Bygone Era

Hotel on the Brokenstraw, once a bustling stop for rafters on River, no longer survives

Photo courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society From the postcard collection of the Warren County Historical Society, an undated photograph of the Cornplanter Hotel.

Writing all of the stories I’ve written in this space, some of my favorites are about buildings that used to be here and aren’t anymore.

Many of those things are vestiges of different eras in our history – lumber, oil, railroad.

Here’s another one from our archive – the Cornplanter Hotel.

Dr. William Irvine, the grandson of the general for whom the town is named, was a man of many business interests.

Unfortunately for him, most of them were failures and he lived most of his life in a deep pit of debt.

But that didn’t keep him from dreaming.

And that’s where the Cornplanter Hotel comes from.

This one of Irvine’s dreams came out of a desire to connect the Irvine area on a railway that went all the way to Philadelphia – the Sunbury-Erie Railroad.

As early as 1838, surveyors laying out the railroad stayed at Irvine’s mansion. The route included track across the Brokenstraw near where Irvine owned a store.

“So enthusiastic was Dr. Irvine about the glorious future which the railroad would bring to his land holdings, in 1841 he had William Bell build the Cornplanter Hotel near the southeast bank of the Brokenstraw Creek, as well as other stone buildings,” according to a brochure found in our archive.

An economic downturn in the form of a banking panic put construction of the railroad on hold for 20 years.

But those were the early peak years of the lumber industry in Warren County and the Cornplanter Hotel became a stopping point on the Allegheny River for the raftsmen who guided all the area’s lumber down the river to markets as far away as New Orleans.

The People’s Monitor, a Warren newspaper at the time, reported the following on June 24, 1841: “Opening of Cornplanter, Irvineton, at the crossing of the Brokenstraw for the entertainment of travelers, lumbermen and parties of pleasure from Warren. M. Ketchum, prop.”

A couple weeks later – July 6 – the paper included an advertisement describing the hotel as “an elegant, new stone tavern for travelers and lumbermen, the table being furnished with all the delicacies the country will afford and the wine and liquor will be selected with care.”

Ketchum signed the advertisement and appears to have managed the hotel into the 1850s. In 1858, an item reported that “Patterson moved over to Irvine today to keep the Cornplanter Hotel.”

But the lumber industry didn’t live forever.

And while the industry continued into the 20th centuries, rafting would eventually become a thing of the past.

The Warren Mail reported in the “Irvine Notes” section of the March 14, 1894 edition that “the old Cornplanter Hotel is fast going to wreck. Could that building but speak, what a story of the busy past it would unfold; for in the busy season of rafting down the Brokenstraw Creek, large as the hotel was and is yet, it was not big enough to hold the ‘boys’ by giving them beds to sleep on, but many were compelled to use the floor for their sleeping couches, so large as the number of lumbermen to care for.”

The Hotel fell further into ruin into the 1920s and the stone was purchased by Hugh Siggins in memory of his father, D.H. Siggins, who was a raft pilot often stopped at the hotel, the brochure explained.

“The stone was used to build an addition to his house on the Warren-Sugar Grove road (the dining room according to a relative),” the brochure states. “The doorway of the hotel, with its paneled double doors and sidelight windows, was also moved and became the front entrance of the Siggins house.”

“Carved on the doors was “Big Storme 11-3-16.” In 1950 the cellar of the old Cornplanter could still be plainly seen.”

A 1957 fire damaged that home and, the brochure states, the new owners only know that the front door had come from an old tavern, not the Cornplanter Hotel. It was discarded as it has been damaged in the fire.