In case the name of the hotel is not familiar, it was originally constructed at the corner of Main and Whiteman Streets in Xenia. The site is now a parking lot, but at one time, it was the site of one of the finest hotels in the area.
John Ewing was a lad of 14 when he came from his Kentucky home to work at the dry good store owned by James Gowdy. Gowdy admitted him into partnership when he was old enough and eventually Ewing became the owner when Gowdy retired in 1838.
Ewing began another venture in 1836 when he constructed a building at the corner of Main and Whiteman. The three-story structure faced Main Street with a one-story rear section opening on Whiteman. Two large parlors on the main floor were used for special events. The new establishment was called Ewing’s House. He managed the hotel for about ten years and then returned to the dry goods business while maintaining ownership of the hotel.
General Casper Merrick (a state militia officer) also went into the dry good business, but soon became the manager of the Hamill Inn. Next he managed Hiving House and later was offered the management of the Ewing Hotel. It was during his tenure that the hotel became better known as Merrick’s Hotel.
There were several hotels at this time in the city with “Merrick’s Hotel” listed as one of the best places to stay. In 1893, it was described as “The best and most cosmopolitan between Cincinnati and Cleveland.”
This comment referred to an early picture of the hotel with stagecoaches in front of the building. “The artist might have represented with propriety the whole street in front crowded with such stages; for it was the old time coach that gave the hotel importance and made this town an important stopping place between the East and the West.”
The majority of the folks who were staying at the hotel arrived via stagecoach. It was not unusual for as many as twenty stagecoaches a day dropping off and picking up passengers.
Roads were not paved as they are today, but the stage coach routes were kept up fairly well. Transportation by coach demanded some difficulty in getting over muddy roads. Often, if the coach got mired in the mud, the male passengers were asked to get out of the coach and help push until the wheels were free but it was the only means of travel other than horseback or on foot.
The road between Cincinnati and Columbus was well-traveled and with Xenia being about the half-way point. The hotel was a veritable haven for travelers staying overnight or enjoying meals.
The hotel was located not far from the famous Yellow Spring which had gained a reputation as a health spa. It was not unusual for the passengers to spend the night at “Merrick’s” before proceeding onto their ultimate Yellow Springs destination.
Stagecoach drivers often brought the news of the country when they arrived in town. Residents eager to know what was happening in the Eastern part of the country would gather at the hotel, anxious for the drivers to arrive to share information they had acquired while traveling. At this time there was not telegraph service, so letters and the stage coach drivers were the main means of communication with the rest of the country. Residents knew which driver might have the news they wanted to hear and knew about when the driver might arrive, so often a crowd would gather in anticipation. Each driver had a particular route, so information would have been gathered in different areas.
At that time, many days would pass before the results of the Presidential election were known. The residents knew approximately when the stage coach would arrive and would gather at the hotel, hoping to discover who would be the next President of the United States.
When Henry Clay ran on the Whig ticket, folks gathered at the hotel waiting for word. They asked the coach driver to hoist a particular signal when the coach turned onto Main Street, however seeing no such signal, they returned to their homes, defeated. Seeing no pre-arranged signal, the other party cheered.
In those days, court was held on a bi-weekly basis and so attorneys would make the rounds of the circuit from county to county for court sessions. The days the court was in session provided considerable interest among the citizens who were always anxious for more news. Apparently when the stage coach was no longer the best means of travel the hotel lost some of its glamour.
General Merrick retired from hotel management to go back into the dry goods business in 1846. The next few years are rather obscure and it seems that the hotel lacked some of the popularity it had once enjoyed perhaps because the other managers did not have the flair of General Merrick.
John Ewing died in 1893, so it can be assumed that Mr. Fisher acquired the property from the Ewing estate. However Mr. Fisher apparently changed his mind, deciding to keep the location as a hotel. There is speculation as to whether the entire previous building was razed to make way for a new one, or if he did indeed remodel the old. In any event, the Grand Hotel stood on the site for years.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.