Pride in past and heritage make each of us, community unique
To the editor:
On Jan. 11, the home at 320 S. Washington in Constantine caught fire, a tragic occurrence for a family that lost everything, but also for the village. It was a historic home built in the early 1800’s by the Wells family. According to an 1877 History of St. Joseph County, the Wells Hotel (nicknamed the “Homestead”) located on the corner of S. Washington Street and Second Street was built in 1846 by John M. Wells, who managed it until 1850. Henry Root purchased it in 1858, an opportune time for in 1864 a train began running from White Pigeon to Constantine.
Information on the hotel was furnished in the article by Elizabeth Root, a great-granddaughter of Henry E. Root, who came to Constantine in 1836. In a copy of the hotel registry dating 1872-76 that the Root family owned, it is interesting to note the famous people who were familiar with Constantine and comments in the registry.
Early guests signed in and stated their residence, the time, room and horses.
President Ulysses S. Grant stayed at the Wells Hotel four times. Also listed was Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., New York (registered in 1873). Baron Rothschild from London, England also stayed. Susan B. Anthony, leader of the woman’s suffrage movement, was a guest in 1872, the same year she was tried in the courts for voting. Brigham Young passed through Constantine in October, 1874 on his way to Utah City, and General Sherman and wife from Washington DC stayed. A “Buckskin Joe, Indian Scout” stayed at the hotel in 1873. Often, someone was moved to write an “opinion” after a guest’s name. Entertainers stopped frequently at the Wells Hotel, since the Opera House was located nearby on W. Second Street. In Sept. 1872, the Great Dutch Comedian Troupe signed in. If the register is to be believed, the troupe consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Stoopandfetchit, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Whistlebritches and Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Jughandle. Commodore Foote and Sisters troupe checked in in September 1872, with a note they would be playing in Three Rivers. DiBolo, Fire Demon and I. Ranklin Moody, humorist played in Constantine in March, 1874 with at least one disappointed member of the audience writing under their registration “This show is a dam fraud.”
In 1917, the Harveys bought the land on S. Washington from the Roots, tore down the hotel and built a home. Interestingly, pillars from the old hotel were saved, and later used for a pergola built on the site of the first cemetery in the village, located at the juncture of Florence Road, Mill Street and White Pigeon Road (also known as “Five Points.”) The site was given to the village by Judge William Meek in 1831 when the village was plotted. The last burial on record according to a copy of “Cemeteries of St. Joseph County 1800-1990” was in 1857.
Constantine has a glorious history. All its old downtown structures need to be preserved. They teach us about the history that happened before we were born, and promote respect for those who lived in different times. Pride in our past and heritage make each of us, and our community unique.