Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Excelsior - Fanny Heddens Hotel in Washingtonville

Fanny Heddens Hotel, Washingtonville, PA

James T. Heddens, a tailor, opened the  Excelsior Hotel in Washingtonville  in 1837.  He operated the hotel, in addition to his tailoring business', for 40 years.   Following his death, his wife Fanny continued to manage the hotel. Fannie was one of the most popular hotel keepers in the county and the “Fannie Heddens Hotel” saw many diners, arriving on horse and buggy from Danville and Bloomsburg. In  1906 the hotel was purchased bby E.E. Freymeyer who continued to operate it until it closed in 1920.

The original frame building was replaced by a brick building, which burned down around 1891.  The hotel was rebuilt at the same location, and still stands today.  
Map showing the property of James Thomas Heddings, in 1860

The Exselsior House, J.T. Heddens
1860 map

Henry Shoemaker wrote of the hotel in his book Pennsylvania Mountain Stories:
To anyone finding himself with a spare day on his hands, and the ability of getting to Watsontown. There is no pleasanter way of putting in that day than to drive through the beautiful valley to McEwansville, Turbotville and Washingtonville.
It was my privilege to have taken this drive one sunshiny April morning, just when the pale green leaves and vari-colored blossoms were budding forth, and the air was sweet with the odor of the grass. Myriads of robins, bluebirds and meadow larks were warbling in the brushwoods, and the roosters by the roadside gave vent to their Spring-rejuvenated crowing. The ducks were taking their first swim in the brown, muddy mill ponds.
The broad farming valley stretched out like an English landscape, the cultivated fields alternating with groves of stately oaks and hickories, and dotted here and there were the substantial white farmhouses, in whose front yards flourished the tall but alien Norway spruces.
Quiet reigned in the streets of McEwansville, with its tall spired gothic churches, and rows of little stores, with show windows of small paned glass. And likewise, in Turbotville were the streets deserted, except at the huge white public house, where several idlers sat on the porch in the morning sun, waiting for some stranger to treat them to their favorite drinks. We passed the scene of a recent conflagration, where one-third of the peaceful old-fashioned street, and the friendly shade trees, has been swept away by the uncontrollable flames. New frame houses were being erected, but they were narrow and shallow, painted yellow and blue, in unfavorable contrast to the low-roofed comfortable dwellings they pretended to replace.
Once more out in the country, we followed the winding turnpike, over bridges which rattle as we crossed, by ancient cemeteries, with gothic monuments and decaying cedar trees, and past fields sprouting with lawn-like wheat. And when we crossed a little stream, whose bed was shaded by untrimmed willow trees, we found ourselves in another village of the past, Washingtonville.
The little white houses stood flush upon the street, which led up to a hill crowned by several good-sized churches. In the center of the town was “Fanny Hedden’s Hotel,” built, like the other structures, close upon the road, but differing from them in having two tiers of balcony-like porches, where guests could sit and watch the doings of the town and wait for fresh travelers to arrive. Before this old-time hostelry we stopped. A half-grown stable boy held our horse, while a thickset young man ran out and greeted us obsequiously with a decided British accent, as you would expect to be met with in the taverns we read about in rural England. But when the stable boy addressed him as Mr. Herzog, I knew it was only a case of the adaptability of the Pennsylvania Dutchman who had lived in foreign lands.
We were ushered into the low-ceilinged office, the walls of which I was surprised to find covered with old colored prints depicting scenes in America sporting and political life as it was sixty years ago. And there was one print which was evidently not American—"King William at the Battle of the Boyne.”
While we registered, a country boy came in and tacked up dodgers which announced a “Dance at Jerseytown, Friday night,” and I sincerely wished I could remain long enough to attend this function. I made the country gallant’s acquaintance, and he showed me a strange medal or button he had found the day previous while helping demolish an old house. Apparently of silver, the size of a modern dollar, the medal had a head of Washington in the center, with the motto, “We uphold our President,” beneath, and around the edges were the letter, V., M., N.Y., C., R.I., N.J., N.H., D., M., V., N.C., S.C., G., which I interpreted to be the initials of the thirteen original states. There were two small holes in the center which inclined me to believe this curious relic had been used as a button. “I wouldn’t take a dollar for it,” said the country boy as he went away.
Dinner was quickly prepared, and we ascended the narrow stairway to the dining room. At the door we were met by a smiling old woman. Fanny Hedden herself, who confesses eighty years, but looks and acts thirty years younger. The dining room was a spacious apartment, the long windows and high ceilings being a decided change from the low rooms on the ground floor. In a corner was a walnut sideboard of antique design, and the walls were decorated by five or six engravings of Biblical scenes. The table was lavishly set with every conceivable variety of preserves and relishes, and by our plates were tall cut-glass goblets. Mrs. Hedden and her grandson, for such the young landlord proved to be, both apologized for their inability to provide for us properly, which inability we failed to see. While her grandson was filling our glasses with sparkling homemade wine, which he proudly declared “was made of the grapes from the arbor on the back porch,” we commented on the Biblical engravings which were on the walls. Mrs. Hedden, noticing that we were interested in curiosities, hurried from the room and brought in a woven basket of immense dimensions which she said was made by her grandmother, and was over a hundred and fifty years old. “And it’s as good as ever,” said the old woman, as she poured the contents of the ice water pitcher into the basket, which did not leak a drop.
After finishing he appetizing repast we were conducted to the parlor “to see some more old pictures,” as Mrs. Hedden expressed it. In the parlor I noticed a Canadian scene, which led me to suspect that it was in that country Mr. Herzog acquired his English manner of speaking. But most remarkable of all, three life size portraits of handsome women, two blondes and one brunette, in the decollettte garb of 1860, hung in this room, but Mrs. Hedden could give no clue as to the identity of the persons they represented, as she had “bought them at a bargain from a retired boarding house keeper in Philadelphia, Centennial year.” As the classic faces of these long-forgotten charmers smiled from the tarnished frames, I wondered where the originals could be, whether living or dead. After the long lapse of years!

