140 West Front Street
The Exchange Hotel
Supporting the preservation and appreciation of Perrysburg's historic architectural heritage
The Exchange Hotel:
If ever a city-enforced restriction on the alteration of the exterior of historic buildings was needed, it was back in 1907 when this structure at 140 West Front Street lost all resemblance to the original.
Up until then it was still recognizable as the famous old Exchange Hotel, dominated by a large, two-level porch in front of which travelers once hitched their carriages, and on which they once sat enjoying a view of the river. Today, newcomers, or those just not sensitive to Perrysburg's history, pass by without an inkling that this was once called "the best and most elegant place of public entertainment between Buffalo and Chicago."
Hyperbole it might have been, but then maybe not. There weren't a great many creature comforts in that spread of geography back when Perrysburg was almost surrounded by a swamp that sorely challenged travelers.
And bear in mind that between 1823, when the hotel was built, and the mid-1800s, this town was a major Great Lakes shipbuilding center and one of the most important commercial ports on the lakes.
140 West Front Street - Exchange Hotel ca. 1910
140 West Front Street - Exchange Hotel ca. 2000
In any case, this stop-over house was a welcome haven for out-of-towners here to arrange shipment of goods by water, to transact business at the county court house, or to take part in political gatherings or such things as reunions of veterans of the War of 1812 and later the Civil War.
Originally built on the site of an old trading post by Samuel Spafford for John Hollister only 7 years after Perrysburg was founded, the building was located next to the first Wood County court house, a two-story log structure near the northwest corner of Louisiana Avenue and Front Street. Samuel had the lumber for construction shipped in on the schooner "Sally" captained by Amos Pratt.
The hotel was bought by Samuel's son, Jarvis, for $650 in 1832 from Hollister after Samuel's demise in 1831. Jarvis expired in the 1854 cholera epidemic and his young widow then sold the property to Joseph Utely.
The original version of the building was of Greek Revival style, built of walnut logs felled in nearby forests and later covered with clapboard. The structure had a fieldstone foundation without a basement, with matching chimneys on the east and west ends. It was dominated by a two-story front porch running the length of the building and supported by four Tuscan columns and pilasters reflecting the cover columns. A turned balustrade ran around the full second story porch, with partial ones at ground level at the two ends. Windows were double-hung 6/6, with the front door having sidelights and a transom. The interior featured a bar, a dining room, a reception room, and initially at least, eight bedrooms (although an 1876 reference is made to 25 rooms). Buildings toward the rear housed stables and other necessary utilities.
For years the Exchange Hotel was the social center of the community, the scene of festivals, balls, concerts, even weddings, and for a time, lively lawn croquet games.
Attesting to Perrysburg's and the hotel's importance at the time is the fact that prominent people like Presidents William H. Harrison and James K. Polk, General Winfield Scott, Daniel Webster and assorted national and state congressmen, governors and judges signed the guest book.
The Exchange Hotel outlasted all of its later contemporaries (there were four other hotels in Perrysburg in 1839), remaining in the Spafford family through the terrible cholera epidemic in the 1850s. Shortly thereafter, the C.W. Norton family acquired and ran the place and it was known as the Norton Exchange during the latter part of the century.
In 1907 the hotel, then owned by Frederick Hillabrand, suffered the worst of several fires and the old establishment was converted into a two-family dwelling, the rear section and porch being torn down and new porches erected on the east and west sides. Subsequent alterations have removed all vestiges of this former hostelry whose skeleton was nailed together less than 50 years after the U. S. became a nation.