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St. Charles/Liberty Hotel - Mahoningtown PA

In late 1904 a local businessman named J. “Ed” McWilliams, who owned a bottling works, began construction of a hotel on North Liberty Street in the Mahoningtown section of New Castle, Pennsylvania. The business block that once occupied the location, which was previously lost to a fire, housed the popular businesses of Doc Tyler’s restaurant, Fred Stang’s tailoring firm, and Harry Ketzel’s barber shop. McWilliams soon took a partner named Theodore Morgan in on the venture. The new St. Charles Hotel, with about twenty-eight rooms, was opened in February 1905. The ground floor contained a bar, a restaurant, and a banquet room. The bar became very popular with local patrons and the banquet room was often rented out for meetings, parties, and other gatherings.

In early 1911 the entire county anxiously awaited as Lawrence County Judge William E. Porter, elected by the anti-saloonist movement back in 1904, made his decision about whether to re-grant liquor licenses to local businesses. He soon denied all liquor licenses and forbid the county-wide sale and manufacture of alcohol beginning on April 1, 1911. New Castle became the largest “dry” town in the entire state and would remain that way for the next five years.

Porter’s ruling affected greatly affected the area hotels, including the St. Charles, as their lobby bars were usually very popular and profitable. A handful of hotels were forced to close their doors, but McWilliams kept his hotel going. In mid-1914 the former hotel bar was remodeled into a sales office of the King Motor Company, a Detroit-based company led by Charles Brady King. The local sales office was managed by Charles McWilliams (Ed’s son).

In January 1916 the hotel was leased to Arthur F. Quinby, as Ed McWilliams decided to join his son in the auto business. McWilliams also owned several successful race horses as well. In April 1916 the newly elected Judge Samuel P. Emery once again turned the county “wet” as liquor licenses were granted for the first time in five years. Quinby reopened the bar and the hotel returned to making a profit. Quinby passed away in 1918 and the hotel was in limbo for some time.

The building was soon acquired by the New Castle Rubber Company, which converted it into a clubhouse and social hall for its employees. The Rubber Company was organized in late 1914 by some of the city’s most successful businessmen to include Alex Crawford Hoyt, George Greer, and Edwin N. Ohl. The building was reopened by the company with a grand banquet on Monday, July 14, 1919. A branch office of the Safe Deposit & Trust Company of Lawrence County was also opened on the ground floor in August 1919. This branch office was later rebranded as the separate Mahoning Trust Company in 1924.

The international rubber market collapsed in 1920 and the once profitable New Castle Rubber Company, organized only five years prior, went bankrupt by the end of the year. L. T. Dameron and I. A. Whistler, former employees of the rubber company, acquired the building and opened it as the Liberty Hotel in December 1920. The establishment was boasted by the nearby Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad passenger station (opened in 1917), which was greatly expanded in 1933 to also include the Pennsylvania & Lake Erie (P&LE) Railroad. The train station was located directly beside the hotel. Ed McWilliams reacquired the hotel in October 1921 as Dameron and Whistler departed the city. McWilliams managed the hotel throughout the good times of the Roaring Twenties, but the Stock Market Collapse of 1929 soon ushered in an era of great hardship.

The Liberty Hotel was the scene of a sensational robbery during the “Public Enemy Era” of the 1930’s. On Monday, May 23, 1932, Police Officer Clarence B. Campbell was escorting several bank officials on their way to deliver a large amount of currency to the Mahoning Trust Company office located in the hotel. The money was to be utilized to pay local railroad employees. As the bank car stopped in front of the hotel a trio of armed men shot and killed Campbell and robbed the bank officials of $23,000 (about $370,000 in 2015 dollars). A getaway car quickly appeared from the nearby alley and the four bandits sped off towards the southeast. A high-profile manhunt and investigation got underway, but no one was ever brought to justice. The case remains unsolved to this day.

Liberty Hotel owner J. Ed McWilliams passed away in June 1932 and the property was later seized by County Sheriff Frank N. Johnston. It was sold in February 1933 to the First National Bank of Lawrence County and continued in operation. The Mahoning Trust Company was dissolved and merged into the Union Trust Company in July 1933, but I believe a small bank office was maintained in the hotel for some time.

The hotel survived the Great Depression and was later reborn under new management. It was renovated and re-opened during a ceremony held on Friday, December 6, 1940. A large crowd gathered in the lobby and was entertained by a local orchestra. In print it seems the establishment was often referred to as the New Liberty Hotel or Hotel New Liberty.

The ownership of the hotel changed hands multiple times over the years and by the early 1970’s it was in a rundown condition. Its ground floor bar was still a popular hangout for locals. In about August 1977, when I believe was it was in use as an apartment complex, the building was closed and its remaining occupants were forced out. A spectacular fire on the night of Wednesday, December 28, 1977, completely engulfed the structure. A crowd of people gathered around to watch the blaze, and they quickly scattered as the walls suddenly collapsed and sent debris flying in all directions. The fire, likely caused by arson, caused $75,000 in damage. The site was soon cleared and today is mostly a vacant lot at the corner of Plum Avenue and North Liberty Street in Mahoningtown.

The St. Charles Hotel (on left), located on South Liberty Street in Mahoningtown, was opened in early 1905. The hotel was purchased by the New Castle Rubber Company in about 1919 and briefly utilized as a company clubhouse. It was soon reopened as the Liberty Hotel in 1920 and was the scene of a sensational bank robbery in May 1932. The hotel was later utilized as an apartment building and was finally closed down in mid-1977. It was lost to a devastating fire on the night of December 28, 1977. This photo is looking northward up South Liberty Street. (c1909) Full Size

The old Liberty Hotel, abandoned but a few months, was burned down during a spectacular blaze on the night of Wednesday, December 28, 1977. Local residents gathered around to watch the fire, which started around 9:00pm. About two hours later the walls of the hotel collapsed into a cloud of dust and sent the spectators scurrying for cover. The next day firemen knocked down what remained of the charred walls. (c1933) Full Size


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