Source: The Manchester Republican, February 12, 1874

JAMES HALL is the genuine good natured "mine host" of the American house, and we cannot close this sketch without saying something of the many good qualities of the establishment. The American presents a home for the traveling public, affording all the comforts pertaining to a first-class hotel. Good rooms, a table supplied with the very best the market affords, and every attention given to guests that could be devised makes this house a popular one with the public, and will ever be a favorite resort as long as Mr. H. does the mine host of the establishment.

Source: The Manchester Republican, March 26, 1874

--Mr. R.R. Grimes the present proprietor of the American house is from Millersburg, Elkhart county.

Source: W.E. Billings, TALES OF THE OLD DAYS (1926), p. 49-51.


Who remembers the time the old American House was burned? "I do," comes in chorus from a hundred of the school pupils of that day, and each one of them instinctively puts his hand to the seat of his memory, for tradition says that on that occasion most of the pupils were late at school and the teacher wielded a feeling paddle. But when did it burn? "I know," says one. "It was in 1880." "No, it was in 1881," and so on. It remained for Joseph A. Browne to fix the date by saying it was on the day that the mother of Mrs. Jasper Jinks was buried, and Mrs. Jinks says that was January 25, 1883. It is much by this process that the unwritten dates of local history have to be established. That morning Mr. Browne was in a barber shop on the south side of Main street. Suddenly Lew Russel, the barber, said, "What's the excitement?" as people were seen running toward what is now the Gresso corner, and where the American house then stood. A moment later black clouds of smoke began to roll from the building, and it was doomed. Fire fighting facilities were limited, and the  building was old and dry. Joseph Bonner and William Wood distinguished themselves by saving the frame building that stood where Burdge's drug store is today, Bonner by staying through the heat and throwing water on the building, and Wood by climbing a ladder through the heat to put out the cornice as it would catch fire, for those were the days when the spectators did more than spectate. Ernest Ebbinghouse worked with a will that day, too, on the bucket brigade, for most of the rooms of the old hotel were papered with paper he had sold from his wall paper store and the paper was not paid for, and never has been. Mr. Zook, later of the Zook-Coppes company of lumber fame in northern Indiana, also distinguished himself by saving much of the furniture. But there were others who were said to have been busy throwing dishes out of the upstairs window and carrying feather beds tenderly down the stairway. Wabash responded to a call and sent a hand pumper and a cart of hose. S.S. Karn, now living at the west edge of town, hauled that outfit from the Big Four station. He was hauling logs with a sled near the railroad and when the train carrying the Wabash outfit arrived he hitched on and pulled it up town. According to his memory this hand operated pump was connected with the river, a line of hose laid, and by this means the next building east of the American house were saved.

What started the fire? No one knows. Some say it was the culmination of the hot times that are said to have occasionally taken place in that old hostlery in its later days, for it had pretty much become a "horslery," being owned by a bunch of horse traders, who plied their business with great perspicacity, whatever that means. The hotel came under the management of Jesse C. Hoover in April of 1882, and he announced that on May 1 he would open it for business, "completely overhauled and refitted." That's when the paper was bought of Mr. Ebbinghous that had not been paid for, he being in the book and wall paper business at that time.

The American house building occupied what is now the Gresso corner, and extended north nearly to the alley, there being a livery barn at the north end that was on the alley, and east to include the lot now occupied by the Daniel Sheller grocery. Traditions conflict as to who built the first American hotel. Some say it was Col. Richard Helvy, the first settler of Chester township, and others that it was Asa Beauchamp who built it, later trading it to Helvy for his farm, which in turn was passed on to Martin Wicks, for those were great days for trading. Today Harvey Cook owns it, his grand father having bought it of Wicks. That building was put up along about 1840, and tradition again says it was of hewed logs. Helvy operated the hotel for some time, but what finally became of it is not known. The second structure is believed to have been built by O.E. Purdy, who was a relative of Harmon Sheets, who remembers Purdy quite well. It is thought to have been built in 1863. It was two stories high, in L shape, the roof sloping to a comb from the west and south. The office was in the southwest corner, and the dining room was to the east, facing on Main street. Some say it had a "cow shed" awning of boards in front, and others say it did not, as that style had not yet become popular. What paint it wore is said to have been white, and thus was it distinguished from the Lentz hotel, which was yellow.

The lower part was cut into a number of smaller business rooms. Ed Flanigan had a saloon in the north part of the building, and it was in this that the trades were consummated over a few glasses of the best the house could provide. Negro Harry, a monster darkey, operated a barber shop in another small cubby hole. He was crippled in the legs, but more than offset that by his powerful body and arms. it is said of him that when he became enthusiastic in giving a shampoo or facial massage he would shake the whole house. W.H. or "Hank" Strayer operated a restaurant in the east room of the building, where the Sheller grocery is, and Daniel Sheller was working there at the time of the fire. While Dan remembers the fire, yet there was another happening in that restaurant that he remembers with more feeling and vividness. "Hank" was quite a hunter in those days, and one day he came in with a new gun, setting it in the corner and telling Dan not to touch it. Hiram Mayswinkle, now of Kansas City, came in, and picked up the gun, pointing it this way and that way, and telling what he would do if a rabbit should jump up in front of him. He passed the gun to Dan, and he thought he would see how well he could point it out through the door. But he was too realistic. The gun went off sending a charge of shot over toward the Johnson blacksmith shop, while the butt end of the gun bumped him in the stomach. That was the first and last time Dan ever fired a gun, and during his recent trouble with his stomach he sometimes imagined that he could still feel the effects of that kick.

