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The Hidden History of the Hotel

Repair work on the rear of the Worth Hotel is almost complete. It has been a fascinating process, because we uncovered so much evidence about the history of the hotel. Like many buildings, most major changes, such as additions, were in the back. Each left evidence for our intrepid detective, or rather carpenter, and his curator sidekick to discover.

The hotel that stands so peacefully in the museum today has had an exhaustingly complex life. The simple rectangle you see today started out as a smaller rectangle. Then it grew longer. Then it became the top of a T when a new wing was added. Then the back got a new porch. Then the back burned and they repaired it. Then it moved to the museum, but we only took the front part.

This summer, we removed much of the siding to repair the structure beneath it, and we found the shadow of all the changes that ever happened back there. We found the framing where doors once went through, now sealed for almost a century. We identified which door was newest by the lighter-colored, less aged wood of its frame. There are darkened lines and attachment holes where the roof of the back part of the T joined, and we could see how tall the porch was. We figured out that the dining room does not have a back window because they moved it over to the back of the downstairs bedroom.

Our carpenter, Jason, found that many have worked on the building before him. They demonstrated varying degrees of skill and knowledge. Some were indefatigable as to how many nails they were willing to drive into a piece of wood to keep it in place. One section has been defying gravity for years, so lacking in proper structural pieces that it was probably held up by the interior wallpaper. Don’t worry, we fixed it, the hotel will not fall on you.

One of those long-ago carpenters needed some flashing around a window. Building supplies were a bit harder to come by last century, so he used what he had nearby, a metal sign. As you can see in the picture, Oh Henry bars cost 5 cents and, even more exciting, were “now double dipt.” If I can find out when that slogan was used, I could narrow down the time frame when the window was repaired. The two pieces of the sign will now join the museum’s collection of artifacts, with diligent documentation of where they came from.

All old buildings are a physical record of everything that happened to them in the past, and of the people who have lived in them and worked on them over the years. Jason and I had fun reading the record of the hotel, and now that I think about it, we have now become part of that record.

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