Author’s note: This article first appeared in the November 11, 2021 issue of the Gratiot County Herald.
Fifty years ago in Ithaca, a landmark, known for its “Down on the Farm” chicken dinners, closed. Owners Gale and Mildred Irwin sold the Seaver Hotel ending decades of operating in Gratiot County.
The hotel’s history went back to 1890 when it opened under Joseph Seaver, an Ithaca businessman. Before World War I, a room could be rented for two dollars a week. In 1943, the Irwin’s purchased the Seaver Hotel, and it became a popular travel destination with thirty rooms and its famous chicken dinners. The hotel also became a place where several businesses got started in Ithaca. Dick’s Studio began its business in the basement shortly after World War II. At other times, a railway office and an insurance agency had offices inside the hotel. Several barbers worked in a room on the first floor over the years. Tony Sanchez first opened his shoe repair shop in the hotel, which was the last outside business in the hotel.
A surprising bit of news became public on November 2, 1971, when the Ithaca City Council announced the purchase of the Seaver Hotel for $35,000 as part of an urban renewal project. No tax monies were used as money came from the Gibbs Memorial Savings Account, a source of funds given to the city by Norton and Laura Gibbs in 1958. To further promote the deal, the city council promised residents that any future funds obtained from the sale of the hotel and lot would go back into the Gibbs account.
For the Irwin’s, it was a time to sell. Gale Irwin suffered from health problems, which ended the offering of chicken dinners and forced the Irwin’s to only rent rooms. For Ithaca, the purchase of the hotel meant it had a lot that measured 99 x 165 feet which was only a short walk from the new city hall and an anticipated new city library.
The Irwin’s faced a July 1972 deadline for closure, but first, there had to be an auction sale to dispose of the many items in the hotel. It turned out to be a big one. On a cold day, January 21, 1972, a capacity crowd came out as auctioneer Joe Helman sold off the hotel’s furnishings. People eagerly bid on items, and soon everything inside was gone.
Clearing the lot, removing the Seaver Hotel, proved to take a bit longer. The city council authorized city manager Lloyd Peters to raze the building, level, and fill in what had been the basement as soon as the weather permitted. By January 1973, a picket fence encircled what remained of the first floor, which became a target for graffiti. However, a month later, the hotel’s final remains were cleaned up and gone.
The hotel’s sign stayed, existing as the Chamber of Commerce’s bulletin board. The sign reminded people of events like voting in the state primary elections and the coming of a new downtown mall. On March 23, 1973, Gale Irwin was injured in an accident on U.S. 27. Irwin, a World War I veteran, passed away three days later.
A city parking lot now sits on the southwest corner of Center and Pine streets in Ithaca. Today, the lot hosts seasonal events and the farmers market, which takes place under a newly built pavilion. The sale and dismantling of the Seaver Hotel starting in late 1971 officially ended a business from Ithaca’s past.
Copyright 2021 James M Goodspeed