The Bellevue Hotel, part 2 – more oral history by Mrs. Davis and George Arms

Among other rooms on the main floor of the old Bellevue Hotel, in addition to those described in last week’s column, by Mrs. Davis and as shown in Dr. Arm’s sketch, was the bakery just back of the kitchen. In it were the built-in ovens and the closets which held the barrels of sugar and flour, as well as containers of fine extracts that went into the making of French pastry and macaroons for which the hotel cuisine was famous. Huge ice boxes were also back of the kitchen.

As no children were allowed in the main dining room, provision for meals for them and their nurses was made in a special dining room next to the bakery, which was known as the “Ordinary”. A play room was also provided for these younger guests on the main floor, next to the “bicycle room” which housed the two-wheeled vehicles so popular at that time. (The “safety” type was at just about this period giving some competition to the “ordinary”, the early type with the high front wheel and the small back one which to us in retrospect seems to have presented such a dangerous mode of transportation for our forebears.)

While most of the bedrooms were on the upper floors of the hotel, there were a few on the main floor along this same corridor that housed the card rooms, parlors, play room and bicycle room. Bedrooms on the second and third floor had their own porches with find views in all directions.

Strange as it may seem nowadays, none of these rooms had private baths, although each was provided with a wash stand, bowl and pitcher. On each floor were several bathrooms, which were kept locked except when a boarder asked for its use. When such a request was made, it was accompanied by a fee of 25 cents, given to the chambermaid, or by a green ticket which had previously been obtained from the hotel office. It was the duty of the chambermaid to prepare the baths and to straighten up the bathrooms afterwards.

Mrs. Davis tells an amusing story in connection with a bath taken one afternoon by “Katie”, a beautiful and vivacious girl who was summering at the Bellevue. Bathrooms were on the side of the the hotel facing the tennis courts, where in the afternoons the young men, attired in their natty white flannels, would play their matches, while the ladies would watch from under the shade of their parasols as they sat in chairs on the lawn.

On this particular afternoon when Katie’s bath was in process she did her watching through the shutters which were bowed. Finally in a most alluring voice she called “hello, hello”. That stopped the game while the players called back, “Katie, where are you?” To which Katie replied :”Green ticket!” Immediately the ladies on the lawn closed their parasols and walked away. “Could anything”, they remarked, “be more vulgar that calling from a bathroom?”

If the old Bellevue lacked the modern convenience of private baths, it far exceeded present standards in the bounty of its table, which was unsurpassed in a time that excelled in variety and quality of food. Unfortunately, none of the old menus has been preserved. They were enticing enough to keep whole families contented from June until September, while another set of boarders usually arrived in October from visits abroad, to remain there until their town houses were prepared for winter occupancy.

Among the help which was so plentiful in those days now long past was a maid named Ellen Gallagher, whom Mrs. Davis recalls vividly. The latter describes her as “a tiny creature who always dressed in a black hoop skirt with a while apron over it. She held complete control over the chambermaids and had charge of the linen rooms and the sorting of the laundered clothes of the guests. To the family she seemed part of the Bellevue, since for anyone so small to control so much, put Ellen on a pinnacle.”

Certainly entertainment was not lacking at the Bellevue in the “Gay Nineties”, though for the most part life was one of elegant leisure. “On the wide porch in the mornings the ladies would gather in their rocking chairs in special groups”, according to Mrs. Davis’ description. “Some would go for a short drive and some for a walk down the lawn to the Pike. They would then rest and come back by the summer house on the side of the drive. Luncheon was at one o’clock, and afterwards the ladies would go slowly upstairs, don their long white wrappers and settle down for a nap. The hotel would then be very still until four o’clock, with only the children and nurses around on the side lawns . . . they were never allowed on the front porch. When the carriages and horses came up for driving, the children would line up to see them off.”

“The afternoon driving was almost a ritual for the women”, Mrs. Davis continues. “The bonnet you should wear depended on which type of carriage you were driving. The lady who was the most elegant had for bonnets. One from last year was worn to drive in the Germantown, a still better one was for the Victoria driving–a little lace parasol with it. And then there was her Sunday bonnet! The lady’s daughter, aged 17, had her horse and dog cart with a footman in the rear seat. She wore out twelve long pairs of white kid gloves while driving during the summer, which her mother thought quite extravagant”.

There were many beautiful drives around Wayne then, as there are now. These afternoon drives usually started about half past four with the men often accompanying their wives. The former frequently came home from business soon after lunch in order to have their afternoon naps. Usually an hour’s time would suffice for these drives, after which the couples would return tot he hotel where they would sit quietly on the porch until dinner time. The young people mostly had their own dog carts and horses.

After dinner there were the whist games. Once a week progressive euchre parties were held when each guest paid 25 cents to pay for the three prizes that were awarded. “These parties”, Mrs. Davis writes, “were quite gay affairs for the older people”. On Wednesday evenings there was always concert music while on Sunday evenings there was hymn singing in the parlor for those who cared to come.

Most guests retired early, being in bed usually by half past ten. Before that the bell-boys would be busy answering the bells ringing in the big rack on the wall by the office. For pitchers of ice water were always in demand. And then “the night settled down”. And by eight o’clock the next morning, guests were having their breakfast so that the men of the family could catch the 8:12 Paoli Express to Philadelphia.

(To be continued)

(Mrs. Patterson would welcome any additional information her readers have about this famous old Main Line hotel. In particular she would like to hear from those who remember the fire which destroyed the hotel in January 1900, as she needs further details in regard to that.)