The Wyalusing Hotel is steeped in history. It was born as a Main Street residence, transformed into Wyalusing’s first public house and by 1860 was in business as the Brown Hotel. The new owner, J. Morgan Brown, partnered with brother, Daniel, and presided over expansion and reconstruction that launched the Wyalusing Hotel as a continuously operating business through a full century and parts of two others.
J. Morgan Brown would gain fame as Wyalusing’s “Gingerbread Man” due to his fondness for ornate wooden cutout facades and Mississippi riverboat porches. They were part of a Victorian architectural style reminiscent of elaborate gingerbread house confectionary creations popular in the middle to late 19th Century. The signature look of the hotel started to take shape in the 1870’s when Brown built an adjoining brick structure capped by a mammoth wooden façade with gingerbread cutouts. Then came an impressive renovation of the original building, including those porches and third story added. This decorative architectural style, which would become something of a Wyalusing status symbol, was subsequently flaunted in other buildings designed by Brown.
As it turned out, the newly reconstructed Wyalusing Hotel, completed by 1894, would soon have a rival barely a block away. Construction of an elegantly designed structure which came to be known as the Middendorf Hotel was already underway by then and completed in 1898. Like two unflinching gunfighters they faced each other across what was then the village square where the main thoroughfares intersected at a watering trough that visitors used to refresh their horses. The Middendorf’s distinctive feature, aside from its own spacious porches, was an impressive “Eiffel Tower” cupola. The Middendorf itself remained a landmark for almost 90 years before it was torn down in 1984. The cupola was saved from demolition, restored and moved to its current location on a grassy knoll at the borough park.
The competition between the two hotels was probably good for both of them across the breadth of two World Wars and the Great Depression, but it is the Wyalusing Hotel that has endured. Located a few hundred yards off Route 6, one of America’s most-traveled national highways until the modern era of the interstates, it has been the gathering place for locals over the decades, as well as a popular stop for travelers. The hotel bar never seemed to lack for patrons, with generations of them meeting, greeting and reuniting there.
J. Morgan Brown’s passing in 1915 could have been the death knell of the Wyalusing Hotel, which seemed well beyond its heyday as a vital business by the 1920’s. W.H. “Will” Lee partnered with Justus V. Taylor to purchase the hotel in 1924, giving it new life and setting the stage for a unique figure who would usher in one of its most colorful chapters.
Mary “Ma” Fretz is still remembered as the gregarious, eccentric and occasionally outrageous matriarch of the Wyalusing Hotel. She and husband, John, purchased the business in the 1930’s and, upon his death a few years later, she became sole owner and proprietor. She ran the hotel in her own inimitable way into the 1960’s and, in fact, lived her final days there.
There were several ownership changes in the wake of Fretz’s passing, but a revival came in 1976 when Dennis “Terry” Keeney and his uncle, Joe Potter, both native sons, purchased the Wyalusing Hotel. Keeney and his wife, Barbara, managed the business, overseeing some impressive renovations inside, including an expanded bar and refurbished dining room, while tasteful and historically sensitive restoration outside accentuated its unique past. This chapter, spanning some 23 years, succeeded in reestablishing both the restaurant and bar as among the best in the region, as well as resurrecting its status as a lodging place.
The latest—and ongoing— chapter of the rich history of the Wyalusing Hotel was launched in 1999 when another native son, Chris Woodruff, returned to live in Wyalusing and fulfill a lifelong dream. He and his wife, Jeannie, became the owners just in time to usher it into a new millennium and its third different century in business. The Woodruffs have turned a new page by combining the historic with the contemporary and, with the boom in the natural gas business, providing much needed lodgings for those here for both business and pleasure.
Just down the block from the Wyalusing Hotel and its 11 classic guest rooms is the Wyalusing Hotel Annex and 24 additional rooms— all in the heart of one of the most picturesque downtowns in Pennsylvania. In teaming with Weston Solutions to build this $1.5 million modern, eco-friendly facility, the Woodruffs have succeeded in remaining true to the rich history of the Wyalusing Hotel while injecting new life into the economy of the community they call home.
Spend some time at the Wyalusing Hotel, and you’re sure to be enchanted by photos, articles and historic items on display inside. You can learn more about the history of the hotel and the life of J. Morgan Brown and even about President William Howard Taft’s visit to Wyalusing just months before he was confirmed as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Outside and behind the historic hotel you’ll see the barn that was once the original livery stable and the ice house that served the bar and restaurant in the years before electricity and refrigeration.