After inspecting the various bedrooms, in one of which we found engravings of nymphs and shepherdesses evidently our satisfaction at the courteous treatment accorded us, we ordered our horse and buggy, and after paying our bill, sped away toward the deer park of Congressman Billmeyer, which is not a mile distant from Fanny Hedden’s Hotel.

Plate from the Heddens Hotel


The Democrats of Washingtonville enjoyed a political rally with 500 party members who were marching around town carrying torches and led by the Exchange Band before stopping in front of the Fanny Heddens' Hotel. The Hon. Lloyd W. Welliver, chairman, along with the Hon. John G. McHenry, of Benton, stood on the hotel porch to give rousing speeches that were frequently interrupted with applause from the enthusiastic crowd. Previous to the rally, a flag and pole were raised in front of the hotel saluting their candidates William Jennings Bryan and McHenry. (William Howard Taft defeated Bryan in the presidential election and McHenry was re-elected to 16th congressional district.)

The hotel was to be sold at auction November 14th, 1912

It was sold to Isaac Acor, of Exchange

March 1914
Hotel license transfered from George Heddens to William R. Snyder.

In July 1914, W.R. Snyder was the proprietor.  The hotel license had been transferred from George Heddens to Snyder in March of 1914.

Cow Sale, 1916


Danville News, June 1 1912

Fannie Cummings was born March 16 1826, the daughter of James and Frances [Billmeyer] Cummings. She married James Thomas Heddens. The couple had 9 children: Mary Alice, William Marr, John Cummings, Amandus Levers, James Clarence, Phineas, Francis, Christiann, Daniel Billmeyer, George Kipp, and Emma Frances. Fannie died May 31 1912, at the home of her daughter, the Mrs John Wilson, of Milton.

Three Heddens boys served in the Civil War.  One was killed.  James returned to Montour County, W.B "drifted westward" and settled in Ohio.

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