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The History of the Portage Inn

April 2, 2015
Westfield Republican

By Marybelle Beigh

Westfield Historian

Brief articles in the 1907 Westfield Republican piqued the interest of locals with such comments as, "The New 'Jones Hotel' Property; The time limit for H.L. Kent to move his stock of goods and vacate the Paper Warehouse buildings is now only about thirty days" (July 31); or "We Are Booming J.C. Jones has a large force of men at work overhauling and remodeling the Kent warehouse into what is to be a first class and up-to-date hotel, something this village has needed for years (October 9)."

Article Photos

Submitted Photo
The Paper Warehouse, and the Fire Hall, circa 1900, just before the Warehouse was remodeled into the Portage Inn in 1907-8.

About 107 years ago, April 15, 1908, residents were pleased to read a Westfield Republican front page headline "THE NEW PORTAGE INN It Will Be Opened Some Time During Easter Week and Westfield's Long-Felt Want Will Be Filled." The lengthy article describes in detail the dramatic remodeling of the former H.L. Kent Paper Warehouse into a three-story hotel with spacious dining facilities, a small private dining alcove, a buffet, a kitchen presided over by a French-name chef, offices, writing room, and parlor on the ground floor, and 27 sleeping rooms including a suite on second and third floors, as well as laundry, furnace, and storage rooms in the basement.

The Portage Inn was "auspiciously opened Tuesday Evening, April 28th," 1908, and at about 8p.m. the guests "sat down to a feast such as Westfield seldom sees Consomm, Fish and French Fried Potatoes, Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Shrimp Salad, Ice Cream, Coffee, and Cake." Following the banquet, many well-known men and businessmen of Westfield gave toasts and speeches of laud and encouragement Rev. G.L. MacClelland, Prof. P.K. Pattison, William Russell, Dr. C.W. Smith, Frank Crandall, Judge A.B. Ottaway, W.H. Tennant, Alburn Skinner, and Mr. Sheldon.

Apparently, the enterprise was a resounding success, because a note in the May 13, 1914 Westfield Republican states, "John C. Jones is building an addition to the Portage Inn."

Over the next eight decades, this popular hotel and restaurant was owned and/or managed by a succession of respected businessmen including Mattie Barrett and Hiram B. Sullivan who purchased the Portage Inn from John C. Jones in October 1919 (according to Kathleen Crocker, noted local historical author and granddaughter of the Sullivans), and ran it for 12 years, being succeeded by their son, James Barrett, until 1937. During the Sullivan's oversight of the inn, it underwent extensive changes and expansion to 55 rooms in 1925, utilizing the former fire hall which had been damaged during the 1923 fire that destroyed the first Grand Theatre. The "new" fire hall was built on Elm Street in 1924. Under the Sullivans, the Portage Inn was managed by Mr. Jackson, and assisted by R. E. Dalrymple, while "Abbie", the chef for fourteen years prior to this, continued to preside over the kitchen.

In October 1941, Westfield's historic hotel was again under new management by Frederick M. Babbitt, whose credentials included the Columbus Hotel of Harrisburg Pa., and the DeWitt Clinton Hotel in Albany. By January 1944, The Portage Inn was reopened under the management of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Nolan, who concurrently managed the Ford Hotel in Buffalo, and later also operated the Greystone Hotel in Westfield. Within two months, in March 1944, Albert and Henry Grien purchased the Portage Inn to operate.

For the next 20 years, very little information was found about the Portage Inn as hotel or restaurant until December 1966. At that time, Norbert Neithamer, who from 1940 to 1963 was a restaurateur doing business at the "College Inn" in Erie,Pa, reopened the Portage Inn with Old World dcor, after purchasing it in July 1965. Neithamer engaged two chefs, weekend entertainment by Billy Bronson, and two bartenders, in addition to the usual dining room staff. He made plans to renovate the rooms and add "efficiency apartments, plus a parking lot at the side of the building. By August 1971, the dining area was expanded with a new banquet room.

Then, in November 1972, the Portage Inn again changed ownership, being purchased by Thomas R. Piazza of Westfield, and Joseph L Puccio of North East. The partners chose to completely revise the dining menu, hired Delores Wheeler, of Mayville as head waitress, and included their wives as hostesses on the weekends.

The remainder of the history of the Portage Inn was obtained by interviewing Jim Blanchard, who was the last operator of the restaurant during the summer of 1999. Blanchard introduced me to Connie Thayer (now, 2015, proprietor of Portage Pie on North Portage), whose mother, Millie Carutis was a well loved cook from 1981 (when she and husband Ed purchased the inn) to 1994. Thayer provided a number of photos of the staff and interior during these years. Millie and Ed Carutis' son, Steve Carutis was bartender. Jim Blanchard worked for Millie for the last three years she was cooking. The last owner, from 1994 to 1999 was Sharon Howard from North East Pa. The late John Pereria was chef.

In February 2008, the Dunkirk Observer ran an article "New life planned for Portage Inn" when an Ohio businessman bought the building, which had been condemned as unsafe and scheduled for demolition. After several months, not much transpired apparently the condition of the building or the cost of renovations was beyond his means. Over the last seven years, a series of other hopefuls have purchased the building, with the same hopes for restoration, and disillusion when finding out the exorbitant costs. The building has continued to deteriorate to the point where it cannot be restored, as roofs and inner floors have collapsed into the interior, all the way to the ground floor. The village of Westfield is proceeding with plans to demolish the historic structure. Please respect the safety fences and signs and do not attempt to enter.



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