Downs Hotel opened to grand reception, fanfare in Holley in 1893

Posted 12 February 2023 at 9:07 am

The Downs Hotel in Holley was built in 1893.

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Illuminating Orleans, Vol. 3  No. 6

HOLLEY – On Wednesday, February 13, 1893, the newly built Downs Hotel in Holley was opened to the public for the first time.

Despite the wintry weather, guests came from Rochester, Buffalo and even Elmira. A reception, banquet and ball were held that evening. Supper was served from 8 to 10 p.m. A Rochester orchestra played music for a large crowd of dancers until small hours of the morning.

The new hotel, designed by Rochester architects Warner & Brockett was acknowledged to be the finest in the area. Located at the corner of the Holley Square and Thomas Street, the three-story trapezoidal building had a perimeter of 300 foot and a depth of 100 foot.

The sandstone which covered three exterior walls came from the Downs and Gorman quarry south of the village. The fourth wall was of brick construction and was trimmed in stone.

The main entrance was on the south side, it was protected by a large balcony. The roof line was broken by several dormers. A cylindrical corner on the southeast was designed as a band room.

Hardwoods were used on the lower floor: quartered oak in the hall, reading room and office and ash in the dining room. Steam heat was featured throughout the building. The 35 guest rooms were equipped with electric lights, call bells, lights in closets and baths, and a high pressure water supply. The cost of this project was estimated at $30,000.

Frank Crocker, an experienced hotelier who had managed hotels in Attica and Olcott, and had owned the Mansion House for several years, was the manager of the new hotel.

The Mansion House was Holley’s first hotel.

The Downs Hotel was built on the site of the former Mansion House which had been built by Samuel Cone in the late 1820s when business in Holley increased due to the Erie Canal.

Former owners of the Mansion House included: 1830-44: H.B. Avery; 1844-45: Alva Ogden; 1845-60: H.B. Perry; 1860-61: Mr. Wilcox; 1862-66: Mrs. H.B. Perry; 1866-68: Bennett & Nielsen; 1860-85; Eli D. Olds; 1885-90: Frank Crocker; 1890-92 Mr. Nelligan.

John Downs was the visionary behind the newly built hotel. A successful Holley businessman and entrepreneur, he had amassed his wealth first as a livestock trader and sheep shipper and later as a private banker.

He purchased the Mansion House in 1892 and promptly had the building torn down. He noted that he had traveled extensively in his career and realized the importance of clean lodging and good food for travelers, and he wanted to offer comfortable facilities in Holley.

The Downs family lived in a large Italianate home at 1 South Main Street in Holley. Referred to as the Stoddard-Downs house, it was built by Moses Stoddard in the mid-1860s and purchased by John Downs in 1886. It was destroyed by fire on January 5, 2020.

John Downs died on April 4, 1901, at the age of 55. Sadly, Hattie Lee, his 12-year-old daughter died in October of that same year from appendicitis.

The Downs Hotel was reportedly sold in 1915 by the Downs Estate to E. Roessner, proprietor of the Portland Hotel in Rochester, for $16,000. That transaction must have been problematic as the Downs Estate later concluded a sale of the hotel “which had been unoccupied for some time” to the Holley Hotel Corp. for $9,000, in 1920.

In later years this fine hotel was variously referred to as the Hotel Holley, The Holley Inn and the Holley Hotel.

The Hotel Holley is pictured in 1935.