A piece of Elba history is gone forever and the village landscape has been changed forever. About 9:00 am on Sunday, July 8, 2018, a fire broke out and destroyed the historic Stumblin’ Inn.
The following article is taken from the Town of Elba history book compiled by the 175th Anniversary Committee. 1995
THE PINE HILL HOTEL – #1 SOUTH MAIN ST
As every little hamlet in the country grew and expanded with the emergence of our nation, it became necessary for the foundling towns to provide lodging for the ever western bound populace. Elba was just such a town. As pioneers, settlers, and peddlers traveled the Old Buffalo Road taking them far from the congested areas of Albany towards the new frontier, a frequent stop was Batavia. With Elba situated on the way through to the lakes and the Erie Canal, many passengers took advantage of our forefathers hospitality and rested from the weariness of the road at one of our taverns or hotels.
Elba’s first hotel was established in 1815, by Stephen Harmon, located at the present site of the Stumblin’ Inn on the southwest corner of Main and Mechanic Streets. Early information on the hotel is sketchy at best. In 1845, William Case became the landlord and he was succeeded by a man named McClane after 1850. Silas Hawes then took over the operation, succeeded by Mr. Norton, then John King and H.D. Matson. Later, Mr. Matson had a partner, Alexander Milliken, in 1860 and 61. Not much is known of Mr. Matson except that in March of 1868 he slid out of Pine Hill in the dead of night leaving behind many friends and creditors to mourn his disappearance, quite a number of dollars worth.
William Moreau then acquired ownership to the building, but in September 1874, a devastating fire that raged through our business district, destroyed the hotel. The good citizenry of Elba had managed to save some of his furniture and by October of that year had subscribed some $400-$500 to aid in the rebuilding of the hotel. William, or “Billy” as he was known, cleared away the debris and in early spring of 1875, the new Hotel emerged as its majestic self under the skillful work of Brockway & Ritter. By May, she was receiving her first coat of paint and in July, the last coat of plaster was set. She reopened on July 23, 1875 with such accomodations as any traveler could hope for in those days for a first-class hotel.
In four years, Billy and his wife Parmelia, were ready to sell their new establishment when a one-legged Civil War veteran from Hazelton, PA made his way to Elba. John Adam Swartz with his wife Anna, bought the two story structure on April 23, 1878, to be known as the Swartz Hotel.
The Swartz’s relocated in Elba to embark on their new life with their three children, Lizzie, John Adam Jr. and George W in 1878. Elba was pleased to gain the new gentlemanly proprietor who saw to it that his hotel was not a place for roughs and rowdyism. In June of 1879, they were again blessed with a son, Charles John. Under the management of the Swartz’s, the hotel continually underwent changes to increase its capacity for entertaining as well as for guests. But in June of 1886, landlord Swartz had an attack of severe hemorrhaging of the stomach and bowels, a condition that had been created by his old war wounds. During the next year, this problem would reoccur often until it proved fatal on June 8, 1887. With his eldest son, John Jr, barely 16, Anna had to take on the responsibilities of managing a hotel and raising her family of four.
Anna Swartz proved to be a wise and progressive businesswoman. When the long-awaited West Shore railroad finally stretched its tracks into Elba, it brought passengers daily. Anna realized its benefits and in 1893, she had the old second floor ballroom converted into additional rooms and added a third story, a new ballroom with the famous spring dance floor under a mansard roof. Eighty-two couples participated in the festivities of her Grand Opening and danced to the excellent music of Barber’s Orchestra. The newly remodeled hotel now boasted of two second floor suites with plush interior and thick cushioned red carpets where private parties were to be held. Shrimp salad was a feature of every special occasion and to preserve the quiet serenity of the dining room, waitresses were required to don soft-soled bedroom slippers.
Anna also involved her sons in the business. She provided a double express wagon and team and had them meet every train at the depot to chauffeur the guests back and forth. At the time, part of the porch roof extended over the sidewalk so that guests could step directly from carriages to the cover of the veranda. Friday and Saturday evenings brought the town alive as dancers flocked into Elba when the fiddles and banjos started their toes a tapping.
Anna joined her husband in his final resting place in 1895 and with that, John Jr. took over the management and eventually purchased the interests of his sister and two brothers. George Swartz became a traveling salesman for a bicycle company but later enlisted in the 65th Regiment and was stationed at Camp Alger, Virginia. After his release from the Army, he operated and Inn in Batavia known as “The Kirk” at 55 Main Street. Eventually, he moved to San Francisco, CA where he died.
John Jr. married Evelyn M. Strouts, the daughter of William and Mary (Bang) Strouts of Elba and together they continued the family business. Under their management, the hotel enjoyed and enviable reputation. But on March 11, 1914, John was stricken with an attack of paralysis in Cole’s store that rendered his left side useless. He was hurriedly taken to his hotel and medical aid was summoned, but it was of no avail. He remained conscious a little over an hour and then lapsed into a coma, from which he never rallied. So widely known was the Swartz name throughout Western New York, that people from nearly every town in Genesee County as well as Orleans and Erie Counties were in attendance at his funeral. The accomodations of the hotel were taxed to the utmost to care for the number in attendance and many had to stand outside during the funeral service despite the bad weather.
Just as Anna had done before her, it was now Evelyn’s turn to operate the hotel. With the coming of Prohibition in the 1920’s, the Elba Hotel took on a new role in the community as the ballroom floor sprang to a different beat, the bounce of basketballs. For many years the outline of the basketball court could still be seen on the third floor where Elba High School students, with no gym of their own, played basketball and volleyball and even held their Halloween parties, Soft drinks were the only beverage sold.
The Hotel was purchased in December of 1932 by Jackson L. Filkins and the ballroom hummed again to the tunes of Hubert and Louie Griffin and other music makers. Nine years later, he sold to Jay and Emma Hale and moved to a farm on the Watson Road. But after one long year of country solitude, bachelor Filkins had had enough and was grateful to repurchase the business in 1942.
It was during his tenure as proprietor that workmen, excavating to install a septic tank in the “clothes yard” directly behind the hotel, unearthed a human skeleton with a single telltale hole piercing its skull. They dug no further, though someone suggested there might be an ancient graveyard and townspeople were left to speculate whether their eerie visitor had been a pioneer, escaped slave, or even an Indian. The skull glared accusingly at curious citizens for a few years and then disappeared, some say shipped to a Buffalo museum.
Charles and Frank Zambito purchased the hotel in 1949 and operated it until 1955, when Tom and Marty Greer became the owners. Later, Pete and Nancy Markowski ran the hotel, calling it “The Other Place.” In August of 1979, the present owners, Jim and Steve Goff acquired the property, and the name became “The Stumblin’ Inn.”
Gone now is the front porch and wide veranda, the once famous spring dance floor and the third floor with its Mansard roof, but Jim and Steve are slowly, through their hard work, trying to upgrade the old proud structure and regain its stature in the community.
An interesting note on John Swartz, the father of our Hotel keeper, is that he was a Captain of the Washington Guards and was attached to the Union Guards in the 2nd Brigade of the 8th Division. His certificate still remains in the hands of the family and is dated May 13, 1844.