The large hotel, known later as the Mansion House, was erected by Union and Daniel White on the 29th of December, 1838. Rundle Palmer sold to Union, Daniel and Lyman White, in consideration of two hundred and fity dollars, a lot-one hundred and fifty feet wide and eighty feet deep. They probably started building the Mansion House in 1837 or 1838 but it was finished in 1839 when it appeared on the tax list valued at six hundred dollars. In the earliest days this building was called the Exchange Tavern. The Fitchville Township Trustees speak of meeting at the Exchange Hotel in April of 1846, March 1853 and April 1854. The first mention of the Mansion House for a meeting place for the Trustees was March 1856 and again twice in 1857.
This was one of the most famous taverns on the Wooster-Norwalk road, known today as Route 250. In the latter part of the 1850's, President Abraham Lincoln stayed overnight in this hotel. Perhaps this is what influenced the changing of the name from Exchange Hotel to the more sophisticated name of Mansion House. The Mansion House was noted for its free flow of liquor and good times. Folks say the Mansion House sold a barrel of whiskey a night and they could count fifty wagons ready to leave in the morning.
During the flourishing period of the Milan Canal this hotel became one of the main stopping places for wagoners taking grain to Milan. The foundations of the building were huge hand hewn sandstone blocks and in one corner of the basement steel bars were embedded in the stone over the window and a heavy stone wall laid up. This was used as a jail if any of the wagoners got unruly during their short stop.
The Mansion House was probably the last operating tavern in Fitchville as under the date line of September 27th, 1882, "Mr Abner Freeman has taken possession of the old Mansion House and commenced improving it. I understand he intends opening it to the public as soon as he can. The Mitchell House" has been closed."
In the Historical Library in the courthouse is an old book which lists licenses which were granted by the court. Tavern keepers were to get a license each year, however, many are missing, but listed under the date of March 6th, 1840, Union and Daniel White were assessed ten dollars for a tavern license for one year from January 1st, 1840, so without a doubt, this is about when the Mansion House was first opened for business.
An old picture shows a long barn located on the south side of the tavern for the horses of overnight guests.
About the turn of the century, the rooms on the second floor were opened up into one large room and used as a ballroom. Later when they were having dances there all the time, probably after 1917 and before 1925, an open stairway was added on the front of the building. It was on the porch and the stairs went up through the porch roof to a door which opened directly on to the dance floor. There could have been business enterprises being conducted on the first floor at the same time, which would have required a separate entrance to the dance floor.
There were living quarters in the back of the building and from time to time different families lived there. The first floor was used as a grocery store, a general store, post office, pool room and a meat market and antique shop. It is impossible to give the names of all the people who have had a business in this place following its use as a hotel. We do know that Bertie Palmer and his wife, the former Mae Jennings, ran a grocery store and general store. Clyde Percival Hall and his wife, the former Marguerite Sly, operated a store next, and they sold out to Barney McElroy and his wife, Emma, who operated a pool room there. Following this Wallace and Mabel Day had a meat market in the same building. At some time there was an antique store in this building but as there were two large rooms downstairs it is possible that two different businesses could have existed side by side.
On March 7th, 1925 Belle N. and John D. Smith sold the Mansion House to the Fitchville Grange for the sum of $700. This was the home of the Grange for almost 25 years. During this time they used to hold community dances a couple of times on Saturday evenings. This was for the whole community and many of the young children learned their first dance steps there. The Subordinate Grange held their meetings on the second floor while the Juvenile Grange was held in the first floor rooms.
How intrigued these Juvenile Grange members were with the many stories of secret passage ways and hidden slaves in the old tavern. Mrs. Hazel Earl, the Matron of the Juvenile Grange, showed them secret hiding places she had found in the building. As her hand moved across a certain panel it slipped back to reveal an opening in the wall. This probably had been built to hide the money taken in during the early days when the tavern was overflowing with people. In the dining room stood the beautiful and massive old black walnut table which had been used to serve their guests in the bygone era. This table is said to have been forty inches wide and twenty eight feet long with about a three inch plank top. This table was splintered to bits in the truck accident that caused the building to be abandoned.
When the new bridge was built in 1928 it changed the course of the road. The turn at the junction of Routes 13, 250 and 162 became almost a perfect "I" with the Mansion House on the southeast corner. Anyone with a "yern for speed" usually failed to make the sharp turn and ended up hitting the northwest corner of the building. After having already been hit several times, in April of 1949, the northwest corner of the building was hit by a large truck, and it severely damaged the building, and in May, the State Fire Marshall ordered the building to be abandoned.
In October of 1949, the Grange Trustees decided to sell the building and it was purchased by Paul White for about 725 dollars. He thought of restoring the building but later decided against it. Mrs Nancy Harner, Phyliss O'Reilly and Miss Virginia White, all daughters of Paul White, were the great great grandaughters of Union White who built this once famous tavern. The old landmark was bulldozed to the ground on June 22nd, 1968 and today is the site of the State Roadside Park.
Story by Myron Allgood