store, on Main Street.

Thomas was also a doctor, but, I think, never practiced but kept a drug store. He had a very nice one in one of the front rooms of his mother's hotel for a few years after the Surrender. He moved to Norfolk and married a Miss Grover of that city. They had several children. He returned to Warrenton for a summer in the eighties and took photographs. I have some of the old town houses that are his work.

In 1842 Mrs. Bellamy's brother, Mr. Mayfield, was killed by her husband, it was said because Mr. Mayfield came to the defence of his sister when her husband was treating her very cruelly. She acted promptly in effecting his escape to Kentucky, by giving him a very good horse from her stable and all the cash money she had. He never made any effort to return. After this tragedy she built the house now owned and occupied by Richard Boyd (to the old people it was the "Cawthorn House") and moved there to live. She was a fine housekeeper and had one of the kindest hearts that ever beat in human breast! She leased the hotel for five years to Captain Peter J. Turnbull and later to H. G. Goodloe, returning to the hotel just before the war. All during that period her house was filled with refugees. She died there in 1868, quite an old woman.

The Bellamy Hotel was entirely consumed in the great fire of June 21, 1881. On its site was built a plain wooden building called The Phoenix Hotel of two stories, and kept by Mrs. B. F. Long for some years. Stores were also built on the southern part of the old hotel lot.

THE OWEN HOTEL

This hotel was kept by a most estimable couple, Mr. and Mrs. Owen, in the forties, until a sale was made to Dr. and Mrs. Brownlow, at the corner of Main Street and the cross, street running north of the courthouse. They did not have much room, as it was a small house for public entertainment. Mrs. Owens was a fine housekeeper, and very pleasant socially.
I do not know if they had other children than Jimmie, who was high tempered and undisciplined, giving them much trouble and often causing much excitement in the town by his conduct.

A few years before Mr. Owen left Warrenton for Kentucky, Jimmie Owen and Edward Badger, a young son of Hon. George E. Badger, of Raleigh, had a fight, as personal encounters between boys were called, in which the Owen boy used a knife with most serious results. They were school-boys of the Male Academy, under Mr. Ezell. Young Badger received many dangerous wounds which caused his illness at Mr. Ezell's home for many weeks. Members of his family came to Warrenton to nurse the wounded boy. He finally recovered, but after a long illness and much suffering.

The Owen family moved to Kentucky, the then far west, at the time they sold the property to the Brownlows, and never returned. Only Uncle Aaron Owen, one of their slaves, came back after he was a free man.

BROWNLOW HOTEL

Dr. Tippoo Sahib Brownlow, with Mrs. Brownlow, their daughters, and several small grandchildren, moved from their plantation in Halifax County to Warrenton in 1849 or '50. They bought the cornor hotel from Mr. Owen and opened what was after-wards known as an excellent hostelry. They added a good deal to the house, and later still added a two-story wing to the north, running along Main Street, with very nice porching, and a large, well arranged ball room, the several back windows opening on Mrs. Brownlow's pretty flower garden. There was a large vegetable garden extending back W Bragg Street and several out-houses for the colored people. Across the street from the garden owned a large stable, on the corner of Bragg Street. Just before the war some slaves were playing cards in the loft of the stable and it was accidentally burned; several horses were consumed also.

This was perhaps the best known and the best kept hotel in the State. The patronage was very large and of the most influential people, especially during the season when Shocco and Jones' springs were open.

