The Bellevue Hotel, part 5 (the Aztec Club meeting) – Guest John Walter,
member of Parliament and owners of the London “Times”, U.S. Grant, G. Childs

The dinner at Wayne’s Bellevue Hotel given in September, 1881, by George W. Childs in honor of the Aztec Club and his distinguished English guest, John Walter, member of Parliament and owner of the London “Times”, was indeed a banquet.

The place of each guest was designated by an envelope bearing his name and containing a list of guests as well as a card, printed in blue and gold, witth the following menu:

Raw Oysters
Green Turtle Soup
Head of Lamb, sauce with herbs
Potatoes dutchess–Cucumbers
Bouchees a la Financiere
Filet of beef with Mushrooms
Potato casserole, with peas
Lamp chop with Sauce
Wild Fowl
Orange Ice
Lettuce and Tomato Salad
Roquefort and Neufchatel cheese

Ice Creams   Meringue

Fruit   Coffee

This elaborate dinner was served at three in the afternoon. As it ended “the last rays of the setting sun flooded the rooms with crimson light . . . and cognac and cigars took the place of fruit and cafe noir.” General Grant, vice-president of the Aztec Club, who, according to the account of the affair as given in the “Record”, “with in the past four years has developed from the silent man into a graceful speaker of easy flow and considerable humor, seemed to enjoy his position yesterday as toastmaster.” The memorial adopted by the Aztecs in tribute to their recently deceased president, General Patterson, was read by Professor Henry Copper, secretary of the organization. A toast to Mr. Childs, host of the occasion, was heartily drunk. There were a number of speeches, among them one by General William T. Sherman, Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army, who spoke in response to a toast to the Army.

General William Preston, of Kentucky, told of the advancement of civilizations in Mexico since the War, and then of the growth of the press, “the most powerful agent in carrying civilization to the western prairies.” And then, turning to Mr. Walter, he called for a speech from the “Chief Director of the mightiest press in the world, the London Times”. In replying, Mr. Walter said that it always seemed to be a matter of surprise to his fellow countrymen when an Englishman decided to visit the United States. his first reason for coming, he said, was the number of warm friends in the United States who he “was obliged to cross the ocean to see because they would not cross the ocean to see me”. His second reason was that he wished the younger members of his family who were accompanying him “to gain by their own observation the knowledge of this wonderful country that I gained five years ago”. And his final reason was to enjoy the complete rest and pleasurable vacation that only America could give him.

And then as Mr. Walter finished “the gas was lighted – and the three hours’ sitting was at an end.” When they arrived at Wayne station to catch the seven o’clock train for Philadelphia, Mr. Childs’ guests “filled two of the new Eastlake coaches reserved for them.” And thus ended “the most distinguished party ever assembled in honor of the Aztec Club”.

The first name on the original register of the old Bellevue Hotel, which is still carefully preserved by Dr. Arms, is that of U. S. Grant written in a scrawling hand that half covers the page. Many other signatures of the distinguished guests of that banquet follow. And then come page after page of names of those who were guests at the Bellevue in the years through 1884. Most of them list their home address as Philadelphia although there is an occasional New York, Camde, Riverton (N.J.,) Pottsville (Penna.), Pittsburgh, Fllushing (L. I.), Columbus (Ohio) and even England in the entries. “And maid” or “and nurse” often follows the names of the guests. One Philadelphia couple who were at the Bellevue in 1884 added to their names in the old register, “four children, 2 maids”. Summer life at the hotel must indeed have been a real family affair!

Of the man who built the Bellevue and afterwards remained its owner for several years, Mrs. Davis reminisces in a delightfully personal vein. her grandmother, Mary Berrell Field, bought the hotel from George W. Childs in 1885, enlarging it to such an extent that it accommodated some 200 guests. Mr. Childs had a leading part in the development of Wayne as it emerged from a small settlement on the old Lancaster Turnpike into a Main Line suburb. he was also “a well known Philadelphia figure”, to quote Mrs. Davis who adds:

“He was a leading philanthropist and the owner of the Philadelphia Public Ledger. When he walked down Chestnut street to his office, which he seldom did since his carriage usually met him at Broad Street Station, people recognized the small fat man with white side whiskers. . . he was a very dignified and vain man, always faultless in appearance. He had three wigs, one of which was quite short in length, the second slightly longer and the other longer yet. He wore them in this order, giving the appearance of natural hair, and when he got a ‘haircut’ he would start all over again by wearing the short wig.

“His office in the Ledger building was unique. Being a collector of after-dinner coffee cups, he had cases of them lining the walls of his private office. Mrs. Field would quite often visit him in his elegant office. After the business was over, the servant in livery would come in, go to the cupboard, put a few after dinner coffee cups on a tray and pass them to her so that she could select one.”

Of traffic on the Lancaster Pike, dotted as it then was with toll gates, Mrs. Davis says that one of the most beautiful sights was the tally-ho driven by its owner, A. J. Cassatt, at that time president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. One afternoon each week, he drove the tally-ho with is four horses from Philadelphia to the Devon Inn in Devon, at that time as fashionable a summer hotel as the Bellevue itself. The tally-ho was “a smart and glittering turnout . . . the driver with his long whip and top hat of grey felt and the ladies gaily dressed and carrying little lace carriage parasols . . . on the two back steps, on either side of the tally-ho, stood two lackies with long brass bugles. In passing the Bellevue they would always blast the bugles and the people then would wave. All along the long drive from Philadelphia to Devon the bugles would blow every so often so that the folks would know the tally-ho was passing.”

(To be concluded)