The famous Bellevue Hotel in Wayne, on Lancaster and Bellevue Avenues, was built in 1881 and consisted of 200 rooms on four stories, each story with a porch. A. J. Drexel and George W. Childs built it one year after buying the Louella mansion in their continuing efforts to make Wayne a fashionable summer resort for city dwellers. It was situated on a plot of land with Bellevue Avenue on one side and William Wood’s property, “Woodlea” on the other. Soon after completion, the Bellevue was leased to Mary Simmons and her sister by George Childs and was then called the Bellevue mansion. In an article dated July 2, 1884, a newspaper writer from the Germantown Telegraph described his visit to Wayne, devoting part to the then Bellevue mansion:
“We now come to the beautifully situated Bellevue mansion on Lancaster Avenue. The mansion has been leased by Mr. Childs to Miss Mary Simmons and her sister, and is a charming summer resort. It has one hundred rooms, and each room has a private porch. Four porches run entirely around the mansion, and the building and surroundings cost over eight thousand dollars. The mansion stands in the centre of a beautiful lawn, and is approached by a fine macadamized road. The parlors present a most luxurious appearance, and the large and elegant dining-room is where the ‘Aztec Club’ took their annual dinner before the death of Gen. Robert Patterson. A handsome billiard room or hall is near the mansion, and there are ice-houses, servants’ quarters, stables, gas-houses, etc.
The mansion is well supplied with fire-escapes, and the heating arrangements are excellent. There are a smoking-room, card-room, private parlors, etc.”
One of the Bellevue’s most prominent features was a long boardwalk, beginning at the hotel’s right side and ending at the train station platform. Tennis and croquet ground were another bonus for the Bellevue, especially since the Louella had neither. There were at least two separate buildings on the Bellevue property, one being the ice house, the other a stone house. This included inside billiard and pool tables, a library with a fireplace, and tow card rooms; one for men only and one for ladies only.
In 1885, Mary Berrell Field bought the Bellevue from George W. Childs. She owned it until 1895. During this period, the hotel hosted numerous forms of entertainment, including the Aztec club meetings and conventions. It is said that some time during these years, General Ulysses S. Grant stayed at the Bellevue. Field hosted masquerades and sleighing parties. One night in 1886 Wayne contractor and quarry operator R.H. Johnson said that “Every young lady and gentleman in Wayne had the pleasure of a sleigh ride on Jan. 20 to the White Hall in Bryn Mawr and back.”
Mary Field Arms Davis, granddaughter of the Bellevue’s owner, lived there with her grandmother, great-grandmother, parents and brother. She wrote a manuscript, entitled “Through Six Generations” which describes the hotel. She said it had no private baths, but each room had a wash stand, bowl and pitcher.
“On each floor were several bath rooms that were kept locked. When a bath was wanted, the chambermaid was called and given a ticket or 25 cents. She would get the bath and then straighten up.” Apparently these baths faced the tennis courts.
Saturday nights were hop nights from 8:30 to 11:50. This time allowed guests to catch the last train into Philadelphia. On Sundays, hymns were featured and concert music was played on Wednesdays. The “Mikado party”, a large masquerade party in mid-summer, was remembered by all who attended. The Fourth of July held a major event for the hotel annually, with sports events, a one o’clock dinner, fireworks, and an evening hop with an extra large orchestra.
Although it was primarily a summer resort, the Bellevue still got a fairly good business in the winter of about 50 guests.During one winter, the family of “Little Lord Fauntleroy” ‘s Frances Hodgson Burnett rented eight rooms on the second floor, according to Davis.
The Bellevue came to the ground on March 15 and the morning of the 16th, 1900, around 2:30 a.m.. Frances Fronefield Crawford Gant, daughter of drugstore operator J.M. Fronefield, recorded her memories of the fire for the Radnor Library Oral History Project:
“The only fire equipment in Wayne at the time was a hose and reel. Dr. Leinhardt, the veterinarian (and brother to the Leinhardt Bakers), had two horses that were supposed to pull the reel and hose, but this was in the middle of winter, there was 2-1/2 feet of snow, and of course, the horses couldn’t do it. They couldn’t get any water to the fire. They just had to let it burn all the way down to the ground.”
Another dairy entry reads:
“On March 15, 1900, the frozen ground was covered with snow and a heavy wind was blowing. The blaze was detected by an employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who wakened the Wood family whose property adjoined the hotel to the east. Mr. William Wood called for the firemen.
“Embers blew as far as Audubon Ave. People flocked to watch. A colored servant famous for her enthusiasm for firewatching was early at the scene. Unlike the aging John Baker (who was the chief of the Wayne Hose Co.), she was a good runner.
The North Wayne firemen dragged their hose all the way up the hill to the Station but were unable to prevent almost total destruction of the hotel, though they were successful in preventing its spread to nearby stables and houses.
“A little girl was present, dressed in her brother’s trousers. Mrs. Case recalled her disappointment in being unable to run out and watch, too, because she could not find suitable clothes. Dr. George Miles Wells, the Wayne physician, mistook the illumination in the sky for moonlight and unlike most of his fellow townsmen went back to sleep.”
Gant was a girl at the time, and lived directly across the street from the hotel. Dr. Leinhardt, the veterinarian, was her neighbor. On March 17, the Philadelphia Public Ledger published the following: “It is believed that tramps, having made a fire in one of the large fireplaces on the first floor, carelessly permitted the flames to spread. When the town watchman first saw the blaze the fire was progressing rapidly.” It also stated that the loss was $58,000, and that after that was covered by insurance, the building was never rebuilt.
The Fire Chief at the time was Robert McCaig, Wayne’s Practical Boot and shoe maker.
Many years after McCaig served in the fire company and the fire, the Old man’s Club Minstrels gave a show in honor of the Fire Company, in which McCaig was in attendance. The show included a skit entitled “When We Ran With The Old Machine”, which concluded with these creative, however humorously erroneous verses:
And do you remember
When Bob McCaig was chief
And the Bellevue Hotel met its doom?
The people all turned out
And there was a fearful shout
For a child was left asleep in its room.
Bob rushed into the building
And he staggered up the stairs
Oh, it was a terrible scare!
Threw the baby out the window
Carried the cradle down the stairs
Then we ran with the Old Machine!
At the conslusion of this performance, McCaig himself stood up and yelled, “It’s a damn lie!”
Where the once great hotel stood, William W. Hearne built a house, apparently using the two detached buildings from the Bellevue. Hearne, who was the first president of the Radnor Fire Company of Wayne was succeeded in this residence by A.M. Campbell. During this time, Red Cross meetings were held there. During the house’s last years, Helen Kellog ran her Dining Room.
In the 1950’s, Bell Telephone, seeking land high above sea level, built its long lines building, later ran by AT&T. Bellevue Avenue still commemorates the memory of the great hotel, although all other traces of it are lost.
An engraving of the hotel from a Real Estate brochure
Radnor Historical Society Collection
A band of some kind at the foot of the building
Radnor Historical Society Collection