The Spencer Hotel

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(ca. 1910) Corner of Adams & 4th St. view of Spencer Hotel, shows horses & buggies on brick streets with streetcar tracks.
In 1849 Jacob Spencer moved with his wife and five children to Marion, Indiana. Jacob Spencer came to Marion with hopes of purchasing a hardware store. But when this hope showed no success Jacob Spencer became a farmer. During this time period there were only two hotels in Marion, the Butler House and the Love House. Neither of them were able to accommodate a large number of people. Jacob Spencer soon decided that the town needed a bigger hotel, one of which it could be proud. With this in mind Jacob purchased a section of property on the southeast corner of the town square. Here, in 1856, Jacob built this three story hotel where he offered rooms, meals, livery service, and office space. From this point in 1856 until its close in 1978 the Spencer Hotel was a proud and historic feature of downtown Marion.

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The Goal

One goal of Jacob Spencer was to bring the city to Marion. This goal was attained by always being equipped with the latest and most lavish amenities. When the hotel was first opened in 1856 it provided city livery, feed, and sale stable at the rear of the hotel. This was a very important service for travelers of this time.

(ca. 1930s) Corner of main dining room, Hotel Spencer, Marion, IN, shows tables set for dinner, ceiling fan, light fixtures, windows with draperies
Jacob Spencer’s son, Robert J. Spencer, attempted to make the Spencer Hotel everything his father had imagined. His intention was to equip this hotel in the best way to give Marion a hotel that would be a credit to the city and would be well equipped to handle the trade. In doing so he hired French and Swiss chefs and a Belgium baker. The hotel dining room had French wallpaper and the hotel also had a book shop, a soda fountain, a coffee shop, and the Fountain Room. In the fountain room hung beautiful imported chandeliers and on Sundays and special occasions would have a string orchestra play. The Fountain Room was also known for having a live macaw. “The Spencer, with its plush carpeting and sparkling chandeliers, was the place to be in Marion,” says the former desk clerk, Walter Roush. This hotel also had great service. Mrs. Hooper, who was the hotel manager’s daughter said, “The hotel offered immensely good service. Daddy would’ve killed any bellhop that didn’t just hop to.” She also said, “This hotel brought warmth, hospitality, and sophisticated food to an Indiana town.” This hotel was something to be proud of.

Famous Faces

Harry S. Truman, at Spencer Hotel on Labor Day, 1960, left of Truman is William Terry Cartwright. Mr. Truman was campaigning for John F. Kennedy
The Spencer Hotel was also host to many famous people during its 122 year history. In the beginning years of the Spencer Hotel there were business rooms and law offices in the back. There were several famous people who practiced law in these rooms at the Spencer Hotel. Some of these individuals include the first commissioner of organized baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis; the U.S. Supreme Court justice Willis Van Devanter; the vice president of the U.S. under Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and 1916, Thomas Marshall; and Oklahoma’s first governor, Major George Steele.

Along with this group of individuals is the group who just stopped by the Spencer Hotel. These individuals include Amelia Earhart, the world renowned WWI naval officer Count Felix Von Luckner, Governor William "Bill" Murray, Marion’s own “First Lady of the Harp” Mildred Dilling, the three time losing presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, the Italian soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, and presidents Richard M. Nixon, William Howard Taft, and John F. Kennedy.

The last group of famous individuals to visit the Spencer Hotel is the performers. Some of the big performers of the time period who performed at the Spencer Hotel include the Ted Weems and Guy Lombardo bands and Perry Como.

Renovations

When the Spencer Hotel first opened in 1856 it was an instant success. Because of this success, the hotel was enlarged twice in a relatively short period of time. The first renovation was in 1860 when a south section was added. The second enlargement was in 1869 was when a north section was built. When Jacob Spencer died his daughter Elizabeth Winchell acquired the hotel.

(1910) Exterior view of Spencer Hotel with awnings on the front of the building
In the early 1900’s she decided to improve and remodel the hotel again. She added three stories on top of the one story section on the east side of Fourth Street in order to accommodate additional visitors who were streaming into the booming community. The first floor of this addition was for business rooms. The second and third floor additions were where an additional thirty rooms were added. On the second floor a vestibule was built, along with a stairway leading from this to the third floor. This stairway was erected so a large opening could be left from the bottom floor to the top floor. There was a large skylight put in the roof at the head of the stairway to permit air and light into the office. The second story of this addition was also where the new kitchen and dining room were put. There was also a court added on the north side of the dining room. Along with the thirty new rooms there was an addition twenty new bathrooms added all with the latest patterns. During this renovation other improvements were made to the old part of the house.


(August, 20 1923) Spencer Hotel Remodeling by Bowman Construction Co.
The final renovation of the Spencer Hotel occurred in 1922. During this year the Spencer Hotel was completely torn down and then rebuilt. The goal was a modern more elaborately looking hotel. Mrs. Winchell hired architects Vonnegut, Dohn and Mueller to draw up the new plans for the hotel. The design was intended for eight stories, but only six were ever built. This new elaborate hotel was completed in 1925. This was the last renovation the Spencer Hotel underwent until it was demolished in 1978.


Conclusion

(ca. 1940) Color postcard of Hotel Spencer
Before the Spencer House was torn down in 1978 it was Grant County’s oldest business. Having been in business for over a hundred and twenty years the Spencer house played an integral role in Marion’s history. As it was said, the Spencer Hotel was the place to be. It brought the feel of the big city to little old Marion. The Spencer Hotel played a proud and historic part in Marion’s past with its elaborate amenities and its famous guest list.

Gallery

Bibliography

  • McKown, June R. St. Louis: G. Bradley, Inc., 1989. 24-25.
  • "Memories of the Spencer." Marion Chronicle Tribune 23 Nov. 1980.
  • "The Work is Begun." Marion Chronicle Tribune 26 July 1990.
  • Marion Public Library vertical file. “Proud, Historic.” Newspaper article.
  • Marion Public Library vertical file. “A Hotel at Last.” Newspaper article.

Credits

This article was written by Brett Barnes ans submitted on June 5, 2007 for Mr. Munn's AP U.S. History Class at Marion High School.

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