A drink very easy to find in Salem from 1870 to 1876

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.
Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.

Last week’s column covered Flad’s Rising Sun Hotel, the most durable of Salem’s hostelries. This week, the subject is Salem’s other hotels of the 19th century.

The Salem Hotel rivalled Flad’s Rising Sun as the most important of Salem’s hotels, and almost equaled it in longevity. Unlike the Rising Sun, which remained in the Flad family for more than a half century, the Salem Hotel operated under a long list of publicans.

John Mulligan opened the Salem Hotel late in 1854, on the south side of Washington Street, near the corner of Woolwich, and close to Levi Erb’s flour mill. The building, shared with a store, was constructed of brick, and was one of the first substantial commercial structures in Salem. It contained seven bedrooms and a sitting room, as well as the mandatory kitchen, barroom and dining room, plus living quarters for the proprietor.

Though it offered facilities superior to Flad’s, it never achieved the renown of its rival across the Irvine River.

Mulligan died in the late 1850s, and management of the inn passed to his wife, Margaret. After a couple of years, Mrs. Mulligan decided to lease the property, a policy that led to a long line of proprietors.

Martin Korman was the first, beginning in 1860. Immigrants from Alsace, on the border between France and Germany, the Kormans remained in Salem for decades, working for most of the time in the brewing industry. Martin Korman’s tenure at the Salem Hotel lasted only two years, but his sons would return to the hotel 30 years later.

Jerome Crowley signed a lease for the Salem Hotel in 1862, and remained for five years. Crowley and other members of his family worked in the construction business as masons, bricklayers, and carpenters, and may well have been the contractors for the building when it was built.

Margaret Mulligan ran the place for a few months in 1868, then rented it to David Hilborn, about whom we know almost nothing, for a year. George Rife followed for a few months, and then took over the Wellington Hotel in Alma.

He was followed by Frank Dyce in 1870 and 1871. The Salem Hotel was then taken over by Matthew Stribe, who remained in charge for more than 20 years.

The Salem Hotel seems to have been a quiet public house; Stribe maintained a low profile in the community, and memorable incidents rarely occurred there, a situation quite in contrast to that at the Rising Sun.

Stribe found himself in front of the magistrates for liquor infractions on several occasions, but much less often than George Flad.

Matthew Korman’s son, Ignatius (known locally as Ned), purchased the property in 1891, and immediately undertook extensive renovations, converting the entire building into a hotel, and installing central hot-air heating. Korman placed the barroom and dining room on either side of the front door, with an enlarged kitchen across the back of the first floor. The bedrooms and a sitting room were all upstairs.

Korman sold the Salem Hotel, which, with its new renovations, was a far better property than Flad’s Rising Sun, to Matthew Brohman for $3,600 in 1905.

Brohman died in 1909, and it appears that the Salem Hotel closed on his death. In any case, Salem’s dry vote in 1913 put an end to any plans to re-open the business.

In 1920, the property was purchased by John Geddes for $1,200, a shocking decline in value from 1905, particularly when post-First-World-War inflation is taken into account. Geddes operated a general store in the building, using the former barroom as the main part of the store.

Wilbert Shafer took over the store in 1940, and was in turn succeeded by S.A. Benallick, Cecil Patmore, and Lewis Smith. The Salem post-office was situated in the store from 1939 until it closed permanently in 1969.

Salem’s British Hotel predates the Salem Hotel by about a year, opening in early 1854, under the management of Florence Smith, who had previously been in the hotel business in Elora.

The original location appears to have been at the northwest corner of Water and Woolwich Streets, but in 1857 Smith moved to the stone building, still standing, at the corner of Union and John Streets. Smith leased the property from Sem Wissler.

He decided to sell the hotel in 1862; the purchaser was John Kiel, who had been operating a cooperage business, supplying barrels to Salem’s mills and brewery. Kiel kept this hotel until 1867.

Dorothy Bitzer was the new proprietor. She made some improvements to the property, and renamed the hotel the Ontario House. Mrs. Bitzer remained in charge until 1873. She was one of the few publicans to follow the letter of the law.

In a crackdown on Sunday sales, instigated by temperance agitators in 1872, Mrs. Bitzer was the only tavern-keeper in Elora and Salem to escape charges. Her policy undoubtedly added to the trade of George Flad at the Rising Sun, who openly boasted that Sunday was his busiest day.

Mrs. Bitzer leased the Ontario House first to John Haberland, then George Garden, followed by Joseph Speers, and finally to James Keating in 1876. Keating eventually bought the building in 1880, but by this time the Ontario House had closed, the victim of declining patronage and more rigid regulatory standards.

New regulations in 1876 limited the number of tavern licences in Nichol township to six, based on its population. The township had 11 hotels at the time. The Ontario House was one of three Salem hotels to fall victim to the new rules. It was clear that the best years for hotel-keeping in Salem were over.

The other hotels to close were the Union and the Farmers’ Inn. The Union Hotel opened in December 1859 under the management of James Ariss. It was located in a building long vanished, two lots north of the Salem Hotel. It remained open for only a couple of years.

John Kiel, after selling the British Hotel to Mrs. Bitzer in 1867, revived the name, opening a hotel on the east side of Union Street. Kiel operated both the Union Hotel and his cooperage business until about 1882, though in the last few years he had difficulty in meeting the provincial standards for taverns, and was closed for a couple of years after 1876 when the new laws came into force.

Shortest lived of the Salem hotels was the Farmers’ Inn. This establishment, at the southeast corner of Union and Geddes Streets, was built by Daniel Quinlan, probably in 1859. A shoemaker by trade, it is likely that Quinlan came to Salem as one of the shoemakers employed by Sem Wissler in the shoemaking shop connected with Wissler’s tannery. As with most of the other Salem hotel operators, Quinlan continued to work at another trade while running his hotel. In 1863, he opened a shoe store down the street from his hotel.

Quinlan ran the hotel until 1868, then leased it to Thomas Kelly, who had been a resident of Salem for several years and an employee at Doerbecker’s brewery. Kelly remained until 1871, and the hotel was known as the Sportsman’s House during his tenure.

The Sportsman’s House closed on Kelly’s departure, but in 1872 Dan Quinlan reopened as the Farmers’ Inn under his own management, then rented to publicans named Wilson, Morrissey and Cook, before the place closed forever in 1876, at the same time as the Ontario House and Kiel’s Union.

*This column was originally published in the Elora Sentinel on Nov. 24, 1992.

Thorning Revisited