History of the Hotel

The Perfectly Unique and Authentic Venue

The Historic American Hotel has been a centerpiece of Staunton Virginia with many historic figures who have visited us in our long story. Upon your first visit with us you are sure to fall in love with the friendly, unique and undeniably authentic feel we offer as you are transported back to the mid 19th Century.

Once you explore the American Hotel and the Banquet Room, you will find many of intimate places perfect for your guests to spend time, filled with fresh paint and the gleam of our original hardwood floors.

In the late 1800s the Wharf area of Staunton was the site of the Virginia Central Railroad which crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains to Staunton, thus completing its route between the Shenandoah Valley and the state Capital in Richmond. The American Hotel was constructed by the Virginia Central Railroad in 1855, only one year after the railroad had reached Staunton.

At the time of its construction it was considered one of the most up-to-date and convenient hotels in the country. 
The American Hotel offered the ultimate in convenience to eager passengers. There was nothing like it between Richmond, Washington D.C and Cincinnati. Thick carpeting, gas lights, several bathtubs and its Grand Ballroom helped build its reputation as a traveler’s haven and attracted numerous dignitaries of the day.

Two of its early owners were Samuel B. Brown and Aaron S. Lara. Brown actually ran the place while Lara – a successful Goshen storekeeper – was the financial backer. Brown’s efforts to make the American Hotel as a top-notch facility were never ceasing.

War affected the American Hotel much as it did the Virginia. Rooms were quickly commandeered by the military and, as Staunton became a hospital area, the rooms filled up with wounded soldiers.

It served as hotel until 1862, was converted over into a civil war hospital and in the capacity for remainder of war.

Union troops entered the town in 1864 , took it over and threw out confederate wounded and sick.

When Brown and Lara allegedly purchased property further south, they sought to unload the American Hotel. It was sold at public auction May 25, 1863, and records indicate that its new owner was Col. J.Q.A. Nadenbousch of the Stonewall Brigade. By that time the hotel was being used as a hospital by the Confederate government at a rent of $3,000 annually.

When Union Gen. David Hunter and his men invaded Staunton in June 1864, one of the chief areas slated for destruction was the train depot and surrounding buildings. Nadenbousch requested that the warehouse next to his hotel be spared for fear the flames would endanger his own structure.

According to some sources, Nadenbousch – who had retired from the Confederate army because of a groin wound received at Second Manassas – was heartily sick of the war and had made these feelings known to Hunter and his officers. One of the officers, Col. David Strother, formed a quick friendship with Nadenbousch and agreed to spare both the American Hotel and its adjoining warehouse.

Because of Strother, the American Hotel and its warehouse were the only major buildings in what is now known as the Wharf Historic District to escape the torch. Hunter and his men burned everything else.

In 1874, the first year of his presidency, Ulysses S. Grant took a brief vacation trip to White Sulphur Springs stopping overnight in Staunton at the American Hotel. When the news of his arrival spread, a music band that had previously served as Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters band assembled at the station opposite his Hotel room and serenaded Grant with the song Dixie and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Grant came out on hotel balcony and acknowledged the band by raising his hat. Grant is reported to have bowed repeatedly to the band. The incident was one of the first public acts of reconciliation after the American Civil War. The band actually played later at his funeral.

Three months later, famed Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard stopped at the American for a night. The band’s serenading of him was so poignant that the former general is reported to have indulged in “emotional reminiscences,” reminding his listeners that he met the band at First Manassas while fighting for a “glorious cause.”

In 1890 the hotel was witness to a major railroad wreck when the main line train from Cincinnati to Washington had a brake failure. The line west of Staunton is a steep grade, so the train, trying desperately to stop, hurtled through the Staunton Station. The track curves in the station, opposite the hotel and the rear car of the runaway train was hurled from the track and dragged. Both the station and the wooden coach were shattered and, since the accident occurred at night, the kerosene lamps which lit the coach started a fire in the splintered wooden wreckage. The smashed coach was occupied by a theatrical troupe en route to Washington, and one of the singers, an 18-year-old girl from Kansas’s City named Myrtle Knox, was killed. The young woman was a member of organization of the Kings’ daughters, and the Staunton circle of that organization made effective use of the public concern about the wreck to get support for building the first hospital in Staunton. At the time this report is written the local hospital was known as King’s Daughters’ Hospital.

The Staunton Development Company was on the west end of the building in 1891 and the rest of the building was a shoe factory. Staunton Development Company wanted to renovate and update the Hotel in the Victorian style but did not have the finances. In 1894, the American Hotel became Bowling Spotts & Co, a wholesale grocery. They were receivers over all the railroad systems of the country, from California to the Atlantic Coast. They specialized in the handling of Havana and domestic cigars, chewing and smoking tobacco, teas, spices, high grade canned goods and provisions of all kinds. Between 1921 and 1929, the front part of the building was used as a railway express office.

As most downtown cities declined in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the building was no longer utilized. In 1994, Restoration Concepts Inc attempted to rehabilitate the hotel, but the project was never approved. In 2003, Emerald City L.P. renovated the building for professional offices, a café and a banquet room. A two story parking garage was built and an elevator was installed. The building was totally renovated with fire sprinkler systems, fire escape stairways, new HVAC systems, and a complete electrical renovation. Frazier Associates of Staunton was the architect that oversaw the 2003 renovations.

It is now home to numeous businesses with offices and our iconic Grand Banquet Room wedding venue.

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Special thank you goes to local history investigators
Marty Seibel and Matt Willis of Ghosts of Staunton for their information of the American Hotel.
For more information on their tours click below.