Another character around that hotel was Ben Eby, who ran the livery stable north of the building, and participated freely in the festivities. Dave Whisler was a boy in those days, but he liked horses and for the sake of being with the horses he assumed part of the duties of chamber maid in the stable. Never in his life did greater happiness come to Dave than when Eby would invite him to go with him to ride behind his favorite race horse. As Dave now sees it he says the horse could not go fast enough to get warm, but it was some race horse in those days, being able to do a mile in a little over four minutes. Eby was true to his horses to the last. One morning he went into the stable, went to each horse, called it by name, rubbed its nose, and then quietly laid down and died.

If the ashes of the old American House, which long since have been scattered to the four winds, could be gathered together and made to talk they could tell tales of early history that would fill many columns. For forty years that old hotel had its part in the affairs of the town. It was a sort of social center, and was a place where men met to talk politics, religion and business. There were, no doubt, many festive occasions in that old place, some of them pretty warm, if the sudden silence of some of the old timers of today who were young timers of that day means anything, for in hunting information about that old place several were found who would start a real good story with "Once upon a time," and then suddenly end it by saying, "Oh, well, probably the less said the better." There was an Irishman who was lost in that hotel, "never to be seen again," if the tales told in whispers are to be believed. Just how an Irishman could have been inveigled into a fight is a mystery, but this one whose name cannot be recalled was so inveigled. The fight was with Silas Moffet, and the Irishman probably looked upon it as an act of Providence that at the critical moment he should find a brick in easy reach. With the brick he laid out his antagonist, but Silas had a brother named Sam, and it was but the work of a moment for Sam to gather reinforcements and start after Mike, or whatever his name may have been. The race was warm but Mike was in the lead when the kitchen was reached, and there he disappeared--"was just clean swallowed up" never to be seen again, and for many a night the gossips in Flannigan's saloon would talk about it with baited breath, spelling advisable. Rufus R. Grimes was for a time the manager of the American House, but in 1881 he purchased what is now the Sheller Hotel. The fame and glory of the American House seems to have departed with him, for its latter days were worse than its first. What is now the Sheller Hotel was first established by Henry Lentz, who in the later forties built the frame part of that hotel. Wesley Bussard became his security in this venture and later took charge of the hotel, Lentz moving west, probably to California. Mr. Bussard was the father of Mrs. Peter Speed, and it was in what is now the southwest part of the house that she was born, that being her mother's room. It was also in this room many years later that Mrs. Speed cast her first vote, the first election being held there after the right of suffrage was given to women in Indiana. Wesley Bussard died in 1876, and some time after that the hotel building became the property of George Lawrence. later it passed to Grimes, who soon set to work to improve it, moving the old frame part back and building the brick part that is used for the Sheller Hotel today.

Source: W.E. Billings, TALES OF THE OLD DAYS (1926), p.53.


The story last week told of the old American House revived many memories of the long ago. There are lots of people living who were young when the place was in its prime, and the few incidents recited bring to their minds other interesting features about the old place.

Newt Lautzenhiser, who spent much of his boyhood in that neighborhood, particularly remembers "Dixie," a big blood hound with a goitre or something of that kind on its neck. It was a monster dog, and lived about the old hotel for a long time, being a sort of local celebrity. He also recalls the feats of strength of Negro Harry, the barber, who could take a piece of wagon tire, put the middle of it on his head, and taking an end in each hand could bend it nearly double, not seeming to damage his head in the least.

But Grossnickle recalls the fight in which the Irishman "disappeared." Ed Lindsay also recalls that event, and tells something about it, he remembering the name of the Irish fighter. It appears that it happened during campaign year when liquor and politics were running freely. There was to be a republican speech in town by a senator from Iowa, but for some reason he failed to reach town. This gave occasion for the democratic element to express some elation, and their opinion generally of the republicans. John Ivory was particularly eloquent in expressing his opinion and it ended by an ardent republican trying to change the map of Ireland that he was carrying on his face. As he did so the other Irishman, named McGuire, grabbed a brick and hurled it at the aggressive element of the republican party, cutting a gash in his head. Then the two Irishmen, believing that he who fights and runs away may live to fight another day, hot footed it through the hotel. But Lindsay says they did not "disappear." He says they went to the home of Ivory, and by the time the crowd reached that home Ivory was standing at the gate with a revolver. He had sobered enough by that time that his aim would have been pretty good, and the crowd stopped, soon going back to the excitement of the political game, which promised nearly as much excitement even if not as much danger. Ivory, who was a drayman, and McGuire seemed to work together, making a pretty good team. Ivory was a small man, but was an adept at starting trouble, leaving McGuire, who was a big hard fisted fellow, to do the fighting, though when gun play was to be had Ivory seemed to be the man to be depended upon. Soon after the affair at the American House both these men moved to Wabash, and it was McGuire that Lee Lynn shot. Lynn was publishing the Wabash Courier, and said something that incurred the wrath of McGuire, who laid in wait for him to leave the office to go to his dinner. Friends warned Lynn, and he did not go to dinner, but when supper time arrived Lynn said he was not going to be penned up like a prisoner and started home. McGuire attacked him, and Lynn shot and killed him, that being the last of McGuire.