Thursday, November 20, 2008

Milton Hotel

Milton Hotel Destroyed by Fire

Fire swept through a 20-room hotel at Milton late Friday night and destroyed the structure, long a landmark in the town's business district. It was the third incident involving the old building in the past 10 days, Recently, a dynamite stick thrown into the apartment of a nonstriking textile worker rocked the building, and on Wednesday night a fire swept through a room on the rear of the ground floor. Milton firemen had to give up the fight to save the building Friday night and concentrated on protecting nearby property.

Source: The Greensboro Daily News 6 May 1951.

Milton Mourns Memory-Filled Ancient Hotel (Scenes of Early Glamorous Life)

Milton, N. C., May 7 - The people of this historic Caswell county township remain highly indignant over the burning a few nights ago of the old Gordon Hotel. They are hopeful that ti will not be impossible to "crack" the case of arson which is generally suspected, especially since two previous efforts within ten days were made to destroy the ancient hostelry. There is, too, a sense of injury among the older Miltonians resentful that a town which peculiarly has its own placid way of life, it should have been made to suffer from the backlash of an industrial dispute in another state and many miles distant.

The Gordon Hotel has long occupied a permanent niche in the history of Milton which was a metropolis long before Danville was even a town. It was here that Danville people did their shopping and their banking.

The old hostelry was enshrined particularly in the memory of the late "Uncle Felix" Gordon and his wife, Mrs. Bettie Allen Gordon, -- who was known as "Aunt Bett," for it was Mr. Gordon's father, Henry Gordon who built the hotel over a hundred years ago, with his wife, Mrs. Felicia Gordon as its chatelaine.

The Gordon Hotel was in its earliest instance an "ordinary" on the coaching lane from Richmond to Raleigh, N.C. and it was famous for its cuisine, its hams and fried chicken, biscuits and silabubs.

People from Baltimore used to come here to spend "the heated term." Mr. Gordon could remember when he used to meet the barge, which served as a ferry across Dan River from the Virginia side, in his four wheeled cab which was drawn by glossy blacks which cantered up to the hitching post of the tree-lined Main street.

Gradually as the glamour of Miltonian days was enriched the hotel was added to, and it was for many hears the centre of much social gaiety.

"Aunt Bett" Gordon recalled with clarity how soldiers of General Lee once came to Milton and were housed and fed at the hotel. Hard behind them came the federals who threatened to burn down the house as a reprisal. Aunt Bett -- having hidden all the hotel silver in the chimney place -- made a deal with the federal captain and agreed to feed them if they would spare the structure. All hands turned out to make a savoury stew in the vast cast iron pots used for laundry purposes and the federal captain was as good as his word.

High noon for Milton meant the ringing of the dinner bell up and down the tiered porch of the hotel and people kept the hours straight that way. In the basement was the large and ample dining room where also were held the famous Milton Germans both prior to and after the Civil War. The furniture was moved out, the parquet floor was waxed and the ravishing Miltonian belles sashayed menacingly to the music of a French horn and the concertina, sometimes a fiddle. That, as Aunt Bett recalled it, was the day of the waltz, the Schottische, the polka and usually the culminating spectacle of Sir Roger De Coverley.

One night a dark eyed stranger with handlebar mustachios registered at the hotel. He was immediately the cynosure of all feminine eyes with his black cloak and striped trousers and a flowing green tie. He committed the unpardonable sin of declining to yield to the coy demoiselles of Milton to lead the dance that night and there was much mystery about him. A week later his dead body was found garotted in a basement room at the Yanceyville courthouse where he paid the penalty of carpetbaggery for the dark eyed stranger was none other than "Chicken" Stevens whose death became the subject of a congressional enquiry. [Editor's Note: This story about Senator John W. Stephens should not be taken too seriously.]

Milton, therefore, feels a sense of sorrow over this new, black gap in the placid reaches of its main street where it retains the dignity of its earl and more opulent living. There may not be any more Rhett Butlers to grace the scene, no more horse races and no more Milton tournaments, but there is a deep sense of injury that the old hotel so full of earlier memories has been sacrificed, as most people believe, to the Moloch of industrial dispute.

Source: The Danville Bee, 8 May 1951

May, 1951: Milton's historic 125-year-old hotel burned to the ground last Friday night despite the efforts of three fire companies to halt the blaze. Roxboro, Yanceyville and Danville fire departments poured over 50,000 gallons of water into the structure in an effort to halt the progress in the upper floors. The firemen did, however, succeed in saving the home of Mrs. Clyde Jones, grandmother of Mrs.J. C. Walker of Roxboro, which was within 20 feet of the roaring inferno.

