West House, ca. 1880. Image courtesy of Sandusky Library Archives Research Center
July 1859 – “Since Mr. [Charles] Dickens’ visit [in April 1842], a new Hotel has been erected, which has recently ben completed, and is second to none in th eWest in point of comfort and convenience. It was built by Messrs West, wealthy merchants, who have spared no money to make it a first-class hotel. Colonel McKenster is associated with them in its management and however cool the lake breeze, will give his guests a warm reception.”
Ever since local contractor W. T. West opened the West House in 1858, the year the state fair visited Sandusky, the intersection of Water Street and Columbus Avenue has been a hub of activity.
Promoted as the finest hotel between New York and Chicago, at the very least it offered more rooms than any hotel between Toledo and Cleveland. The construction of the Johnson’s Island Confederate Prison Compound, built by West and a partner in 1862, insured steady occupancy throughout the war.
In the summer of 1864 Confederate operative James Cole registered in the hotel as a Pennsylvania businessman. As part of the charade, a woman he knew from a brothel in Buffalo masqueraded as his wife. The Confederacy’s objective was to commandeer a United States gunboat (The Michigan) to aid in the rescue of 2,500 Rebel prisoners on Johnson’s Island, ferry many of them to the mainland, and then turn them loose to create chaos throughout the city before escaping south. Cole was arrested in the West House lobby as the plot neared fruition. Had the plot succeeded many of the antebellum buildings we cherish today might have been left in rubble.
The five story structure continued offering lodging and meals in addition to banquets for many occasions, including veteran’s gatherings, into the 20th century.
In 1918 the building was razed, perhaps due in part to competition from Rush Sloane’s ornate hotel, which had opened two blocks up the street in 1881.
With a little imagination we can close our eyes and open our ears and listen to 60 years of conversation in the lobby, bar, or restaurant. When the West House opened, the future of slavery in the south was a hot topic. When it closed, the discussions focused upon the challenges faced with the conclusion of World War I.
In the interim the assassinations of three presidents, African-American suffrage and approaching female suffrage, and the transition from the horse and buggy into streets filled with automobiles and skies dotted with an occasional airplane garnered attention.
July 3, 1866 – The Old Headquarters for tobacco, cigars, pipes and smoking and chewing material and implements in general. Tobacco of all grades, from common smoking to Gail & Ax’s best brand, best Fine Cut and Plug. Cigars of every description, from A No. 1 Havanna to some that don’t equal them. Those superb Meerschaum Pipes and Tubes have just arrived. Smokers’ fancy fixings in almost endless variety. Orders promptly attended to and charges as reasonable as when the purchases is present. M. Greenfield, Under the West House.
September 19, 1871 – American Watches of all the different grades made by the Waltham, Elgin, Springfield and United States Companies, for sale at the lowest prices by W. B. Hudson, Jeweler, Corner West block.
December 23, 1874 – West House to be Closed – A. K. west threatens to close up the West House. Small loss to the traveling community. We have the Lake House, which is A. No. 1 and lots of houses as good as the West House.
June 6, 1884 – The Electric Light – About twelve business men of the city met at the West House last night to discuss the feasibility of organizing an Electric Light company in Sandusky. Several gentlemen who had expressed themselves as being favorable to the scheme, not being present, the meeting was adjourned until this evening at the same place.