In 1925 a group of influential businessmen began to discuss the possibility of adding an upscale hotel in downtown New Castle, the county seat of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. The purpose of the hotel would be to serve as a stopover for travelers passing between the East Coast and Chicago and as a central meeting site for the various clubs and organizations of New Castle and surrounding areas. The hotel would dovetail perfectly with the opening of the new Scottish Rite Cathedral, currently under construction in New Castle and soon to be home to large conventions, weddings, and meetings. A Castleton Hotel Corporation was founded in February 1926 and began a public drive to raise the necessary funds. The almost 800 community-based stockholders who bought in owned the hotel, while the American Hotel Corporation of New York was later contracted to run its daily operations.
Before too long a plot of land was purchased for $102,500 at the corner of East Falls Street and North Mercer Street – just behind the magnificent Elks Lodge. Local architects W. G. Eckles and A. L. Thayer designed the six-story structure, with the assistance of the Philadelphia firm of Thomas, Martin, and Kirkpatrick. The first floor would be home to a large dining room/ballroom capable of seating 200 people, while the five upper floors each housed thirty-two guest rooms totaling 160 in all. The basement contained the heating plant, storage space, a laundry facility, and a dining room for the hotel staff. The roof contained a few penthouse suites and the ground floor would also be home to various commercial and retail businesses fronting Mercer Street.
In June 1926 the razing of the buildings at the location commenced, with the old Lawrence Club (moving into a new building) being the last structure to be demolished by early September. Construction started soon after and with the interior furnishings the project cost a total of about $700,000. The bricks for the structure were manufactured by the New Castle Clay & Brick Company, a firm who would also supply the brick for the new Jameson Memorial Hospital (opened in 1929).
The luxurious establishment opened with a grand banquet on Saturday, October 22, 1927, with a week-long celebration attended by many dignitaries and local residents. John L. Slack, a Cornell University graduate and who polished his hotel experience in the resorts of Florida, served as the first general manager. Among his eighty-five employees were chief clerk William H. Hushkamp, a U.S. Navy veteran coming up from Florida, chief steward Stewart B. Howson, a Marine Corps veteran hailing from Michigan, and head chef Joe Graf, a German-born culinary expert who honed his skills in the swanky environs of New York City. The Roaring Twenties was a time of great prosperity and the city of New Castle flexed its muscle with the building of such grand structures as the Castleton, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, Jameson Hospital, and the St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
The Castleton was the finest hotel in New Castle and was home to numerous banquets, conventions, dinners, dances, and parties of all kinds. It was well received and was an immediate financial success. Among its more famous guests over the years were aviatrix Amelia Earhart Putnam, explorer Adm. Richard E, Byrd, and baseball legend Lou Gehrig. After a few years the arrangement with the American Hotel Corporation was abandoned and the stockholders managed the hotel through a newly elected Board of Directors.
Like many other businesses the hotel suffered during the Great Depression, but managed to survive and by 1942 was completely paid for. A decade later the hotel was sold by the 584 remaining stockholders for almost $500,000 to Chicago area businessmen Gustave Spiesel and Roy Dawson, who took over control on August 1, 1952, with Dawson acting as hotel manager. I believe Spiesel later bought out Dawson as the hotel decreased in profitability.
Spiesel sold the aging hotel in November 1967 for $400,000 to Columbus Services International, owned by William E. Columbus of New Castle. Mr. Columbus spent $335,000 on ambitious renovations and rebranded the hotel as the more pedestrian Castle Arms Motor Lodge. In 1972, as the establishment continued to lose money, I believe Columbus leased the hotel to the Lawrence County Housing Authority for use as apartments for the elderly. It changed ownership several times in the 1980’s as the Castle Arms. For a time the CSX Transportation utilized it for overnight accommodations for its transient railroad employees.
In early 1991 the building came under the ownership of prolific developer Thomas George and two partners – both of whom had previous ownership stakes in the facility. The trio began renovations to convert the facility into a 73-unit apartment complex for seniors. The New Castle News of Tuesday, May 12, 1992, reported, “George selected the former Castleton Hotel as his latest project, a $2.2 million effort he completed last October. It is billed as an apartment complex for the elderly. At least one member of the household must be 55 years old or older. Just over one year ago, George, Cal Zontine, and Jerome DiGiacobbe announced plans to buy the Castle Arms Hotel, change its name to the Castleton Apartment Complex and renovate the 65-year old building. They announced their plans after CSX said it would no longer be using the hotel as a stopover for workers.”
The article went on to elaborate, “During the renovation process, 64 hotel rooms were changed to 39 one bedroom apartments. The building already had four two-bedroom apartments. All of the units, as well as the building’s common areas and exterior, received a face lift. In addition to carpet and paint, the units were equipped with a fire alert system, new bathroom fixtures with guide rails, all kitchen appliances and drapery hardware. The building received new windows, as well as new electrical and heating systems. The exterior was sandblasted clean. The sidewalks and the parking lot across the street were refurbished.”
The once grand Castleton still serves as an apartment complex today.
The luxurious 120-room Castleton Hotel, pictured here c1951, opened with a week-long celebration in October 1927. The 1920’s was an era of great prosperity in New Castle and the Castleton was a prime example of that. Full Size
The six-story hotel, shown here in a drawing about the time it opened in 1927, was designed by the combined effort of local architects W. G. Eckles and A. L. Thayer with the assistance of the Philadelphia firm of Thomas, Martin, and Kirkpatrick. Full Size
A vintage view of the Castleton Hotel in downtown New Castle.
Another view of the Castleton in the 1930’s.
A postcard showing the Castleton Hotel in the 1950’s. The Castleton name is still visible above the doorways but the rooftop letters simply read “HOTEL” at this time. The old Elks lodge, which was demolished in 2011, is visible to the left of the photo. Full Size
Part of the hotel lobby. (c1935)
One of the bedrooms of the hotel pictured in the 1930’s.
A foldout pamphlet for the Castleton from the mid-1930’s. One of the main points is stressing that New Castle is at the midway point between Chicago and New York. The pamphlet lists Thomas M. Boyle as the manager and indicates rooms go for $2.50 for a single bed and $4.00 for a double. Boyle, an attorney who previously managed the Shenango House in Sharon, took over management of the Castleton upon the resignation (due to ill health) of Frank J. Toole in early June 1932. Boyle later stepped down and was replaced by Arnold Y. Bischoff, an experienced hotel man who was the Castleton’s head chef, in August 1938. (c1935) Full Size
The registration desk of the Castleton. (c1935) Full Size
Looking east along East Falls Street. (Jul 2010) Full Size