Dr. Brownlow was a native of Wilmington, North Carolina. He was a graduate in medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, but did not practice his profession after coming to Warrenton. He was a gentleman of agreeable manners, and was especially fond of a game of backgammon, always giving a warm welcome to his friends who dropped in his office for a game, day or night: He was also passionately fond of fishing, with hook and line, and sacredly guarded his poles and fishing tackle. As might be expected, the large square porch off the office, looking south, was always a favorite gathering place of the men and boys of town, especially during the war, when Mr. Grainger would come from the depot at Warren Plains with his hack, drop by the hotel to put out any passengers, and then drive on to deliver the mail bags at the postoffice. To be present at this exciting time was the most interesting event of the day. Especially were the loiterers eager to hear the blast of Mr. Grainger's horn, if there were good news from the battle fields. He would begin to blow near Mr. Cawthorn's gate. There was one ex-citable old gentleman always at the hotel, and if a soldier, at home for a furlough, alighted from the hack, his first question, after a greeting was: "When are you going back ?" So when the boys in camp received their furloughs they would say to one an-other : "Well, the person that will meet me, as Mr. Grainger puts me out at the hotel, will be Mr. G. and his first question to me will be, `And when are you going back.'  Mrs. Brownlow was Miss Martha Crittenden of Halifax County. She was a lady of means and had received the best educational advantages of her day. She was a boarder at the Mordecai School in Warrenton when the building was burned. At her beautiful home, La Vallee, in Halifax County, she had teachers to conduct the education of her four daughters, very pretty and attractive women, three of whom were afterwards, Mrs. Benjamin Edwards, Mrs. Nat Edwards (the sisters married brothers of Halifax County), and Mrs. James Yellowly. Miss Ellen Douglass never married. The three married daughters died quite young, leaving children who were most carefully reared by Dr. and Mrs. Brownlow. The grandchildren were Misses Pattie and Bettie Ed-wards; Miss Lucy, Jimmie and Isaac Edwards; and James Yellowly, who spent much of his life with his uncle, Edward Yellowly, and his sister, Miss Harriet, in Pitt County.

Mrs. Brownlow was one of the most remarkable women I ever knew. Her courage, her indefatigable industry, her capacity along all lines, her cheerful amiability, her patient resignation when adversity came, were the subjects of the comment and admiration of all who knew her. She was a charming companion and the young people of the town eagerly sought her society. She was at her best when she talked of old times and customs. Her accounts of the wonderful camp meetings held by the Methodists in her old county were most interesting, She told of several thousand gathering for at least ten days or two weeks, in some attractive spot, when families would come in their carriages with a wagon following filled with cooking utensils, food of all sorts, bedding, etc. They would have tents and booths and would entertain on a large scale. A large arbor was made for the religious services, with plank seats and large quantities of straw around the pulpit where the mourners were to kneel. All this was most interestingly and dramatically told by Mrs. Brownlow and the climax was the last service: A woman of high social position, a great religious enthusiast, knelt to pray and at the close of her prayer she raised her hands above her head with a sweeping wave and said : "What ship is that which will take us all home ?" The three or more thousand voices took up that grand old hymn, "The Old Ship of Zion" and the forest resounded with their impassioned voices.

The youngest daughter, Miss Ellen, was a very pretty and intelligent woman, perhaps the best read and most cultivated woman in Warrenton. She was educated at Saint Mary's School, Raleigh. She taught for some years in the Warrenton schools and in other States. She was a most interesting talker and a sympathetic listener. She possessed much of her mother's charm with an additional vein of critical wit. She was a most devoted daughter and a warm, constant friend. She lived to an advanced age, dying in Raleigh in 1920. Her father and mother lived years beyond their Golden Wedding; he died in 1879 and she in 1881, both in Warrenton.

NORWOOD HOUSE

In 1873 Mr. and Mrs. William J. Norwood bought the property from Dr. and Mrs. Brownlow, and entirely changed and remodeled the house, making it a very handsome and conveniently arranged house for hotel purposes. It was splendidly kept, and the best known hotel between Raleigh and Richmond. It was consumed by fire in the spring of 1878. This fire was a real calamity to the town, also to a most estimable lady, Mrs. Tarwater, who had come from Clarksville, Virginia, with her two daughters and two sons, at the beginning if that year, to take charge of this hotel. Her daughters were Nannie, who afterwards married William T. Johnson; and Georgie, who married Dr. P. J. Macon. John and James Tarwater were her sons.

_______________
Source:

Montgomery, Lizzie Wilson; Sketches of old Warrenton, North Carolina; traditions and reminiscences of the town and people who made it, Raleigh, Edwards & Broughton printing company, 1924.

2004 by Nola Duffy & Ginger L. Christmas-Beattie


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