Firemen pumped all the water from the town's water tank and the Roxboro department put a hose in a rain cistern in the yard of E. D. Thomas and pumped the 12-foot square lake nearly to the bottom. An effort was made by the local firefighters to pump water from the Country Line creek. However, the pumping hose lacked about five feet of reaching the creek. The firemen left the scene about 4 a.m. Saturday.

Tom Buck, Milton township constable and owner of the hotel, which he purchased about six years ago, said the fire was discovered by his wife in the basement and the third floor at the same time. Buck said that he had gone to sleep "dead tired" after watching the structure for the past three nights to keep it from being set on fire. An attempt was made to burn it, he said, on Wednesday night. Buck said that he ran from room to room to get the children and adults out of the building. No one was injured.

Caswell County Sheriff J. Y. Gatewood said Saturday there is no proof yet but "everyone thinks Friday night's costly fire in Milton was started by strikers."

It was the third attempt on the building in recent days. Dynamite was tossed at it last week and fires were started in the basement earlier. These incidents together with the fact that three occupants are Dan River workers led Buck to say he believes "the fire is definitely the work of strikers."

Source: Unknown but probably the Roxboro Courier.

Blaze Razes Milton Hotel in Third Raid by Firebugs

Milton, Saturday, May 5 --(AP)--Milton's 20-room hotel, long a landmark on this century-old town's business street, was reduced to ashes early this morning, victim of a third strike in ten days by firebugs. An explosion of dynamite tossed at an apartment occupied by the family of a Dan River worker ten days ago shook the old structure. On Wednesday night fire in a room on the rear side of the ground floor scorched the interior and destroyed a connecting shed, but village firemen squelched the flames before heavy damage.

Fire starting in the basement and in a third floor room last night succeeded in destroying the building occupied by three families and a bachelor. Fire engines from Danville, Yanceyville and Roxboro responded to calls for aid. Some 50,000 gallons of water was pumped into the flames before firemen gave up on saving the brick and frame building and concentrated on protecting the nearby home of Clyde Jones.

Tom Buck, Milton Township constable and owner of the building, this morning said he "believes the fire is definitely the work of strikers." He cited no facts supporting that conclusion. As flames spread, town firemen rescued C. G. Standler, 70-year-old and blind, from his third floor corner room. In addition to the family of Constable Buck, other occupants were the Pete Nichols and the Johnson family. The latter were at work at Dan River Mills when the fire broke out about 10:30 o'clock last night.

Source: Unknown

11 Children, Blind Man Survive Fire Linked with Strike

Flames destroyed a 125-year-old landmark at Milton 10 miles from Danville, Va. early yesterday morning. It was the third time in 10 days that the 20-room brick and frame building was damaged -- first by dynamite and again by fire. The apartment building, formerly the Hotel Milton, was occupied by two families working at the strikebound Dan River Mills. Mr. and Mrs. Roger Johnson and three children; Mr. and Mrs. Pete Nichols and four children, mill families, and Mr. and Mrs. Tom Buck and four children had apartments in the building. In addition to the children, firemen rescued 70-year-old C. G. Chandler, who is blind. Tom Buck, Milton Township constable and owner of the building, placed the loss at $30,000. He blamed Dan River strikers.

Source: The News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), 6 May 1951.

 Milton Hotel

The hotel in Milton apparently went by various names over the years and had several owners/proprietors. The first name was: Milton Hotel. In the 1920s it was called Hotel Caswell.

N. J. Palmer (purchased 1847)
Jarvis Frou
Joseph Fleming
Felicia W. Gordon/George W. Gordon
William Hundley Connally
Tom Buck

Built about 1825, the twenty-room hotel was a two-story rectangular building with a two-story porch engaged beneath the steeply gabled roof. The structure was of wood, although the west side and a portion of the rear elevation were constructed of brick--a combination of materials ofen found in cities in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to lessen the danger of fire spreading from building to building.

An Inventory of Historic Architecture: Caswell County, North Carolina, Ruth Little-Stokes and Tony P. Wrenn (1979). p.212.

Milton Hotel, Milton, Jarvis Friou, Prop.
Caswell County
Branson's North Carolina Business Directory 1867-68

Hotels and Boarding Houses
Names, Post Offices and Proprietors
Hotel, Yanceyville, T. W. Corlett
Hotel, Yanceyville, J. H. Kerr
Hotel, Milton, W. H. Connolly
Hotel, Leasburg, H. T. Connolly
Hotel, Purley, E. G. Carrington
Restaurant, Milton, A. J. Owens & Son

Branson's North Carolina Business Directory 1896

On July 10, 1873, Joseph Fleming sold to Felicia W. Gordon, both of Caswell County, the Milton Hotel property for $1,600. Deed Book KK, 10 July 1873.

