History of the Park Hotel and the Fire of 1961

May 28, 2019

History of the Park Hotel and the Fire of 1961

By Richard Williams

The Park Hotel stood on South Park Row between 1883 and 1961. Originally, it was a smaller home of prominent Clinton banker and businessman Deacon Orrin Gridley. He died in 1847. It was thought that portions of the building were probably parts of the oldest original homestead on the Clinton Square (the Park Rows).

On Wednesday, January 11, 1961 a fire, of undetermined origin, broke out around 2:30 PM and destroyed one of Clinton’s oldest landmarks. Two hotel residents were slightly overcome by smoke.

Citizens rallied around Mrs. Elizabeth Canfield, proprietor of Elizabeth’s Dress Shop, by removing the contents of her store at the west end of the first floor, formerly O’Brien’s Meat Market.

Smoke was seen coming from the top of the hotel. The Clinton Fire Department, under Chief Red Goering, did all it could to save the building. Clinton’s 1958 Maxim aerial ladder poured water from the 60’ tower, and the New Hartford Fire Department was dispatched through Mutual Aid.

While not completely consumed by the fire, severe structural, water, and fire damage determined that the best course was to raze what remained of the structure. We thus lost a landmark on South Park Row.

The cause was undetermined, but some thought it to have begun on the third story or in the kitchen, since intense heat damage seemed to have been confined there.

By 1961 the building did not cater to transient guests. Rather, the upper floors were apartments.

A long list of owners and operators were connected with the structure under different names such as Wirth House, Park House, or Park Hotel. Through the years the building had been the subject of a number of auctions and 22 changes of ownership. Russell Willard bought it in 1874, began to remodel, and enlarged it as a hotel in 1883.

Willard leased the hotel to many people. It was called the Metropolitan Hotel for a brief time around 1890, and opened in 1891 as the Park Hotel run by L. Norris Clark. That name stuck until the fire.

A previous fire in January 17, 1904 destroyed a portion of the building causing $5,000 in damage. A second fire on May 3 of that same year caused further damage.

The last owners, Celsus and Francis McCabe, bought the hotel in 1945 and ran it until the fire.

The Stone Presbyterian Church bought the land from the McCabes. Now the village owns the parking lot having bought it from the Stone Presbyterian Church in 1989.

The hotel site began as a home for Deacon Orrin Gridley, one of the early Gridleys, who settled here in the 1790s. He married Fanny Kellogg from another early Clinton family. Gridley was considered one of the wealthiest men in town and founded the Kirkland Bank in 1845.

A gold cure treatment for alcoholism and narcotism swept the country in the 1890s, and the Baker-Rose Gold Cure operated out of the hotel for about one year in 1893. This was a four-week program where patients would live at the hotel and be injected daily with a gold salt solution. They’d also abstained from alcohol or other drugs. After four weeks they were supposed to be cured.

After the gold cure left it was a hotel again…Wirth House run by Erhardt Wirth.

In the 1950s apartments were available on the second and third floors, and a bar was on the Fountain Street corner of the first floor. A dining room was in the center back area next to a kitchen.

Starting in 1923 James O’Brien and his brother John started a meat market on the first floor on the west side which continued until 1957. Then O’Brien’s widow Elizabeth O’Brien Canfield (she had married Richard Canfield after O’Brien’s death) sold dresses, accessories, and antiques until the 1961 fire. She then moved her shop to 4 East Park Row.

The Park Hotel became a popular spot after Clinton Comet hockey games on Saturday nights, and the Clinton Kiwanis held its first meetings there in 1954.

Ask anyone who was a Clinton resident in 1961 whether they remember the Park Hotel, they will probably tell you they witnessed the spectacular fire. The whole village was there to see this great Clinton landmark go down in flames.

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