Stratford Hotel Still Sparking Interest
WHEELING – A spark was part of one local, iconic hotel in its prime and demise.
Wheeling historian Jeanne Finstein visited the Wheeling Rotary Club’s Tuesday luncheon to tell the story of the Stratford Springs Hotel. Built off of what is now Edgwood Street in Woodsdale, the hotel became a drawing card for society when it opened in 1907 until its loss to flames in 1918.
“In order to appreciate what we have now, sometimes we need to consider what we’ve lost and make sure that we preserve what we still have left,” Finstein said to Rotarians as she presented a slideshow of projected Stratford Hotel images.
With resort competitors like Saratoga Springs in New York and the Greenbrier in the southern part of West Virginia, Stratford was a top destination. While its many mineral springs proved to be social gathering spots, they were also believed to have medicinal properties to cure anemia, diabetes and other ailments. While not thermal, the springs were naturally carbonated – Finstein described them as “the soda water of the day.”
The hotel, comprised of a three-story, block-long wooden structure with 84 rooms, was impressive in its own right. Beyond its spacious foyer, verandas, sun parlor and dining room with a 300-person seating capacity, Stratford featured a tennis court, pool and billiard parlor. Patrons could take dance lessons, participate in bridge club or, most famously, attend the hotel’s masked balls. According to Finstein, the balls were prime opportunities “for society debs to meet future mates.”
After a spark from a gasoline engine in the ice department set nearby waste on fire, however, flames consumed the hotel. While firefighters from Woodsdale, Edgwood and Wheeling responded with pumper trucks on the morning of Jan. 13, 1918, poor water pressure and a lack of fire hydrants posed problems. Eventually, the water that had been sprayed onto the hotel froze.
Rather than creating another issue, the ice acted as a slide for firefighters to remove grand pianos, safes, velvet couches and even patrons from the Stratford Hotel. The main hotel building was lost in the fire and never rebuilt, but lives were saved. According to Finstein, many Woodsdale residents offered their homes to the guests and provided firefighters with warm drinks.
“We still have a lot left,” said Finstein about valuing the Wheeling structures that still exist today. “Once these things are gone, they’re gone.”