Built around 1826 by Henry Gordon, the twenty-room Milton Hotel was the center of Milton social activity for over a century and a local landmark. During its life the hotel went by several names, including Hotel Caswell and Gordon Hotel. The old building was in its earliest instance a tavern on the coaching lane from Richmond to Raleigh, and was famous for its cuisine, especially its hams, fried chicken, biscuits, and desserts. The end came in 1951 when disgruntled striking mill strikers from nearby Danville, Virginia allegedly torched the building to send a message to non-strikers who were living in the hotel. All escaped the fire, including eleven children and an elderly blind man.

The town of Milton in northeast Caswell County was incorporated in 1796 as a center for warehousing and inspecting tobacco and flour. It was a natural site with a fine location on the Dan River. The property of Asa Thomas was selected and, according to Bartlett Yancey, Jr., by 1810 the young town had two stores, a saddler's shop, a hatter's shop, a tavern, and fifteen-to-twenty houses. Presumably, one or more warehouses also had been constructed. Because the new town was to have been located near the mill owned by Asa Thomas, it naturally was named Milltown or Milton. Caswell County's first newspaper, The Milton Intelligencer was publishing by 1818, and the Union Tavern also opened for business that year. Thomas Day had established his cabinetmaking shop by 1823, and around 1825 a two-story twenty-room hotel was in operation. The small town was alive with commerce, including numerous mills on the Dan River.

William Hundley Connally was H. T. Connally's younger brother. During the 1880's he joined H. T. Connally in the operation of the old Pulliam & Connally General Store. It is unknown whether he was a partner in the store at this time or not. In the 1880s the store became known as the Connally Store. After leaving the store, W. H. Connally owned and operated the only hotel in Milton, North Carolina. The only "nonofficial" record of his ownership of the Milton hotel appears as a notice in the Milton Gazette on November 17, 1892. It states that "Mr. W. H. Connally was excused from jury service on account of keeping a hotel. He [Connally] says that Judge Connor is a fine man."

Connally must have bought the hotel late in 1890 or early 1891. According to tax records, W. H. Connally was residing in Milton in 1891. In that year he is listed as the owner of the half lot that would later be listed as the hotel lot in the 1899 tax records. Branson's 1890 lists F. Gordon as the owner of the Milton Hotel, while Branson's 1896 lists Connally as the owner. The hotel was two and one-half stories with twenty rooms, was built around 1825, and burned in 1951.

W. H. Connally married Hattie Paylor. They had eight children: Laura, Mattie, Hallie, Charlie, Annie Dailey, Harry, Ila, and Willie [Wilhelmina?] Hundley.

W. H. Connally died on August 26, 1898. While the particular illness is unknown, its onset is noted in the Milton Herald dated July 21, 1898. The paper announced that "Mr. W. H. Connally is reported as being very sick. He is getting a great deal better."

After Connally's death, all indications point to the fact that Connally's wife and children continued to live in Milton, only returning to Leasburg for an occasional visit. Apparently W. H. Connally's family made no lasting contribution to life in Leasburg.

Source: From a Needle to an Anvil, Come and See Me, and You Can Find It (The Connally General Store and Leasburg, Caswell County, North Carolina as Seen Through the Store's Records, 1881 and 1895) by Timothy S. Bottoms (1991)(University of North Carolina at Greensboro Masters Degree Thesis) at 43-45.

In 1872 Caswell County, North Carolina had the following hotels (name, post office, and proprietor):

Milton Hotel, Milton, Geo. W. Gordon
Culbreth's Hotel, Leasburg, Jno. Culbreth
Mitchell's Hotel, Yanceyville, A. A. Mitchell
Gunn's Hotel, Yanceyville, A. Gunn
Poteat's Hotel, Yanceyville, James Poteat

Source: Branson's North Carolina Business Directory For 1872.



Built by _____ ______, the twenty-room brick and wood Milton Hotel was the center of area social activity for over a century and a local landmark. During its life the hotel went by several names, including Gordon Hotel and Hotel Caswell. Originally a tavern on the stagecoach route from Richmond to Raleigh, it was famous for its cuisine. The end came in 1951 when disgruntled striking mill workers from nearby Danville, Virginia, purportedly torched the building to send a message to non-strikers who were living in the hotel.

"Provided by the Milton Preservation & Beautification Society"

Caswell County, North Carolina
Will Book W, Page 69-70

Bartlett Yancey, H. M. Clay, R. M. Sanders, Joseph McGehee, Thomas McGehee, and William Irvine to Benjamin Cory 3rd of Milton, for $800, part of lot 20 north side of Main Street adjacent Ragland, McGehee, Morgan, Bradford. 31 Jul 1824. Witnesses: Levin Downs, A. Slade.