Niagara Discoveries has reviewed the history of several of the former hotels in and around Lockport and has previously made reference to the American Hotel, including the Lincoln Building fire in 1950. The American Hotel was located on the site of the Farmers and Mechanics Bank, southeast corner of Main and Locust streets. There is some debate as to who actually built the original hotel with some sources crediting Otis Hathaway but most citing Lyman A. Spalding as the builder.
Joshua Wilbur, Lockport’s first historian, wrote “History of an Ancient Landmark” in 1905 when the hotel was demolished to build the F&M Building. Wilbur believed that Spalding built the stone part of the hotel which faced Main Street around 1828–1830, and that Hathaway had built the brick addition which ran along Locust Street from Main Street to Pearl Street around 1834–1836. It would have been the largest hotel in Upper Village and rivaled the Lockport House in Lower Town. To attract travelers disembarking from houseboats and the Lockport & Niagara Falls Strap Railroad, the American offered free omnibus rides to the hotel.
In an article in the Niagara Courier of July 1838, the author described the American Hotel as having “four stories…the public and private salons, parlors and parlors are admirably constructed and superbly furnished. The dining room is over 100 feet long and is wide enough for two rows of tables. The house contains about 100 pleasant rooms. There are extensive yards, stables and outbuildings, and two good water wells on the premises.
The complex was L-shaped with the stables at the rear on Pearl Street. When the hotel was built, this part of Main Street was several feet higher than it is today. In 1854 the street was degraded causing the front door of the hotel to be above ground level, necessitating the addition of a staircase to enter the building. A two-story porch ran the length of the structure on the main street side and was used by many visiting dignitaries to address the crowds in front of the building. It was later replaced by a small porch and a balcony.
In the mid-1840s, as Lockport school officials were discussing the possibility of establishing a secondary school for local and out-of-town students, an unspecified newspaper suggested that the American Hotel, which was at sell at the time, be considered a possible location. This did not happen, and the Union School opened on Chestnut Street in 1847. On May 22, 1853, Lockport experienced one of the worst recorded thunderstorms in its history. Lightning struck the steeple of the Church of the Congregation resulting in the death of one of the deacons. A month later, the American hotel “was abundantly supplied with [lightning] rods,” one of the first Lockport structures to install them after the recent calamity.
In the years before the first Hodge Opera House was built (1871), the American Hotel was a popular stopover for visiting politicians and dignitaries. Several American business leaders were guests of honor at the American including President Martin Van Buren (1839), former President John Quincy Adams (1843) and President Millard Fillmore (several times during the 1840s and 1850s ). In 1852, General Winfield Scott reunited with many local War of 1812 veterans who had served with him 40 years earlier at a reception given in his honor at the American Hotel. It was also from this hotel that Lockport’s first Civil War regiment, the 28th Volunteer Infantry, led by Captain William W. Bush, set out on its journey to help save the Union.
In 1879, the American Hotel had the distinction of being the first place in Lockport to have a telephone.
Over its many years of existence, the American Hotel has had several owners and proprietors. It ceased to be a hotel in 1890 when it was sold to the YMCA. For the next twelve years it served as Lockport “Y” until it was sold in 1902 to the Lincoln Square Company and became known as the “Lincoln Building”. The new owners sold the original front part of the building to the Farmers and Mechanics Bank and this was demolished to make way for the construction of the F&M Building. The Lincoln Building on Locust Street was converted into shops, offices and apartments. On April 13, 1950, the last remaining portion of the American Hotel was destroyed by fire, ending a 120-year-old piece of Lockport history.